On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practicing K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols.
At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits—with thousands of fans cheering them on.
In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbors China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports.
Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organizers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.
“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.
K-pop—along with K-drama soap operas—has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date.
A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent.
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