In December 2012, Psy’s Gangnam Style music video made internet history by becoming the first to exceed one billion views. It forced YouTube to rewrite its play counter code when it surpassed 2.1 billion, and the video is now on the cusp of surpassing three billion views. Not only did Gangnam Style bring hallyu – the Korean wave – to pockets of the world that were yet to find out what they’d been missing, but Psy put Seoul’s posh Gangnam district into our collective consciousness. For K-pop fanatics, travel goals naturally include pilgrimages to South Korea. There’s plenty to see and do to experience the broad K-pop world.
1. Star walk
Your best bet for running into K-pop stars is, indeed, Gangnam. This is where you’ll find K-Star Road, a route that cuts through the Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong neighbourhoods and that celebrates K-pop with GangnamDols – large bear-shaped statues decorated to represent various K-pop groups. The street is lined with luxury stores, posh cafes and, most importantly, K-pop agency offices. Because of this, stars are often spotted here. The Gangnam Tourist Information Center offers a guidebook in various languages that provides information on local cafes and shops frequented by the stars. tour.gangnam.go.kr
2. Sister act
Lotte Department Store’s Bundang branch, located just south of Seoul, is where Krystal of f(x) and her older sister Jessica, former member of Girls’ Generation, were discovered by a casting manager of SM Entertainment. In 2000, Krystal, barely six at the time, and Jessica, then 11, were living in the US and on holiday. Krystal was too young and waited until she turned 13 to join her sister to train with SM.
3. Good eats
K-pop fanaticism extends to the production companies themselves, and SM Entertainment is one of the big ones that practically invented the local music scene. The powerhouse behind Girls’ Generation, Super Junior and countless other acts, SM Entertainment also runs some of the most popular restaurants along K-Star Road. SMT Seoul serves diverse small plates and pours modern versions of Korean rice wine. SUM Cafe, located a block away, welcomes visitors with a pink entrance, which has become an Instagram hotspot. Inside you’ll find merchandise, blown-up photos of the stars on the walls – and even food.
4. Complete packaging
If your favourite K-pop band were branded as food, what would it taste like? You can find out at E-Mart, South Korea’s ubiquitous discount store chain. In collaboration with SM Entertainment, E-Mart has launched products including instant noodles, bottled sodas, crisps and boxed cupcakes named after K-pop acts like EXO, SHINee and Red Velvet. These snacks can also be purchased at SUM Market, located below SUM Cafe.
5. Psy was here
You might remember the scenes in the Gangnam Style video in which Psy scares off joggers with his horse dance and becomes a bit too enthusiastic over women doing yoga. These were shot at Ttukseom Hangang Park, one of the many scenic parks along the Han River, which cuts through the heart of Seoul. The park is well known for its diverse features like teahouses, rose gardens, a high-tech cinema screen formed out of water spray and an aquatic sports facility – which is where the swan boats appear in the video.
6. Selfie time
Get up close to Psy, G-Dragon and Rain and take selfies with them to your heart’s content at Grevin Museum Seoul. OK, they’re actually wax figures, but it’s a fun stop nonetheless on a shopping trip in Myeongdong. In 2015, the museum opened as the first Asian branch of the French wax museum chain, featuring international historic figures and celebrities, including about 30 Korean actors and K-pop stars. grevin-seoul.com
7. Dining with the stars
YG Entertainment is another engine driving the K-pop phenomenon, producing stars like G-Dragon, Psy and Black Pink. It too has branched into the restaurant business. Noh Hee-young, a prominent tastemaker, devised YG Republique, a food complex comprising K-Pub, a drink spot with K-pop videos blasting on screens; 3 Geori Butchers, a pork grill joint frequented by YG performers; and 3 Birds Cafe, which has quick bites as well as a shop selling souvenirs with K idols on them. Branches of YG Republique can be found in touristy Myeongdong, IFC Mall in Yeouido and hipster university town Hongdae.
8. He’s the boss
JYP Entertainment, the music label behind 2AM, 2PM and Got7, also runs several hot spots in Seoul known for music and food. The ground floor of the JYP office building in Cheongdam-dong recently opened the trendy salad bar Salad Young. The Street, near Dosan Park’s posh boutiques and art galleries, is a chic brunch spot, while JYP chief executive Jin-Young Park can often be spotted playing the piano at his new Cheongdam-dong bar Studio J.
9. The next best thing
K-pop concerts are notoriously difficult to attend, with tickets selling out within seconds of being released online. YG Entertainment runs a virtual reality theatre in Everland, one of South Korea’s largest and oldest theme parks, located just outside Seoul in Yongin. The Live Hologram Theater might be the closest thing to a live concert, with a beam projector recreating concerts on stage in three dimensions. Currently there are daily concerts featuring AOA and G-Dragon. Closed on Wednesdays. There is also a merchandise store, Hologram Star Shop, that sells everything from accessories to stationery with K-pop stars’ faces on them. everland.com
10. Fame school
SM Town in Coex mall provides a comprehensive, hands-on look into the world of K-pop. Run by SM Entertainment, the multi-storey complex offers exhibitions of iconic costumes, hologram shows and a special training package for tourists. Fans can receive professional dance training and makeup sessions before recording music numbers and taking part in photo and music video shoots. Book in advance online. smtownland.com
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