By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Pop stars from Asia gathered once again in Seoul for the 6th Asia Song Festival (ASF) Saturday evening, but Korean pop groups stole the spotlight.
Fans of K-pop groups Big Bang, Super Junior, Girls Generation and 2NE1, Japanese stars Gackt and V6, and other Asian artists flocked to Seoul World Cup Stadium to see their favorite stars for free, though attendance seemed to be less than in previous years.
The annual music festival, organized by the Korea Foundation for Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), is touted as an opportunity for cultural exchange and cooperation among Asian countries.
However, the festival line-up was dominated by Korean and Japanese artists. There were four Korean groups and three Japanese groups invited to the festival, compared to one representative each from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
The music festival kicked off with performances by Taiwanese singer Show Luo and rising girl group 2NE1. 2NE1, who received the ASF New Artist Award, quickly got the crowd on their feet with their hits ``Fire'' and ``I Don't Care.''
At a press conference Friday, 2NE1 leader CL said the group was very happy to have gained fans across Asia, even though they only debuted a few months ago. ``We enjoy music and as a group, we always say, `Let's go out there and play our music.' That's how we do it,'' she said.
Boy band K-Otic incorporated elements of traditional Thai music and culture in their performance. Chinese pop singer Chris Lee, who won the Super Girl singing contest in 2005, sang some of her catchy tunes on stage.
Popular Japanese pop group V6 charmed their fans when they sang and danced to three songs, including their latest single ``Guilty.'' It was the six member group's second appearance at the festival.
``We hope to see you again at our concerts in November,'' the group's Junichi Okada told the crowd.
Festival organizers also gave a special award to Ukrainian singer Ruslana, who is also a politician, for her efforts to bridge the cultural gap between Korea and Ukraine. Wearing a shredded green outfit, the sultry singer showed off the vocal chops that won her the Eurovision Song Competition in 2004.
Gackt, a former vocalist of Malice Mizer and one of the pioneers of the visual kei movement in Japan, gave one of the most explosive performances of the night. Gackt rocked the festival with his powerful voice, hard-hitting rock tunes, exciting visuals and special effects.
While they graciously applauded lesser known Asian acts, the crowd reserved its loudest cheers for K-pop's most popular groups. Girls' Generation had everyone on their feet with catchy songs ``Gee'' and ``Genie.''
Boy band Super Junior performed two of their hit songs to the delight of their fans. However, Kang In, who was involved in a bar brawl recently, was noticeably absent.
Big Bang was perhaps the most anticipated act of the night. Many fans had been missing the pop group, whose members have been concentrating on promotions in Japan as well as solo projects in Korea. There were only four members for the performance, as Dae-sung was recuperating from a recent car accident. The group performed three songs, including last year's hit, ``Lies.''
The festival ended with a surprise encore featuring members of Super Junior and Girls' Generation.
Amid a downturn in the music industry in the region, the Asia Song Festival was aimed at creating an environment in which Asia can be grown as a single music market, under the slogan ``Asia is One.''
One improvement at this year's festival was the introduction of a charity component, in cooperation with SBS Hope TV Popcorn. Fans could send text messages, which were posted on the big screens, for 2,000 won. The funds will go to seven non-government Korean organizations, including Good Neighbors, Save the Children and World Vision.