Emirati Mohamed AlAli has been a K-pop fan for more than a decade.
He cites Super Junior’s Sorry, Sorry as the first song that caught his attention and the one that sparked his initial interest in the music genre.
AlAli, 30, admits he stopped listening to K-pop for a year or two before his now-wife, who is also a fan, introduced him to the boy band Got7, whom he still enjoys listening to today.
K-pop, which is short for Korean pop music, is a musical genre that has had an increase in worldwide popularity in the last few years thanks to acts such as BTS, Exo, Blackpink, Seventeen and more recently, newer groups such as aespa and NewJeans.
AlAli might seem like a rare sight at Blackpink's concert in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, especially considering how a majority of K-pop fans are female. Although he attended with his wife and friends, he wasn’t the only male fan to be spotted, as others also turned out at Etihad Park with their partners, family and friends.
AlAli’s friend Mahmood Alani, 26, is also a K-pop enthusiast. He still remembers the first time he heard K-pop back in 2014 after being impressed by a music video at his friend’s house and got hooked after that. These days, Alani continues to listen to the music, enjoying acts such as Itzy, Twice and of course, Blackpink.
While the UAE’s love of the genre is well known, thanks to events such as SMTown Live Dubai in 2018 and concerts with acts such as Seventeen, Stray Kids and Psy, the extent of how deeply passionate some fans are about K-pop still surprised Soo-chang Choi, who is from South Korea and has been working in Abu Dhabi since 2020.
“I don’t even know how many people love the K-pop scene. Actually, especially in the Arab world, I thought it was not allowed to even watch K-pop concerts,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
Choi, 26, is such a big fan of Blackpink that he decided to spend extra for tickets to their concert, while making a nearly three-hour drive from Ruwais for the show.
“I was excited when I heard that they were coming. That’s why I bought these soundcheck tickets," he says. "Otherwise, I’d just get a normal ticket. I really want to see them up close, especially Jisoo, who is very beautiful."
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He isn't the only one who travelled to see them.
Kuwaiti Husain Ahmad, 24, not only spent more for soundcheck tickets, but also flew in from Kuwait only to attend the concert. He discovered Blackpink after they collaborated with Lady Gaga on the track Sour Candy, which was released in 2020.
Since becoming a fan of the four-member girl group, Ahmad says they’ve helped bring more positivity into his life and they are one of the reasons why he feels happy. “They always put a smile on my face, no matter what I’m feeling,” he says.
Jeff Quinto, 35, a Dubai resident from the Philippines, says that Blackpink have inspired many, which is why he’s also a fan.
“They're very passionate about what they're doing. And I think that's the biggest inspiration that people could take from them. They're very diverse when it comes to where they came from, and they're very relatable,” he says.
Quinto went to the concert with a group of friends including Ivan Cabatit, who is also from the Philippines. While K-pop is renowned for its upbeat and catchy tunes, Cabatit, 35, says that the genre goes beyond just music.
“The misconception about K-pop is that it is only about music, but actually, it is about the community and knowing people that like K-pop like you do, so you're finding your own niche or you find your friends,” he says.
Cabatit, much like AlAli, has also been a long-time K-pop fan. He began by listening to early bands of the genre such as Big Bang and Girls' Generation, before eventually moving to groups such as Blackpink, Stray Kids, BTS and Seventeen. However, more than just music, he also enjoys the other sides of K-pop.
“The thing that I like about K-pop aside from the music, is the fashion, because I work in the fashion industry. So, I really like how they use the colours, the prints, the patterns and the silhouette and create a certain look,” says Cabatit.
Whether it is music, the individual artists, community, fashion or any other reason, K-pop’s appeal has reached a wide audience around the world. And despite the misconception that most K-pop fans are female, it really is for everyone.
“I just want people to give K-pop a chance because it is actually amazing,” says Ahmad.