‘Music that unites’: The K-pop fan scene in New Zealand

BIGBANG – which consists of members Taeyang, Seungri, TOP, G-Dragon and Daesung – are considered by South Korean media to be the “kings of K-pop”.

K-pop enthusiast Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi talks about New Zealand’s K-pop fan culture, the music’s appeal, and highlights some big K-pop acts with New Zealand connections.

Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi was in her first year at the University of Canterbury when she had her first brush with Korean pop music.

“A classmate of mine introduced me to K-pop idol Rain and one of his hit singles It’s Raining. That’s where it all began.” 

That initial interest led to her studying Asia-related courses and taking a more general interest in Korean culture.

“I’ve found that people who become fans of K-pop music actually become interested in Korea in general: its culture, history, fashion, entertainment industry, and more importantly its language,” says Fine, who is one of the administrators running the Facebook page NZ KPOP FANS, New Zealand’s largest online fan group dedicated to K-pop.

I know heaps of people want to learn Korean now because of K-pop or K-dramas.”

Fine shares more about the appeal of K-pop, the fan scene in New Zealand and Kiwi-Korean K-pop ties.

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New Zealand K-pop fans

Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi (bottom left, in glasses) and fellow K-pop fans at a gathering in Auckland. (Photo: NZ KPOP FANS/Facebook)

What’s the K-pop fan scene like in New Zealand?

Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi: “The K-pop fan scene is pretty good in New Zealand, considering its size. There are fans all over the country.

“Most of the engagement happens online as K-pop is mostly digested and consumed via the internet. There are moments of visibility though, when fans come together to attend K-pop concerts; when groups informally meet for lunch or noraebang [private karaoke room]; or to attend events together such as the K-Festival in Wellington, or K-Fest in Auckland.

“Most universities have student K-pop clubs – either standalone or under a Korean student club. At the secondary school level, K-pop is performed in cultural festivals.

“K-pop dance crews have also become quite popular. In Auckland, K-pop dance classes have popped up around the city, such as CRAVE, Mitch’s K-pop dance class, HORIZON.ADP, or Rina Chae’s dance classes.

“The other aspect of the K-pop fan scene in New Zealand is online stores, such as NZ Look-Up KPOP Shop, where fans can buy albums and posters.

“Our Facebook page has organised mini-competitions and meet-ups in the past. We recently had a meet-up in Auckland and plan to have a few more. We recognise that increasingly, people want to connect offline so we’re looking at more effective ways to do that.”

“There are certain features that characterise K-pop: catchy music, well-choreographed dance moves, amazing music videos and the prevalence of groups.”

BTS, K-pop band

BTS has been making waves around the world recently, especially in the United States.

What’s the appeal of K-pop?

“On the surface of it all, K-pop is appealing because it looks good, sounds good and makes you feel good.

“There are certain features that characterise K-pop: catchy music, well-choreographed dance moves, amazing music videos (the visual elements of K-pop are on another level) and the prevalence of groups. Groups are a thing of the past in Western pop culture, but they are a huge part of K-pop. It’s also a fast-moving industry so there is always something going on.

“For me, K-pop is appealing for two other reasons. Firstly, it brings people of all walks of life together – there seems to be something in the music that unites people. For example, some K-pop fan communities have come together to achieve social outcomes, such as donating to a good cause or planting whole forests. 

“We tried this in August 2017 when G-Dragon visited our shores. Knowing how difficult winter is for some families, our page organised a food drive. Fans who donated a non-perishable food item would receive a banner they could hold up at his concert. We donated the items to Auckland City Mission on behalf of the page.

“Secondly, I love how K-pop reflects Korean culture. Learning about Korea through its music is exciting for me.

“An example is seeing the way artistes interact with one another – Korean social relations are dependent, to a certain extent, on age and experience. Artistes who debut earlier are shown respect by those who debut later (known as the sunbae/hoobae relationship); and younger artistes show respect to those who are older. Even the act of bowing is something some people in New Zealand may not be used to seeing.”

K-pop dance group Red Velvet

Red Velvet, one of the hottest dance acts in K-pop. (Photo: Red Velvet/Facebook)

The average Kiwi might know about PSY, but what other acts could you recommend as a good entry point if you’re curious?

“If you’re a young person curious about K-pop, I would definitely recommend BTS as an entry point. This group has been making waves around the world lately. But it’s important to note that the term “K-pop” actually encompasses a wide range of influences and genres. So depending on your interests, you can check out:

  • Hip-hop/R&B: Jay Park or YG Entertainment artistes (BIGBANG, EPIK HIGH)
  • Vocalists or singer-songwriters: IU, Ailee or MAMAMOO
  • Dance music: Red Velvet, GOT7 or SHINee
  • Rock/bands: FT ISLAND or DAY6

“It is common for artistes to try out more than one genre, so there’s also reggae, jazz, and even Latino influences in some K-pop music. K-pop artistes also commonly promote heavily in Japan and China.

“I think South Korea has an amazing ballad-singing tradition, great indie artistes, and a strong hip-hop, R&B and rap scene.”

K-pop rapper Microdot

Auckland rapper Microdot has gained a following in Korea. (Photo: Microdot/Instagram)

Do you know any New Zealanders who have made a name for themselves in South Korea?

“We have The Siu Twinz, Jason and Philip Siu, who represented New Zealand at the K-Pop World Festival in 2013  they made the finals and won the Global Talent Award. They’ve been making dance videos ever since, and have been to Korea to do a few things. 

“As for K-pop stars connected to New Zealand, perhaps the most significant at the moment is Jennie Kim, of popular girl group BLACKPINK. She was born in South Korea but spent her early years in New Zealand, where she attended school before returning to South Korea to attend high school.

“Rapper Microdot and singer Sanchez, who are brothers, spent most of their lives in New Zealand and have made a name for themselves in South Korea.

Bizzy of MFBTY grew up in Auckland. Beenzino also spent a bit of time in New Zealand, as did Kyung from Block B, Nichkhun from 2PM, Rap Monster from BTS, and actor/singer Jang Geun Suk.”

– Asia Media Centre

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