On the 13th and 14th of August, Sydney played host to a bunch of talented K-Pop artists as part of HallyuPopFest Sydney ‘22. For many of the artists, this was their first-time visiting Australia and meeting Australian K-Pop fans. Spanning over two days at Sydney Olympic Park’s Qudos Bank Arena, Day 1’s line-up consisted of P1Harmony, EVERGLOW, Chung Ha, SF9, and EXO’s Chen, and Day 2 with Kep1er, ONEUS, Oh My Girl, ASTRO, and EXO’s Kai.
While I had been to my fair share of K-Pop concerts, I had never been to a K-Pop festival before, let alone to one in another state. When you go to a K-Pop concert, you are certain to meet others who love the artist just as much as you do because you’re all there for the same reason. But for a K-Pop festival, it’s different, and having not gone to one before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The first thing I must mention is how wonderful everyone was. Here I was, worried about how odd I’d be, and instead, found myself in a safe welcoming community with people just as obsessed, nervous, and excited as I was. Carrying your favourite group’s lightstick, no matter if they were attending the festival or not, was a great way of seeking out those who love the same artists as you. It is also a great way of starting conversations and making friends. I found myself easily befriending fellow K-Pop fans and effortlessly finding my existing ones that were attending the festival as well.
On the first day, prior to the concert portion, I ended up checking out Hallyutown, which consisted of a handful of stalls selling Korean brand foods, lifestyle items, and beauty products. This area was accessible to everyone, regardless of ticket tier, and admittedly, what I had in my head was a lot more appealing than what was available.
I had expected to see thriving market style stalls available with delicious Korean food and for at least some K-Pop merchandise of the groups performing at the festival, albums, artist lightsticks etc. Instead, what was available was the typical arena food that had their menus amended to state that their food was ‘Korean style’, and official HallyuPopFest merchandise consisting of tiny keychain plushies, tote bags, t-shirts, and hoodies.
Although the HallyuPopFest official festival merchandise was decent (I even picked up some keychain plushies and a hoodie for myself), I still found it surprising that for a K-Pop related event, HallyuPopFest didn’t have their own event specific lightstick. In fact, the signs and photocards that fans brought to give to other attendees (for free, mind you) delivered more in providing K-Pop related collectible items to patrons. The HallyuPopFest merchandise had also mostly sold out by the morning of Day 2, with many fans expressing their disappointment in the lack of in stock, as well as the severe lack of K-Pop items available to purchase in general.
The best part of Hallyutown was the event on the Sunday where K-Pop group ONEUS, the official ambassadors of the festival, hosted a trivia quiz, a raffle prize draw, played Jegichagi, and gave away ONEUS signed albums. The group were charismatic, entertaining, funny, and even signed an iPad for a lucky raffle winner, since everyone was more interested in winning ONEUS signed merchandise, and it would make the prize for the raffle winner that much more appealing.
I believe the festival could have easily planned with those in the community to not only provide fresh authentic Korean food stalls or food trucks outside the venue, but also with organising events. On the Sunday morning, I happily discovered many fans playing Random Dance Play, a K-Pop dance game, where fans can run in and dance to the chorus of their favourite songs in unison. This was expertly organised by Sydney-based K-Pop cover dance crews, Horizon Dance Crew and LHKREW. It was an event that the fans organised themselves and is something the festival should honestly be collaborating to arrange. Considering it wasn’t officially part of the festival, it wasn’t on the HallyuPopFest schedule, and many wouldn’t have known about it until much later, if they weren’t already there. I personally loved witnessing this and wished that I knew how to dance to my favourite K-Pop numbers so that I could join in. I’m a terrible dancer, but I really admired everyone who had a go and busted a move, many with amazing skill. Although a game, there is no real winner, as it is all about being part of something special and having fun.
While I cannot comment on the experience of the Hi-Wave portion of the event because I didn’t attend any, I can comment on the Red Carpet. During both days, after the Hi-Wave part of the festival had been completed, the performing artists would walk the red carpet to greet their fans and be interviewed prior to the concert. This was the perfect chance for fans to get up-close and personal with their favourite K-Pop artist, take photos, cheer, wave, and make eye contact with them. This was also a great way to get to know their personalities. Fans with VIP access and some 2-day ticket lottery winners were permitted access to the Red Carpet Event and the overall mood was electric.
Some highlights on the red carpet were P1Harmony being genuinely stoked to be in Australia and ASTRO being taught by MC and interviewer Andy Trieu the chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi, Oi, Oi!”, which quickly became their new favourite thing to cheer. Personally, I was super excited to see ONEUS on the carpet and was surprised to find myself fangirling so much, I had to sit down for a minute as I lost the will to stand from being so overwhelmed with happiness. I can only imagine how the rest of the fans in the room felt like when seeing their favourite K-Pop artist on the red carpet.
Finally, the best part of the festival was the concert, and even better because HallyuPopFest Sydney ’22 is across two days, fans were lucky to get two concerts!
During the first concert, P1Harmony killed it with their finesse and charisma. When Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul and Jongseob took to their stage in their pastel blue and white princely looking outfits, the crowd went wild. Performing catchy songs from their discography including ‘Doom Du Doom’ and ‘Do It Like This’, it didn’t even matter that Intak was injured and couldn’t join the choreography entirely, as he was waving his arms around, helped hype up the crowd with his fellow members, even instructing the crowd do some choreography along with them. The most hilarious part about their set, however, was when Soul lost his shoe (or essentially danced his shoe off) during ‘Scared’. Although the group only debuted in 2020, their professionalism is beyond their years, and this is evident when Soul decided to keep dancing with only one shoe on. I hadn’t listened to much of their music prior to their performance at HallyuPopFest, but now, I’m a fan.
EVERGLOW members Sihyeon, E:U, Mia and Onda were fantastic from start to finish for their entire set, each wearing a monochrome outfit but in their own unique style, the group cheekily stating they’d provide a ‘hot’ performance in spite of the cold weather, and dished out bop after bop including ‘Bon Bon Chocolat’, ‘First’ and ‘Pirate’. My favourite part of their set though, was when the entire arena excitedly shouted together “EVERGLOW, FOREVER, LET’S GO!”, lyrics to their catchy 80s inspired banger, ‘La Di Da’. EVERGLOW provided a powerful performance and truly brought the house down.
There is a reason why Chung Ha is considered a K-Pop queen. It’s not easy being a soloist, but when Chung Ha took to the stage, she was so commanding and mesmerising, I felt hypnotised by her beauty and talent. The way Chung Ha worked the stage made me forget I was even at a festival, as it felt like we were at Chung Ha’s own concert. Performing in a song appropriate sparkling outfit, Chung Ha performed upbeat numbers including ‘Sparkling’ and ‘Roller Coaster’, but it was ‘Gotta Go’ that really excited fans, due to its iconic melody and dance. The way Chung Ha interacted with the audience was so sweet and wholesome, she even found a fan in the audience she had met over video call during lockdown that she promised she’d look for. She also acknowledged a fan that had a rare I.O.I lightstick, (I.O.I were a temporary K-Pop girl group that Chung Ha was a member of, before she went solo). Every moment Chung Ha was on stage in Sydney was an absolute delight, and she was loving it too, taking photos to commemorate the moment and telling the audience to “Please invite me back!”.
SF9 were up next, and they didn’t disappoint. Donned in sexy, sophisticated, mature, and suave white and lilac matching suits, Jaeyoon, Dawon, Zuho, Yoo Taeyang, and Hwiyoung performed their hit songs including ‘Tear Drop’, ‘Bad Guy’, ‘Love Again’, and ‘Play Hard’. Showcasing flawlessly strong vocals, impressive dancing, and insane rap skills, SF9 were not only outstanding, but they were really funny too. The group stated that “Australian beer is nice” and that they wanted to visit the Sydney Opera House, even though hilariously some of the members had already done so separately. The group also hinted at returning to Australia again soon, hopefully as a full group and to more than just one city. Fingers crossed!
For the final stage of Day 1, ballad king, EXO’s Chen enchanted the audience with his impressive vocals, his humbleness, his infectious smile, and his sincerity. Chen advised that his set was themed on ‘first’ because this was the first time performing in Australia solo. His powerful vocals actually had me on the edge of my seat with my jaw hanging open in wonderment. I have always adored a good ballad and it was honestly an honour to hear Chen sing. Despite him having much slower music in comparison to the other acts, every moment being in Chen’s presence while he shared his talents with the arena was pure joy. While Chen‘s vocals shone throughout his set with songs ‘Beautiful Goodbye’ and ‘Best Luck’. My favourite song of Chen’s set was ‘Love Words’ which was just wonderful to hear live.
Day 2’s concert was equally as entertaining. Kicking off the second concert of the festival was rookie group Kep1er, consisting of members Yujin, Mashiro, Xiaoting, Chaehyun, Dayeon, Hikaru, Huening Bahiyyih, Youngeun and Yeseo, and formed via survival show Girls Planet 999, the K-Pop girl group debuted only early this year and the fact that they’re already performing around the world is nothing short of amazing. The crowd were cheering so loud for Kep1er and were passionately singing along to every song including their debut song ‘Wa Da Da’, ‘LE VOYA9E’ and ‘Up!’. It’s hard to believe that this group is a rookie group because they’re already so refined. I have also been a fan of CLC in the past, so it was gift seeing Yujin in her new group and thriving. I’m definitely going to be paying a lot more attention to them in future. They really won me over.
I’m already a massive fan of ONEUS, so never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have the chance to see them perform live in my own country. As soon as Ravn, Seoho, Leedo, Keonhee, Hwanwoong and Xion took to the stage, I think something in me snapped and I was a cheering fangirl again, vigorously waving around my ONEUS lightstick and dancing along to their fantastic songs including ‘Bring It On’, ‘Luna’, ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘No Diggity’. But it was ‘LIT’ that really had me elated. I could have been levitating with how happy I was. ONEUS were incredibly entertaining and so powerful. Their precision and talent were phenomenal to witness, and I really hope they come back to Australia for their own tour. Until then, I have no doubt that there were many converted ‘TO MOON’ fans after their performance.
Oh My Girl’s Hyojung, Mimi, YooA, Seunghee, Yubin and Arin were so sweet to the crowd and made sure that they gave love and attention to every side of the stage. Performing their catchiest tunes including ‘Dolphin’ and ‘Dun Dun Dance’, the group also displayed their vocal strengths with a rock version of their song ‘Guerilla’ and were energetic from start to finish. From their performance, it’s impossible to deny their talents and it was easy to see why they’re still going strong after almost 8-years of being in the industry.
A refreshing change, ASTRO provided performances in units, dressed in black and white, with Jinjin even wearing the fashionable K-Pop staple – goggles on his head and looking great in them. First up, Jinjin and Rocky performed ‘LOCKDOWN’ and ‘Just Breathe’ with fantastic energy, great vocals, and insane dance moves. No seriously, Rocky did the splits! Remembering that during the red carpet they learnt the cheer, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi, Oi, Oi!” and used it to consistently hype up the crowd with their affectionate and fun spirit. Then Moonbin and Sanha provided a mood change, with songs ‘Bad Idea’ and ‘Who’ showcasing their cool, smooth, sexy, and intoxicating dance moves that had the crowd going crazy. I also recognised so many ASTRO lightsticks (‘Ro-bong’) in the arena when the K-Pop group were on stage, as did the members, which brought beaming smiles to their faces. When the units combined to form as one with ‘Candy Sugar Pop’, their joyful energy was infectious and you couldn’t help but love them, regardless of whether you were an ‘Aroha’ (ASTRO‘s fandom name) or not.
Last but not least, the final stage for the second concert was none other than EXO’s Kai. The crowd were ready with EXO lightsticks (‘Pharynx’) popping up from the dark like daisies. Clearly born for the stage, Kai performed songs including ‘Peaches’, ‘Reason’, and ‘Mmmh’, which had fans excitedly screaming. It was hard to resist his visual power, artistry, and charm, and he was honestly the perfect finale to an incredible weekend.
Overall, minus my minor criticisms, HallyuPopFest Sydney ’22 was an amazing time for everyone involved. Showcased over two days, I left the festival feeling full of happiness. Not only is HallyuPopFest a wonderful opportunity for the curious and budding K-Pop fan to discover new music in person, but it’s also a celebration of how far K-Pop music has come. K-Pop has become more accessible (I’ll never forget the days where I used to ship K-Pop CDs to myself from specialist Asian stores because I had no other way to listen to K-Pop), and it’s been a real pleasure to have watched it evolve over the years, with K-Pop music now conquering the world.
HallyuPopFest is also great way to help K-Pop artists travel the world, meet their fans, and have their fans’ dreams come true with seeing them live, and it also helps them make new friends in the ever-growing K-Pop community. Over the weekend, I had met so many people that had travelled across Australia to be at the event, and I only hope that the organisers found it successful enough to run it again next year. If so, I have a few requests for artists I’d love to come to here.
I went to HallyuPopFest Sydney ’22 feeling nervous that I wouldn’t fit in, within a city I don’t live in. I left HallyuPopFest feeling so happy, with new friendships and experiences that I will fondly look back upon and cherish for the rest of my life.
For more HallyuPopFest Sydney ’22 information and photos, visit:
Tickets and access supplied by Imagikai for the purpose of this review.
Photography by Jay Wennington.