Fans feel closer to stars at K-pop emporiums
By Rachel Lee
As the K-pop craze heats up across Asia, Europe and Latin America, themed cafes are sprouting amid the hustle and bustle of Myeong-dong, or in the trendy streets of Gangnam in southern Seoul.
These cafes offer a plethora of items related to K-pop stars. Imagine the Hershey’s or M&M store in Times Square New York, but a K-pop version. The cafes have already spread outside the capital, and will soon go international to open in cities such as Bangkok.
KSTORY, opened in December last year, is on the second floor opposite the Uniqlo store in Myeong-dong. Unlike businesses run by gigantic entertainment companies, KSTORY is operated by an individual.
“In the midst of K-pop fever, I decided to open this cafe to further promote our music to everyone visiting Korea,” said Youn Jong-youn, president of KSTORY.
The place features an exhibit of about 150 K-pop items once belonging to stars including Rain’s teddy bear, costumes that were worn by boy band Choshinsung and autographs of members of Girls’ Generation and Bigbang.
Youn, a former film director, said he collected the items from people in the industry.
An average of 100 to 150 people from Japan, China and Southeast Asian countries, visit the store daily, he said. While the visitors are mostly female, male admirers sneak in sometimes and have a quick look-around the shop.
“I love Kim Hee-chul from Super Junior,” said a 26-year-old Taiwanese woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “I am excited to be in his home country Korea, though he is tied up with mandatory military service at the moment.”
Youn remembers one middle-aged Japanese female fan who burst into tears as soon as she entered the shop. “She said she was overwhelmed with feelings of happiness and came back the next day with gifts and a letter,” he said.
As K-pop fans are diverse in their nationalities, the cafe offers services in English, Chinese and Japanese.
There is a place for a light bite and drinks and big screens play concerts of K-pop stars. Souvenirs including CDs and t-shirts are also available.
But the question arises as to how all these people find this inconspicuous place in the crowded city. Thanks to the power of media and social networking services (SNS), not only has this venue been introduced by Japanese media several times, Youn himself also actively uses SNS such as Weibo and Twitter on a daily basis, targeting K-pop fans from China and Japan.
KSTORY’s first overseas branch is to open in Bangkok next month and its president said he hopes to launch more stores in Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines.
Other K-pop-themed places are Everysing and Cube Cafe, both operated by established entertainment agencies in Korea.
Run by SM Entertainment, the nation’s largest talent agency that manages Girls’ Generation and Super Junior among others, the striking feature of Everysing is the karaoke room. There visitors can sing, record and film their performances. An array of products such as DVDs, posters and stationary items are for sale and fans can take instant photos with the background images of their favorite stars.
After opening its first store in Gangnam, southern Seoul in September 2008, Everysing currently operates five locations within and around the metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, originally designed to provide space for Cube Entertainment artists as B2ST and 4minute to practice and rest, Cube Cafe opened in April and is situated on the first floor of the agency’s studio in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. More than half of the customers come from abroad with the hope of seeing their favorite K-pop musicians in person.
For these enthusiasts, the cafe also holds a variety of online and offline events that include scheduled times the artists arrive and meet fans or promote new albums.
KSTORY is near Myeongdong Station on subway line 4. Visit www.k-story.kr or call 070-4155-3724 for more information.
Everysing is on the fourth floor of the SPAO building, also close to Myeongdong Station. Visit www.smamusement.com or call 02-778-9850 for more information.
Cube Cafe is near Cheongdam Station on line 7, for more information visit www.cubeent.co.kr or call 02-548-7720.