News / Reviews

K-Pop On the Rise – A Look at AnimeNEXT 2019!

By Kaitlin Cunanan | June 18, 2019 03:37 PM EDT

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With the emergence of K-pop legends into Western award shows, radio stations, and news outlets, we see K-pop slowly become increasingly “mainstream” – and its influence even extends to other subcultures, like anime and video games.

Earlier this month (June 7-9, 2019), Kpopstarz took a look at AnimeNEXT, an annual three-day anime convention held at the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey. Filled with excitement, programming like Cosplay Wrestling, a variety of panels, video games, a dealer’s room, and an Artist Alley made sure that con-goers never had a moment to spare. The convention receives over thousands of attendees every year, each eager to celebrate unabashedly their love for anime and meet people with similar interests – interests that now include K-pop!

Walking into the convention center felt like walking into another world, with con-goers decked out in ethereal cosplays. Cosplay, a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play,” allows cosplayers to show off their craftsmanship as well as their love for the characters they dress up as.

At AnimeNEXT, Kimberly Ellis (@lupinecats) and Lily Goode (@lilyvesta) showed off their love for BTS with Kimberly dressed as BT21’s Tata and Lily dressed in Jungkook’s “Fake Love” outfit, complete with a BT21 Cooky headband.

Kimberly started as an anime fan and has since spiraled into the world of K-Pop, bringing her love for cosplay along with her. As a longtime participant in ‘fandom culture’, she commented: “It seems like everyone that I know that’s into K-Pop was an anime fan – we all just fell [into the K-Pop fandom], asking, ‘What’s next?’”

K-Pop made for a fitting OST for the hectic and lively atmosphere of AnimeNEXT – and that’s not just the opinion of us here at KpopStarz! As con-goers approached the Info Desk with questions, they were greeted by staff and a playlist filled with K-Pop’s latest hits and directed around the convention center to the tune of BTS’ Idol and Twice’s Likey.

One of the highlights of AnimeNEXT, or any convention, is the dealer’s room, where attendees can browse a huge array of vendors and purchase fandom-related merchandise to their heart’s content. There are huge wallscrolls emblazoned with the season’s most popular anime, giant, squishy animal plushies in every color of the rainbow, and pastel-colored snacks imported straight from Japan, all catering to the anime lover. However, inside the dealer's room, the loudest music was actually K-Pop – jams like Produce 48's theme song Nekkoya and GOT7’s A blasted as con-goers shopped around. K-Pop merchandise was in no shortage either.

One booth had a display of K-Pop albums and other assorted K-pop merchandise for sale – they even had official merchandise from BTS’ tour.

This shop’s custom hats were emblazoned with group names (NCT 127, Red Velvet, GOT7) and Korean words like “Hyung” and “Maknae” alongside anime terms like “Weeaboo” and “Tsundere.”

An acrylic standee of your best boy on sale for five dollars? Tempting.

Meanwhile, in the convention’s game room, any K-pop fan would recognize a song that came up on the rhythm game DanceRush Stardom – BLACKPINK’s Boombayah, in Japanese.

K-Pop was especially present in the Artist Alley, where artists sell art and merchandise that they’ve created, shown off in towering displays. One such display was the art of Car (@kaiju_jungle), with an assortment of vibrant prints and keychains laid out on top of a pastel, universe-printed tablecloth. (We pointed out their bright yellow illustration of TXT’s Cat and Dog with visible excitement, and they responded just as excitedly).

We went up to Car’s table where they joked: “We have anime idols,” gesturing to their friend’s side of the table, and then to their own, “and real idols!”

Real-life idols or not, Car’s art reflected what they were passionate about, with their affinity for bright colors even shown in how they styled themselves in a neon green bucket hat and matching neon green Crocs. “The presence of K-pop in anime conventions is really welcoming, since it’s a collection of people excited to be here,” said Car. Their prints, which featured BTS imagined as Pokemon trainers, was, much like K-Pop in anime conventions, a fusion of their interests. “Plus, K-Pop sells -- it’s super hyped, and if you sell in the Artist Alley you see what’s trending, and what’s popular. Also, I’m gonna sell things that I like!”

We were also drawn to the booth of Sochg (@SoChg), whose art encompassed everything from a unique Legend of Zelda-themed deck of cards to chibi-style keychains of anime characters to  glitzy enamel pins detailing each of BTS’ Intro songs. Though Sochg’s interest in anime and K-Pop all were both expressed through their art, anime and K-pop occupied different areas of their heart. “Anime was more of an outlet for how to draw,” said Sochg, while they were drawn to K-pop for the music and its quality of production: “K-pop music video productions had no competition.”

So how did K-Pop make its way into Sochg’s merchandise? “I got into BTS and I wanted to do something for them, for my love for them. I started to do little Chimmys (BTS Jimin’s BT21 character) and it just kept going from there,” Sochg commented. “It’s really cool to share a love for an idol with other fans.”

For these artists, art is a way to connect with the K-Pop artists they love, and a way to connect with fans that share the same interests as them. Meeting others that share the same interests as you, whether it’s anime or K-pop, is always exciting – and with their fanart on display, fans can form an instant connection with a fellow Army, NCTzen, or anything in between. As Car described, “When people see that I have BTS art, they get excited, and I get excited. It’s fun seeing people talk about their bias and why they love them; it’s a way to connect with fellow fans.”

K-Pop is a muse for many artists: Cas Nouveau displayed her Red Velvet fanart at her booth and commented, “I saw the Peek-A-Boo music video and I couldn’t not draw them.” However, Cas did express a concern that might be shared by others: “K-Pop is Korean, not Japanese, so why is it in an anime convention?”

They’re more similar than it may seem – a lot of anime dips into idol territory. We attended a panel titled “Intro to Idol Boys,” hosted by Desiree Gareau (@osk_spice) and Jacqueline Carroll (@galactic_Jax), both sporting spunky cosplays. However, these weren’t the same brand of ‘idol boys’ K-Pop fans are used to – the panel detailed various brands of animated Japanese idols featured in anime or ‘mobage’, a shorthand term for mobile games. Their presentation included a short insert on "Why Osaka Sougo is the best boy and why you should love him for all eternity" – a love and dedication no different from a K-Pop stan’s fangirling or fanboying over Kang Daniel being their ult bias.

Desiree and Jacqueline had bags decked out in merchandise of their “best boy,” showing their love off to the masses. As Desiree announced during the panel, "idol anime just makes you feel good -- you just want them to succeed." This holds true whether it’s an animated idol or a 3-D one.

Idols’ dramatic styling and theatrical music videos are also just a short stone’s throw away from the otherworldly artistry of anime. Many anime fans are drawn to K-Pop because of its focus on visuals and aesthetics. “[K-Pop music videos] have that certain anime aesthetic,” commented Rui (@2dbangtan), with art of BTS’ RM and Jin displayed right next to art of popular anime My Hero Academia at their booth. “I loved Blood Sweat Tears especially. They use a lot of bright colors, and I’m really into that!”

From expressing a love for a fandom through art or cosplay to expressing it through dance, AnimeNEXT has it all – the weekend also saw several Random Play Dance meetups. Friday’s Random Play Dance meetup was hosted by Mirai Beat Coast. The random play dance had everything from anime and mobage classics to K-Pop staples. The opening notes of songs like Love Live’s Cutie Panther, Red Velvet’s Power Up, and Pentagon’s Shine all had dancers rushing to perform.

Anime conventions have always been a safe space for people to celebrate their interests without abandon, whether it be anime, video games, cosplay, dance, or K-Pop. With K-Pop on the rise, we can definitely see its influence on conventions like this year’s AnimeNEXT – it might not be long before they announce a K-Pop group as one of their musical guests!

Thank you so much to AnimeNEXT for providing KpopStarz with press access and for such a fun weekend!

EDITOR: EDWARD LEARY

PHOTOGRAPHER: KAREN MAY CUNANAN

REPORTER: KAITLIN CUNANAN

Tagged :  AnimeNEXT, kpop, KCON

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