A quick glance at the line of tents and tired-eyed school-age girls anxiously checking their phones snaked around the Prudential Center down Mulberry Street Tuesday morning, and you’d be forgiven for thinking One Direction or Bruno Mars was making a stop at the Rock.
But these teenagers aren’t queuing up for Zayn Malik or Justin Bieber - instead, they’re going crazy over Chen, Baekhyn and Xiumin.
You may not have heard of Exo, a youthful combo from South Korea, but it’s a safe bet they’re making waves that extend far beyond the Yellow Sea right here to the shores of Newark Bay.
They’ve been called “the biggest boyband in the world,” topping the Forbes Korea ”Power Celebrity” list two years in a row and selling millions of albums and EPs worldwide.
It’s all part of a bear market for K-pop - popular music and culture originating in the Korean peninsula - fueled largely by social media and now firmly anchored in the West.
According to South Korean newspaper of record JoongAng Ilbo, of the roughly 2.28 billion hits on K-pop videos on YouTube, more than 240 million came from the United States. A quick search of Facebook confirms the trend, revealing legions of paengeol (fangirls) from across the Anglosphere.
Hijau Park, 17, who had been camped out with her friends since ten in the morning the previous day, gave her full-throated endorsement. “They’re the best group in the universe,” she said with a broad grin.
Sydney Richardson, 18, came from Chicago to see Exo, and said her and her friends had been taking turns holding their place in line, going back and forth between one of their parents’ houses.
“The only other show they’re playing in the US is in Los Angeles,” she explained. “One of my friends is from Florida; another one is from DC.”
“They sing, they dance, they rap,” she said. “They’re just really well-rounded artists. And they have a great dynamic!”
The commotion was so electric that one parent even pulled me aside to express her displeasure.
“The band’s security and promoters should really do more to make sure these kids are supervised,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified because “my daughter would kill me” is she knew her frustration. “They’re out here all night long, security’s done nothing, and the police didn’t get here until early this morning. It’s very irresponsible.”
Irresponsible or not, if you’re curious to see the k-mania up close, be prepared to shell out a pretty penny.
The presale rapidly sold out, and mezzanine tickets are currently running on StubHub (a popular ticket resale website) at an average of $130 a pop. Kkam-jjak-iya, indeed. For everyone like me, whose Tuesday-night-concert-years are long behind them, check out their YouTube channel and catch the Korean wave.