With a sea of their signature lime green light sticks illuminating the entire Staples Center and the sound of the fans chanting their individual names engulfing them, the K-pop group GOT7 kicked off the closing set at KCON on Aug. 20 with their latest song “Never Ever.” Just two years ago, the septet served as the opening act of the same event, but now they were back as the headliner of the night and their fans showed up in droves to support them.
KCON is an annual Korean culture convention that started back in 2012 at the now defunct Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre. The convention promotes the Hallyu wave (Korean wave), with K-beauty, K-food, K-pop, and K-drama expositors showcasing their products and brands. Since then, it has grown into a full fledged convention held at the Los Angeles Convention Center and also hosts two nights of concerts with K-pop’s hottest acts at the Staples Center. This year alone saw 85,000 attendees over the three day event, their biggest crowd yet. KCON’s headliners this year were the 13-member group SEVENTEEN on Saturday’s show and LA faves GOT7 on Sunday’s.
Consisting of JB (Jae-Beom Lim), Jackson Wang, BamBam (Kunpimook Bhuwakul), Jin-Young Park, Yu-Gyeom Kim, Young-Jae Choi, and Mark Tuan, GOT7 debuted in 2014 under one of South Korea’s biggest entertainment companies, JYP Entertainment. Since then, they’ve become one of the most popular K-pop acts in America, largely due to the group’s multicultural background, with Jackson being from Hong Kong, BamBam from Thailand, and Taiwanese-American Mark from Arcadia, CA.
“I think the fans like us because of the fact that we communicate and interact with them more,” said Jin-Young, who did an interview with the Weekly via a translator before their set at KCON. “Although we don’t really speak English well, we have some members who speak the language, and [the rest of us] try very hard to communicate with the fans more by memorizing words and sentences of things we want to say.”
And while culture shock might be an issue for some people, GOT7 are unphased. “Whenever we travel to [countries] such as China, Thailand, or even here in the U.S., we have a member who speaks the language,” explained JB through a translator. “Regardless of your nationality, I think the way people live and think is similar everywhere. I can’t find any difference [among the members].”
After introductions and doing a playful event where three members proposed to a concertgoer, Jackson took the mic and prefaced their second song of the night, an ode to their loving fans. “It’s a special song, of course, produced by JB. It’s about wanting to see you guys all day. ‘Everyday.’”
Another factor in GOT7’s popularity in the States is the fact that they’ve toured the country twice, first with their Fly Tour in 2016 and then with a more intimate fan meeting tour earlier this year. But despite seeing their fans in different U.S. cities at least once a year since debut, the group is humble — almost oblivious — to the reality of just how big their group is.
“We’re the headliner of the show, but if you look at the lineup, it’s pretty much the new, up and coming artists right now and we’re the oldest, the sunbae [senior artist],” 23-year-old Mark said. “I don’t think it’s because of popularity or anything. I think it’s because of the year that we came out in, four years ago, compared to people who came out a few months ago. But it feels really good being able to come back to the States to perform and come back to our hometowns. We went to Hong Kong and Thailand too to perform [recently], so it feels really good.”
Meanwhile, at that exact time at the convention, vouchers to —wait for it— high five them at their fan engagement event before the concert were going for anywhere between $200 up to $500. Not for a picture. Not for an autograph. But a high five.
What’s more, there’s actually data to back up the claim that GOT7 is really popping off in America. According to an unpublished 2016 survey by Korea Creative Content Agency USA (a South Korean government agency dedicated to documenting and spreading Korean culture and entertainment in the U.S.), GOT7 is the third most popular K-pop act in the U.S. after EXO and BTS and before older groups BIG BANG and SHINee. Both EXO and BTS held arena tours this year and BIG BANG have had two arena tours since 2012 in the States.
Like most K-pop, GOT7’s music changes with each release. But the group’s appeal lies in their ability to effectively reinvent themselves, going from the playful boys next door in “Just Right” to the angsty ex-boyfriend on “If You Do.” Their sound, even if it always has a pop angle, always has an R&B tinge, largely due to the fact that their resident smooth crooner JB writes and produces a lot of their music, something they didn’t get to do right off the bat. “We have grown as the time went by and the level of our interest and affection for our albums has also grown,” he explained. “We will participate more and put more of ourselves and stories into the albums.”
“Let’s fly again, fly again, fly again/ I got this right/ Don’t worry about tomorrow/ Today, I’ll hard carry only for you,” Jin-Young sang on the pre-chorus of their closing song “Hard Carry.” Derived from Korean slang, “hard carry” means that one person — in this case GOT7— will take the leading role and carry the rest of the team —the fans. In context, the group is essentially telling their fans they’ll work hard and be the best for them. And they demonstrated it by putting on a passionate performance at KCON, singing live (which is rare in K-pop shows, to be quite honest), giving their all through the intricate choreographies, and not being afraid to act cheesy for their fans.
While GOT7 might think that they still have a long way to go to become Hallyu heavyweights, KCON proved that LA, at least, is their home turf.