It may seem unlikely, but Newark has become a hotbed for K-pop, a globally ascendant music genre from South Korea that combines elements of R&B, hip-hop and electronic dance music. The genre’s biggest annual East Coast event, KCON NY, attracted more than 17,000 fans to Prudential Center last year. It returns June 24 and 25 to the Rock (still bearing its geographically challenged name).
A well-known K-pop star, the hyperkinetic PSY, introduced the genre to mainstream America with his ubiquitous 2012 hit, “Gangnam Style.” Another major act, 2NE1, performed at Prudential Center the same year, paving the way for sold-out concerts at the venue by Asian acts like Big Bang and EXO.
“Because of our early investment, more promoters are taking notice,” says Sean Saadeh, executive vice president of entertainment programming at Prudential Center. “We’ve sort of become the home of K-pop in the tristate area.”
Newark’s K-pop success can be attributed in part to the city’s proximity to New York and Fort Lee, both with large Asian communities. The lineup for this year’s KCON NY includes at least one performer with local ties. Lee Yejin, a vocalist known as Ailee, grew up in Palisades Park, graduated from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and has performed at Rutgers University. Also on the bill: Seventeen, a 13-piece act, and Mamamoo, an all-female quartet.
While KCON is dedicated to South Korean culture, its mix of music, food and beauty exhibitors, autograph sessions and celebrity panels attracts a 55 percent non-Asian audience, its organizers claim. For the last five years, a larger KCON has been held in Los Angeles. Last year’s L.A. event drew 58,000 fans.