Korean pop's "Super Junior" takes on the world
SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - Choi Si-won recalls that even on a rainy day, the Paris venue was bedlam, with thousands of screaming fans packing the street outside a concert hall.
They were all hoping to catch a glimpse of Choi, one of the most popular members of Super Junior, currently South Korea's hottest boy-band, in the band's first concert venture in Europe.
While the "Korean Wave" has swamped Asia, winning fans from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur and beyond, it has had little impact in Europe so far -- but that is about to change, the 25-year-old Choi told Reuters in an interview.
"It wasn't just a concert in Europe. It was beyond the border, which gives me so much confidence and pride," Choi said after his return to Seoul.
He has a right to his feelings.
The band's June 10 and 11 Paris concerts attracted 14,000 fans each night in the first European event put on by SM Entertainment, South Korea's leading band production house. Tickets sold out within minutes.
Although that's still small change by the standards of divas such as Lady Gaga, Choi believes that Super Junior, whose 13 young male members perform highly choreographed songs and dances, can break onto the broader global stage.
"We do have lots of songs composed by Europeans. And our fashionable and powerful performances are appealing," Choi said.
In one sign of the band's broad popularity, the dance song "Mi In Ah," or "Beautiful Person,"
a single from its fourth album, has spent a record 54 weeks at the top of the Taiwan charts.
While Korean pop, known as "K-Pop," projects a wholesome image to its fans, it has also been criticized for an unsavory side, including controversies over the way it treats young talent such as excessively long hours and low pay until they prove themselves and make it big.
Choi, who was scouted in his first year of high school, has some experience himself of the harsh training methods the industry uses to produce its stars.
"Dancing all night and then vocal lessons right after was hard and not unusual -- but I enjoyed it. The whole process to raise stars is very systematic," he said.
Typical of this was the decision by his management firm to send him to Beijing in 2004 so he could learn Chinese -- and broaden his appeal. Two years later, he landed a role in a film called A Battle of Wits with Hong Kong actor Andy Lau.
Like many other K-Pop stars, Choi is now making the transition to television and South Korean dramas, another format that has swept Asia.
He will star as the main character in a Taiwanese soap opera, "Extravagant Challenge," a love and revenge story based on a Japanese comic called Skip Beat, which will start in November. Another band member will also take part.
A devout Christian who wants to be a missionary later in his life, Choi appears to be relishing his band's leap to global fame, including interacting with fans.
"I'm not a native English speaker but do post tweets in English. But, interestingly, our fans are now learning Korean," he said, smiling.
"Paris was a new road for us. I hope the entire Korean culture like films can be enjoyed by many others."
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by David Chance and Elaine Lies)
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