On summer Sunday mornings, Madrid's Gran Vía looks like an asphalt desert. The gray of the road is mixed with that of the blinds lowered for the weekend or due to the crash of the pandemic, and the lack of shade empties the commercial artery of the city with walkers. But this Sunday, at the height of the Lope de Vega Theater that normally hosts the unfailing musical of The Lion King, an oasis of color has emerged.
A sea of orange, pink and blue tinted heads swarmed in front of the door ready to enter the biggest K-Pop event held in Spain: a talent show organized by the South Korean Embassy and supported by Los40.
The bases of the call announced that the entrance was free and free until full capacity. That's 1,100 people. The arrogance granted by prejudice invited us to think that a theater with that capacity would never be filled. Of course, the perception was wrong. At 9 in the morning, three hours before it started, there were hardly any empty places.
The K-Pop Contest has had ten editions behind it and has become an essential event for kpopers, of whom there are many in Spain and they are very well organized. Ten participants played for the prize this year in the dance and singing categories, five in one and five in the other. The winners would receive a check for 1,000 euros and the possibility of traveling to Korea with all expenses paid to participate in the K-POP World Festival, a mecca for South Korean music.
At twelve o'clock in the morning, like an Asian punctuality clock, the show began. The first to act was Irene Verde Aragón, a purebred Cádiz native and 29-year-old project manager. She pulled up a chair, sat down in the middle of the stage, and perfect Korean from Yerim Sohn's song "Problem" burst from her vocal chords. The shock was such that the audience and the stalls began to shout with fervor.
Those present were not only relatives and colleagues of the participants or upstarts. There were real fans. Hysteria brought the theater down when it was the turn of Daken'z, a perfectly synchronized corps of six leather-clad dancers who performed One, from the Astro group, at light speed. Offstage they are engineers, waiters or hostesses, and they are no older than 25. But above, they are a uniform mass. “You have the looks, the technique, the talent. And you have the fans,” one of the jury members told them.
In the brief interview that all the young people offered after their performance, they confessed to having come to K-Pop in the same way: "Because of a friend." For this reason, its good performance in a discipline that borders on the military. The formulas of K-Pop music companies have received criticism over the years for the pressure they put on their singers and dancers. They all have their own youth training center, whom they capture in their teens and raise them to become mass idols. The members of Blackpink told in a Netflix documentary that they came to work 14 hours a day in their time as trainees.
The jury of the Spanish K-Pop Contest has had a manager from Cube Entertainment, one of the most famous labels in the Asian country. Seunghwe Jeon, however, has been kind in his comments, even praising the Spanish amateur talent over that of Korea. He has done it in the case of the members of Wonder Magnet, who have won in the dance category.
Like an accordion dressed in pink, more than a dozen dancers from Madrid have performed Twice's hit, Scientist, which accumulates three million views on YouTube. The show follows the technique of South Korean bands: everyone gets their moment to shine. When someone scores a solo, the rest accompany with very fast hand movements, childish gestures reminiscent of anime.
If Wonder Magnet have taken the podium in dance, the Filipina Ellice Aquino, 32, has done so in the singing category. She has dared with a ballad –of course, in Korean– that has moved the jury. Even more so due to the fact that she has never taught classes in her life, she has only become fond of K-drama thanks to a playlist. Aquino was fighting against Auri, a programmer from Écija who has won the second prize rapping, or Vicky, a 16-year-old student who has offered a mix of diva kpopera show and Britney Spears.
The K-Pop movement in Spain is moderately recent, which is why its acolytes are barely in their twenties. A very eclectic group was waiting for their dance colleagues at the exit. They entered the contest a couple of years ago and recognize that the phenomenon is "a black hole." “Once you start you can't stop, plus we all rehearse in the same place,” says 25-year-old Kiki. They reveal that to enter the castings, hours of preparation are required every day. His dream, like that of all those who appear, is to go to Korea.
Something different is the fan phenomenon. Groups of young girls and boys wait at the exit of Lope de Vega with signs. Some feel the irritation in their eyes from crying. “Of emotion”, specifies a fan of the Daken'z dancers. It is surprising that, despite the fact that the most famous group in the world is in the news for its temporary separation, none mentions BTS as a favorite. Instead, they offer a string of syllables impossible for a brain new to the genre to memorize.
"I thought they were four fools," admits Iria. “I started in 2019 because I really liked reggaeton and I saw a video of K-Pop singers reacting to reggaeton. It was the beginning of the end”, she acknowledges, while two sticker tears fall from her carefully made-up eyes. That is another of the learnings from this kpopera morning: there is not even a trace of improvisation in the aesthetics.
As if they were stars of Korea, the followers have taken their best checkered skirts, ruffles, leathers and chains for a walk. The hairstyles also follow a pattern, ranging from something close to colorful punk and, on the opposite side, baby-doll (the porcelain doll image that identifies this movement). "It's visually very attractive," explains Denis.
This fandom is becoming more and more powerful, and the event organized by the Korean Embassy is proof. They not only want to support their idols, but become them. And, at the rate that the K-Pop puppies of our country are going, the latter could be a matter of time.