Every person in the audience sat still, their bodies tense. Silence penetrated the room as the judge announced the winner. “And the first place for performance goes to…Monster Crew!” Applause and screams ruptured the quiet as the seven girls dressed in neon orange costumes rushed up to the stage, their faces filled with shock and excitement. The girls accepted their prizes with teary eyes, still not quite believing that two years of hard work had finally paid off.
This is how this year’s K-pop contest, one of the biggest and most significant events in Prague’s K-pop community, came to a close on July 24. This event gives a chance to aspiring dancers and singers to compete for a chance to fly to Korea and perform on a grand stage in front of thousands of people in the city of Changwon.
“The K-pop festival is an important competition which brings the K-pop community together in one place,” says Hayley Woo, a member of the group Monster Crew. The contest in the Czech Republic gained particular attention after the Czech group O.M.G. won the grand prize of $10,000 in the final round in Korea in 2013, putting the country on the grid for many viewers as a place with a flourishing and talented K-pop community.
K-pop is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm over the past decade. A music genre that originated in South Korea with flashy choreography and fun, upbeat melodies has now garnered millions of fans all over the world, and Prague is no exception. To someone who is a stranger to the K-pop world the idea that someone could be so passionate about music the lyrics of which they don’t understand might seem strange. Zhanna Stanislavchuk, a three-year K-pop supporter, explains its appeal this way: “There is no other genre of music in this world comparable to K-pop. To fall in love with K-pop is to discover a completely new, different world.”
Evidently, Stanislavchuk is not the only person who feels this way, as Prague is seeing more attendants at various K-pop events every year, with currently a little over 2,000 people following the official “Czech Hallyu Wave” Facebook page.
Prague offers a variety of events which give a chance to K-pop lovers to meet people with similar interests and participate in something exciting and different. These include regular K-pop parties which play exclusively K-pop music. Here K-pop fans can feel accepted as part of a big family, and show their love for the favorite songs, groups and choreography.
The most recent party on October 7th hosted by Young Bros, a Korean organization that hosts K-pop parties all over Europe, brought a very special guest. Bae JunRyul, a South Korean singer and ex-member of the group Monster gave a performance as part of the first day on his European tour. After training under SM Entertainment for seven years and debuting as a member of Monster in 2007 and disbanding in 2010, the singer decided to pursue a solo career in K-pop. After meeting Young Bros, JunRyul decided it “would be a good strategy” to start his comeback in Prague, which could help him gain popularity and help him make his comeback in South Korea. As part of his short concert JunRyul performed his debut song as well as a variety of cover songs from currently popular groups, making the night for the K-pop fans present at the party extra exciting and enjoyable.
Another important event for K-pop lovers in Prague is the annual flash mob that typically takes place a day before the K-pop contest, whereby fans meet up and perform a medley of previously rehearsed choreography. Anyone can join, and it is a chance for K-pop fans to flaunt their love for the music, as these flash mobs usually take place in a public area such as Wenceslas Square.
While K-pop can be viewed as just a hobby, it is also a part of a larger social phenomenon that reaches to the highest levels of Korean society, and is bringing economic benefits to the Czech Republic.
A concert by two of the biggest K-pop groups, SHINee and Red Velvet, was staged in Prague in early December last year as part of a visit by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
This concert gave fans a chance to see their favorite idols perform up close, which was an extraordinary opportunity for many, as Korean groups rarely make concerts in Europe.
The Královka sports hall held over 1,800 fans who were able to witness electric performances by the two groups as well as beautiful choreography by Poppin’ Hyun Joon and Prague’s very own O.M.G., who got to do a guest performance on stage. At the end of the performance the President concluded, “Hopefully, music, the arts and our shared traditions will serve as a bridge to bring together young people from Korea and the Visegrad Group nations, allowing us all to liaise with people from different cultures.”
Just like the Czech people are interested in Korean music and culture, it seems that Korea is also gaining an interest in the Czech Republic as both an investment and holiday destination. The Korean drama Lovers of Prague first made Korean people see Prague as a romantic and beautiful city. Since then various Korean films such as the recent The Beauty Inside have been filmed here to further show and encourage Korean citizens to visit Prague.
Due to the interest that has been shown in Korean culture by Czech people as well as the K-pop events, more Korean companies have been investing in Prague. One example of this is the investment of Korean Air in Prague, offering five days of direct flights from Korea to Prague.
The K-pop community in Prague is constantly growing, and with it the number of events that offer people a chance to find a close-knit community which will welcome newcomers with open arms. Particularly for international people not originally from the Czech Republic, the community offers a place where they can feel at home, as many K-pop fans in Prague are from all around the world. To those who may not know K-pop or may be disinterested in it, Stanislavchuk says, “I recommend everybody listen to Korean music at least once. Upon hearing it you may be able to find something you’ve been searching for for a long time. K-pop isn’t a favorite music genre, it’s a style of life.”