Park Kyungwoong’s hair is a hue of violet only the most fashion–forward pop stars can rock. The young performer, dressed in black skinny jeans and a stylish oversized coat, is geared up to dance for the dozens of people who have come to support him. His stage is just a few metres of concrete sidewalk that shrinks as his circle of fans grows – he’s the star of this show, but also his own tech crew, as he wheels in a large speaker. The dancer’s playlist is filled with songs by the biggest stars in South Korean pop, or K–pop, as it’s become known around the world thanks to boy bands like BTS and girl groups like Blackpink.
The multitasking performer needs to hit play and quickly get into position to perform the choreography to his selected K–pop track, then hurry back to his aux cord–attached phone before the next song starts. The audience cheers when he nails a high kick and young girls blush when he winks at them, all with their eyes glued to their phones. But they’re not being rude, they’re trying to get the perfect shot. In the neighbourhood of Hongdae, the heart of Seoul’s busking culture where all kinds of performers are vying for fame, a good YouTube video is the preferred currency. As international attention for K–pop skyrockets, a more DIY version of the industry has also exploded on these streets, giving Kyungwoong’s future prospects (and his fans’ social media accounts) a global boost.