Omona! is an event which hosts K-pop choreographies and examines thought around this global phenomenon. K-pop, meaning Korean pop, is ever-present the world over, the fine detail of its choreographies, its frenzied music videos and its ultra-mastered sound production some of the hallmarks of this revision of boy bands and girl groups. The encounter sees choreographer and art historian Natalia de Val put forward an analysis of this cultural movement, followed by an event in which assorted dance groups will perform covers of their favourite bands.
Different periods throughout the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty-first in the West have been marked by the omnipresence of boy bands and girl groups: from The Jackson 5 and The Supremes in the 1960s, to the 1980s with pioneers New Kids on the Block, to the 1990s and the rise of Destiny’s Child, Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls and on to more recent groups like One Direction. In South Korea, however, groups of this kind would not take shape until the 1990s owing to the domination — first military, then political — the region had endured since the Korean War in 1953. As in other parts of the world, including Spain, with the US military bases came captivating American records, films and fashion.
Over time, and through government policy, South Korea would absorb these influences and turn them into something all its own, initially exporting to the rest of Asia and then across the globe. The first such group is cited as Seo Taiji and Boys, a boy band which started in 1992 and was a contemporary of other bands in the US, yet the K-pop we know today germinated in the new millennium. It was painstakingly moulded by companies in the Korean music industry — known as the Big Three: SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment — and bands such as Super Junior, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation and EXO were manufactured, hugely popular groups that preceded other emerging music giants such as BTS and Blackpink.
The South Korean formula has resulted in this music genre being exported overseas to top the charts, be nominated for Grammy awards and hold a privileged position at the mammoth Coachella festival, employing strategies that differed to those the British and US industries used to extend their hegemony. The K-pop industry practises extreme attention to detail, where everything comes together in a near-perfect product: the pool of trainee K-poppers are instructed with almost military discipline; the music, choreographies and music videos are almost overwhelmingly dynamic; and its idols feature in a whole reality TV, helping to project affective ties among K-pop fans.
Social media channels like YouTube and other streaming platforms are still, for the time being, part of the geopolitical domain of US information. Yet K-pop fandom has broken this chrysalis, mutating into a strong K-popper community which, despite using networks to support the comebacks of its favourite groups, has also demonstrated the power of the collective. Examples with the widest coverage include the boycott of former US President Donald Trump’s rally in July 2020 and Spanish TV presenter Pablo Motos in January 2023.
In Spain the interest in K-pop, as well as South Korean culture and customs, is in the ascendency between different generations. Collecting K-pop items is gaining in popularity and, in addition to doing near-professional covers, K-poppers dress in a recognisable aesthetic, with a photocard expressing your “bias” on your mobile phone cover its minimum expression. Will Western culture be, or is it already being, swept along by the Korean Wave (Hallyu)?
Natalia de Val has been an active K-pop “user” since 2019. The choreographic implications of the genre, from dance to its idols’ gestural training, connect with her studies and profession. She is also a dancer and choreographer in different disciplines with a central interest in building identity through sensuality and femininity through movement, and a K-pop, pole dancing and floorwork instructor at Central del Pole. Moreover, she holds a degree in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. She has conducted independent research presented in spaces such as the symposium De cuerpo y experiment (Of Body and Experiment), inside the framework of the Punto de Encuentro festival organised by the Association of Spanish Electroacoustic Music (AMEE) in 2019, and the programme Ciudad Bailar. Exagerar (Dance City. Exaggerate) at Matadero in 2021.