Korean pop music, or KPop, started in South Korea in the 1990s as a mashup of Western hip hop/dance music and traditional Korean music. Since then, it’s evolved in both style, popular players and fan base. Recently, a group of passionate, dedicated KPop music fans hosted a “Fan Meet” at Islamorada Library.
As it came to exist in the digital age, KPop also is so much more than a musical genre. “What makes KPop so appealing to everyone isn’t just the handsome men and gorgeous women,” said Nathalie Lominchar, lead of the popular South Florida KPop Fans group. “It’s the choreography, the videos. It’s a whole production. It’s like a musical. It’s so colorful and so different than what we see here.”
For Lominchar and her fellow KPop Fans, following along with the latest groups and trends in KPop becomes a favorite hobby and almost a lifestyle. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” she said. “I love these groups. You get to fall in love with them and become a little obsessed.” Her fellow presenters agree, bringing out fan memorabilia collected over years and showing off dance moves from videos now decades old.
The point of KPop Fan Meets like the one in Islamorada is to bring fans of the music genre gather together. The events range from huge “K-Con” KPop conventions to dance rehearsals to learn the latest moves to a KPop 101 lesson like the recent Keys program.
“If you’ve never done a K-Con, it’s so worth it,” Lominchar said. “You can high touch, scream ‘I love you!’ as the idols walk past. And, you’ll see a bunch of people just like you. That’s the best part.”
In addition to the fan group, Lominchar heads up a YouTube channel called “K!Junkies” with Amanda Vilar. Lominchar and Vilar met at another fan meet six years ago and have since created their very popular channel dedicated to KPop and its fans. They have over 43,000 subscribers, and release dance covers, album reviews, fan meet vlogs, and anything else KPop-related they can find to bring people together.
Lominchar opens the Fan Meet by asking Christina Neel of Islamorada in the audience, “Are you a KPop fan?” Without skipping a beat, a cheery Neel replies, “Of course! Who isn’t?” Lominchar explains for others less familiar with the genre how KPop has evolved through the generations.
The original boy bands of the 1990s might now be called “man bands” jokes Neel. “Or even “dad bands!”
“They’re in their 40s now and still great!” says Andres Labrada, the other lead of the fan group. Labrada goes on to explain how the same group can shift its style over time. “Most groups will come out looking innocent. And then a ‘bad boy’ song will release and they’ll shift their styling to be more edgy and sexy,” he says.
KPop often follows the tenor of Korean and Western society of the time, shifting group sizes, looks and dynamics to account for things like mandatory military service for Korean men and sexy “girl crush” looks for empowered women. Lominchar applauds the fluidity of stereotypes and looks within the genre, something she loves.
In recent years, KPop has boomed in popularity, with big name groups performing as close to the Keys as Miami. Lominchar brings up a video of BTS, a contemporary “it” group. “They’re the first group to make it into the West in a big way,” she says. From the audience, Samara Quintana squeals in agreement. “I love KPop. I have since 2015!” Wearing a BTS necklace, the Key Largo native eagerly joins the dance workshop hosted by the fan group after, of course, requesting a BTS song.
Charlotte Caria smiles seeing Quintana’s joy in meeting other KPop fans. Caria works for Islamorada Library and is in charge of programming like the fan meet. “I know there are kids down here who aren’t into being on the water,” she says. “These programs are to help them!”