Swept Up By The Hallyu

Is Bangladesh ready to embrace all that the Korean wave has to offer?

By Zora Mohsin

February was a wild ride for K-Pop fans around the world.

New songs/music videos dropping, tour announcements, Weverse lives, concept photos, meme-worthy moments, and some of our favorite idols going out of their way to keep us entertained at odd hours of the day – there was truly a lot to take in.

What the Bangladeshi fans did not expect, however, was that we were about to get the chance to experience the K-Pop phenomenon first-hand.

In celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Korea, the Korean Community Association partnered up with Korea Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KBCCI) and Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to organize Korea Week.

This was an opportunity to present Korean culture, which is rapidly gaining popularity across the map, and it makes sense for one of the Korean industries dominating the world at large – K-Pop – to be included in the showcase.

This included the first ever K-Pop concert in the country, which took place on February 24 at the Noboratri hall at ICCB – kicking off what’s expected to be the beginning of a new phase of the budding friendship between two nations.

It’s important to note here that when I heard about the concert, I fully expected it to be primarily a local event, with K-culture enthusiasts in Bangladesh getting together to celebrate the joys of the Hanguk effect.

I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.

The K-Pop Concert 2023 powered by Samsung Galaxy featured three groups talented in their own rights – a taekwondo performance team, Nolja; a girl K-Pop group ICU; and up-and-coming boy band TAN – for an evening that delivered a look into the world of Korean entertainment for those unversed in it.

While many news reports may have missed others on the already impressive line-up, it’s worth mentioning the opening performance by our home-grown K-Pop dance group, Mavericks, which set the stage for the Korean talents to follow.

The hosts for the evening, Bangladeshi K-Pop dancer Shefa Tabassum and YouTuber Joseph Kim (more famously known as Korean bhai) kept the energy high in the hall, charming the audience with their humor and banter in between performances.

Nolja started off their performance in full force, with popular K-Pop songs (“Blood, Sweat and Tears” and “Dynamite” included) adding to their mesmerizing taekwondo stunts and coordinated moves on stage. The flips, the “flying” (or that’s what it looked like to non-martial artists i.e. the entire audience), and the jump-kicks (that resulted in a stage filled with broken boards) all heightened the experience for those in attendance.

It’s safe to assume that it was a performance unlike anything usually seen in Bangladesh, and it allowed Bangladeshis to witness a significant part of Korean culture and history.

Next in line were ICU, a four-member girl group that debuted in 2019, with an exciting set-list including original songs as well as their cover of “Kill This Love” by their sunbaenims, BLACKPINK. The idols coming down from stage to interact with the audience was a special touch that elevated the act further.

But we were nowhere near done, of course. In true show-business fashion, the best was surely saved for last.

TAN (To All Nations) is a one-year-old seven-member group with a lot to offer – as evidenced by the powerful performances and undeniable stage presence they demonstrated. Like ICU, TAN also paid homage to their sunbaenims BTS – arguably the one name every single person in the audience knew, K-Pop fan or not – with their own rendition of “No More Dream.”

In case you’re wondering how the crowd responded to everything this day presented, the simple answer would be – with remarkably loud cheers.

Despite the fact that this concert was the first of its kind in Bangladesh, the audience (for the most part) received it the way you would expect. Sure, there was a portion of the crowd that didn’t know why they were there, what was happening on stage, or how to not make offensive and ignorant comments – but while a few outliers are expected to be present in these settings, there’s no denying that every person in the hall was left entertained, or at least intrigued, by what they saw.

It’s no secret that Hallyu has made its way into the nooks and crannies of Bangladesh too, whether it’s evident in public spheres or not. A significant portion of our population has given into the appeal that K-culture or K-entertainment holds, and that we are ready – we have been ready – for these aspects to be imported into our country was hard to miss at the concert.

Does that mean Bangladesh in its entirety is ready to accept the Korean wave openly? Perhaps not yet. There remains a certain stigma around Korean entertainment that many of us enthusiasts have experienced, and that might be hard to break free from immediately.

These kinds of events, however, can act as just the kind of teasers the general public needs to warm up to the idea. After all, curiosity was what got us fans started too.

As the partnership between Bangladesh and Korea reaches newer heights, there are lots more of these events to come. The success of this particular concert may facilitate more of its kind in the future, and from the reactions of those who saw glimpses of the event from my social media, I’m confident the crowds will only get bigger.

If nothing else, I left the hall absolutely exhilarated, with my friend (who is new to K-Pop) even more excited to delve into all that the genre has to offer.

Surely, that’s a good sign.

Zora Mohsin is an Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.

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