Every year since its inception in 2012, the convention for all things Korean culture, KCON, comes back bigger than ever — and 2018 is no different. Taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Aug. 10-12, KCON is a K-pop fan’s Comic Con and Coachella, with two concert nights also being hosted at the Staples Center featuring some of the most notable names in Hallyu.
2017 saw over 85,000 people attend the event over its three days. And this year, we can definitely expect a bigger turnout. During the day, KCON-goers can enjoy the different panels with industry people, special events with K-pop acts, dance master classes, and more. But the 3+ hour concerts on Saturday and Sunday nights are the true highlights. Fans get to watch a variety of Korean artists perform a short set of their latest hits, and even some special performances that could only take place at the KCON stage.
With a lineup of 19 acts ranging from K-pop female and male groups to R&B soloists to rap duos, to the uninitiated, it can be overwhelming to thread through all of them. That’s why we handpicked five acts performing at KCON LA you should definitely look out for.
After competing for half a year for a spot in the group, Wanna One was formed by the top 11 contestants, with the top four ranking votes in the millions. Building upon the show’s success and the fact that the public felt like they already knew them, the group was popular even before they released their first single “Energetic” last summer. Since then, Wanna One has released three EPs, all reaching the top spot on Korean charts, making them the boy band of the moment in the country. The guys are all charismatic performers that pull off intense choreographies, partly due to them being a large group. Sadly, Wanna One has an expiration date since they are only a temporary group and will disband this December, so KCON might be the last chance fans get to ever see them together.
Chungha launched her solo career and basically became the new princess of K-pop after coming in fourth place on season one of the same competition program as Wanna One and promoting for a year in the massively successful girl group I.O.I. With sleek choreographies and a high, sweet voice, the singer has become one of the most successful female acts in Korea, outselling girl groups left and right, who had dominated the K-pop industry until recently. Her music is a very modern and danceable bubblegum pop. Chungha, with her earworm songs and amazing dance skills, is a refreshing reminder of what pop stars are supposed to be: fun performers.
K-pop might have the spotlight internationally, but in South Korea, alt R&B is actually an up-and-coming genre that’s cultivating lots of interesting artists. Among the front runners is Crush, with his tender, soulful voice. Though his singles are more mainstream-friendly and his music videos are on par with K-pop, Crush writes and produces his own music and incorporates everything from jazz to nu soul to hip-hop to electronica, which was perfectly embodied in his newest EP Wonderlost. On top of being a repeat KCON performer, Crush played at SXSW this year, indicating he’s definitely one to watch.
Screeching guitar riffs and banging drums isn’t something closely associated with K-pop, but when it comes to girl group Dreamcatcher, that’s basically their melodies. Bridging the gap between an anime opening and a pristine K-pop formula of sugary vocals and tight choreographies, is Dreamcatcher with their haunting pop rock. Though rock isn’t a popular genre in Korea, they’ve caught the attention of overseas audiences for their intense concept, one that hasn’t been seen in K-pop until now. But the seven-member ensemble are still considered a rookie group, as they only came out last year and have yet to build a name for themselves. In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy their badassery of breaking with the stereotypical K-pop mold and opting for a darker direction.
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and few are as compelling as NU’EST W’s. First coming out back in 2012, NU’EST was the rookie boy group to watch, with their in-your-face anti-bullying anthem “Face.” But after that, due to a variety of reasons, things went awry for the group. And though they kept releasing stunning genre bending, futuristic pop records, their career seemed to be leading to disbandment. Then, four out of the five members joined the competition show that would eventually birth Wanna One. Though they all regularly ranked high on the TV show, only Minhyun made it into the group, taking him out of NU’EST for one and a half years. The rest of the members then formed the sub-unit NU’EST W —the W standing for “wait” as in waiting for Minhyun— in order to continue promoting, and they became super popular. While their current music direction is more mainstream and less experimental than their previous work, their singles like “Dejavu” are undisputedly fun and groovy jams.