Where the world meets again: Celebrating at the star-filled Gangnam Festival
K-pop stars lit up the glamorous Seoul district at the annual arts and cultural extravaganza.
After almost two years of social distancing measures, South Korea is ready to meet the world again. And what better way to celebrate the end of restrictive measures than with one of Seoul’s annual marquee events – the nine-day Gangnam Festival.
The event from Sep 30 to Oct 8 saw an enthusiastic reception. A key draw was the highly anticipated free public concert – the Yeongdong-daero K-pop Concert, also known as the Mega Hallyu Concert. Headliners included Psy – who brought the district to global fame with his viral hit, Gangnam Style – as well as boy bands Highlight and The Boyz, singer Kim Chung Ha, and girl group Weeekly.
Gangnam Festival has long been a calendar highlight for its spectacular arts and cultural events – from fashion shows and traditional Korean music to media art and orchestras. For the last two years, the event was held remotely to adhere to health safety measures and renamed ONTACT Festival. The easing of restrictions this year meant that the in-person Gangnam Festival returned in force along with hybrid elements, including live performances on YouTube for those who could not attend in person.
CROSSING THE NEIGHBOURHOODS
With 20 performances and activities spread out across different neighbourhoods, the festival was a full-on celebration at well-known Gangnam sites.
Starfield COEX Mall, the largest underground mall in Asia, was the stunning setting for the opening and closing shows. A 70-minute creative media performance of Korean culture – with musicals, fashion shows, taekwondo demonstrations as well as K-pop and folk dances – kicked off the festivities as fireworks lit up the night sky. The closing highlight was a parade of yeonhui dancers with swirling hats, shimmering props of mythical creatures, and giant flags.
Outside Gangnam Station in Gangnam Square, local and international dance crews showed off their snappy K-pop moves in the 365 Days Fun & Pan Gangnam: Random Play Dance competition.
Over at Maroo Park, the Green Concert gathered some of the nation’s most famous crooners, such as Gummy, Baek Ji Young, Shin Seung Hun, Jang Minho and Yang Ji Eun, who belted out heartfelt ballads within the lush, idyllic compound.
Linking the streets between Starfield COEX Mall and Gangnam Station was the dazzling Yeongdong-daero media show – a state-of-the-art presentation of sound, graphics and laser technology that told the story of Gangnam’s past, present and future.
CROSSING THE DISCIPLINES
Every year, the festival celebrates all aspects of South Korea’s cultural expressions, from traditional and contemporary to Asian and Western art forms.
Presenting the latest K-fashion to the seated audience at the photogenic Byeol Madang Library in Starfield COEX Mall was Starfield Fashion Show. Amid pumping music and cool videos, the show democratised fashion with its runway featuring senior, foreign and young models in chic creations.
Given the mall’s edgy style, it was also fitting that the Beautiful Architecture Exhibition was hosted there.
For those who enjoy the classical arts, the mall’s K-pop Square was turned into an orchestral point. The stirring sounds of the Gangnam Symphony Orchestra blended beautifully with media art in an emotional performance – Autumn Feast by Gangnam Art Troupe.
CROSSING THE WORLD
Gangnam’s pulsating energy is an alluring invitation for the world to convene, post-pandemic. So, it is no wonder the festival includes programmes that embrace its international audience.
The Yangjaecheon Next Door World Film Festival held scenic outdoor screenings at Yeongdong’s third bridge that crosses the Yangjaecheon Stream. Gangnam Festival visitors also enjoyed the World Food Culture Show and the Famous Food Festival, with a smorgasbord of dishes from the world’s top chefs.
For the sports-inclined, the Foreigners’ Taekwondo Competition at Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of this Korean martial art, was a thrilling visual spectacle. Then, there was the International Peace Marathon, where seasoned and casual runners alike enjoyed the occasion with races for all, from 5km runs to the full marathon.
Like Gangnam, the festival is the perfect place to experience the warm hospitality of South Koreans and a fantastic way to meet the locals, no matter where you are from.