We're getting very up close and personal with the love for Korean pop music love in India, and its surrounding industry. Let super fans power your soundtrack, tell you how to talk and walk K-pop style, in the best that K-pop fashion has to offer. Read more here.
I had categorised Korean pop as meaningless catchy beats, without realising its quicksand effect: If you dare to wander into the clutches of just one song, the chances that you will sink into a semi-permanent state of K-pop love are high.
The K-pop phenomenon has been growing in our country over the last few years, and its desi fans are fast growing to almost overpower its Seoul sisters (and brothers). While most K-pop fandoms operate online, India Korea Friends Mumbai (IKFM) is a fan gang that regularly organises in person meet-ups across Mumbai, to gush over the latest K-pop crush and play games.
While a K-pop fan meet in Seoul is a platform to interact with your favourite icons, the interactive part of such get togethers in India is about bonding over mutual respect and appreciation for these artists with fellow fans. They usually take place during K-pop contests, film festivals, anniversaries and even when the WhatsApp groups just want a day to catch up over some good ol’ K-pop love. Some even feature listening sessions, dance parties. And almost all of them involve heated discussions about the latest K-pop comeback and who’s a better band.
On a drizzly Saturday afternoon, I met the members of IKFM to celebrate the anniversaries of K-pop groups Red Velvet and Girls’ Generation at Candies cafe in Bandra, Mumbai. This is what went down.
A burgeoning favourite in the Indian music market, most fans stumble into K-pop while watching Anime or through random Youtube recommendations. This group was dressed in their Korean pop culture best, from botanical print kimonos to pink sweatshirts with ‘Seoul’ emblazoned on it, paired with vividly coloured hair.
“After listening to K-pop you slowly start following your icons’ style”, explained Suhail Sheikh, a 22-year-old doctor, whose love for K-pop earned him the Cultural Head position at his college festival. He told us how K-pop didn’t just open up a universe of diverse music, but has also motivated fans like him to learn Korean, wear a traditional Korean dress while running errands, and check out Korean restaurants in an attempt to assimilate with the culture. “There’s a certain level of perfection imposed on K-pop bands and icons which inspires you and has even got me to take my beauty routine very seriously,” added Hitali Verenekar, another K-pop enthusiast.
“K-pop is not just limited to liking EXO, BTS or one specific group; it’s about navigating across the apparent superficiality of multiple bands to discover a deeper meaning that helps you grow as an artist and person,” remarked the event’s organiser Nishigandha Mhapankar, who credits the genre for helping her bag a job as a freelance graphic designer at the Korean Consulate.
The meetup kicked off in full swing as Mhapankar laid all her cards on the table. Literally. It was a set of graphic playing cards featuring K-pop stars as characters of the game Werewolf that were exclusively designed by her. We played a quirky version of the game, which acted as the ice-breaker and led to loud squeals of excitement. The group joked around in classic Korean slang, often breaking out into K-pop song references for statements made during the game, despite wayward stares.
Then came a round of Trivia, where everyone had to listen to a part of a song by K-pop bands Red Velvet and guess answers around them to win K-pop posters, books and mugs. Of course not everyone was party to this chaotic buzz of giddy excitement, as we were predictably approached by the cafe manager and asked keep the noise down. “We are so animatedly loud that we are often shouted at and even kicked out of public places, including the India Gate,” added Mhapankar.
Nishi also pointed out how difficult it was to hold these events in people’s houses due to the lack of funds and space in the city. One of the bigger hurdles is parents who object to their kids following K-pop. “My parents don’t support my love for K-pop. They think it desensitises me from Indian culture,” says Sanaya Arora*, a 19-year old graphic design student, also the most enthusiastic fan of the lot. “I’m only here today because I told them I’m attending a class!”
“These meetups are important as they give people a chance to step away from their screens and meet other like-minded people brought together by their mutual love for music. It’s a great place to make new friends,” said Orlinda Fernandes, a founding member of the IKFM.
In a world where the Hallyu wave and love for K-pop spread through the digital space to find fans in India, it’s ironic that it’s best enjoyed when fans physically meet up. It’s also led to increased participation in Korean music competitions, support for causes projected in K-pop videos like LGBTQ rights (although rare), and even opened the gateway for variety shows. Being a K-pop fan is more than just having a crush. It’s also a means to finding a part of yourself.
*name changed on request