[Viewpoint] The face of K-pop in France

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[Viewpoint] The face of K-pop in France

I get this question very often: “I heard the Korean wave is very big there, is it true?”

My friends in Korea want to talk about the K-pop concerts that were held on June 10 and 11 in France. I always say, “That is somewhat ambiguous.”

I explain that K-pop is popular in France indeed, but it is a bit different from what Koreans expect. Koreans have read the coverage on French newspapers and television and say, “But major media had feature stories about the concert!” They even suspect that I lack patriotism and look at the K-pop wave with too much skepticism.

The K-pop groups represented by SM Entertainment, including Girls’ Generation and TVXQ, had their tour and I went to the 3 hour, 30 minute concert on the second day.

I was away on a business trip on the first day. As I watched the performance and the audience, I was very moved. It was truly impressive to see French and European fans raving over Korean culture.

At the same time, I felt strange pride from watching young Europeans singing along with the Korean songs. The attractive Korean pop stars presented spectacular musical and dance performances. The feeling of estrangement that I felt in France as a foreigner from Asia was swept away at once.

After the concert, I thoroughly checked French newspapers and television news programs for reviews of the concert. Le Zenith de Paris is one of the major concert halls, and it was sold out for both performances. So I had expected to find reviews about the passionate performance.

But the major French newspapers and television stations did not even mention the concert. Le Monde and Le Figaro had feature stories about the Korean wave in France before the concert.

The articles were written by a Tokyo correspondent and a Seoul correspondent, respectively, focusing on the idol stars and the process of pop music production in Korea.

In retrospect, there is no reason to feel bitter about the lack of coverage. Last week, the U.S. group Black Eyed Peas held three concerts at the Stade de France. The 80,000-seater football stadium was sold out for all three performances. A few days later, American singer Prince was to perform at the same venue. The 80,000 tickets sold out as well. For these kinds of events, the French media showed some interest.

On the first day of online ticket sales for the SM Entertainment concert, the tickets sold out in 15 minutes. So the K-pop fans who failed to secure a ticket staged an event demanding more performances.

However, in reality, there is no guarantee that the performance by K-pop groups would be able to fill the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, a 20,000-seat venue where popular French musicians have concerts. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 French K-pop fans.

However, we should never be discouraged. Just as SM Entertainment chairman Lee Su-man said, the concert was only “the beginning.” According to a KBS insider, one of the network broadcasters in France has a plan to air the Korean drama series “Iris” this fall.

Just as Korean pop music and a Korean television series’ have gained popularity in other countries, they should produce the synergy of the Korean Wave and expand the fan base.

Korean films have earned solid fans in France, and these fans are also interested in seeing television dramas and other media products. It may not be an impossible dream to have 80,000 K-pop fans in France.

*The writer is the Paris correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Sang-eon
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