K-pop is a South Korean phenomenon clawing its way up to global proportions. Originating only a few short decades ago, the genre of Korean pop music has already captivated the world — take one glance at a K-pop music video and you’ll understand why. With intricate and impeccably synchronized choreographies, expensive and artistic visuals and unparalleled, award-winning fashion, K-pop music videos make many others seem simply mediocre.

Understandably, many fans take this love for K-pop a step further by dressing, acting and even auditioning to become like one of their beloved idols — and this last weekend, 303 Magazine attended the 2018 Changwon K-Pop World Festival to see what this trial process truly entailed. The competition, which contains try-outs in over 88 areas spanned across 72 countries, allows winners the chance to perform alongside their favorite K-pop stars and groups in the beautiful Hallyu, South Korea. Auditionees can sing, dance or combine the two in an effort to woo the judges over a stretch of six arduous rounds. This year, eight American cities — including Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and (of course) Denver — joined in the audition process to allow one lucky winner to represent America at the festival.

For Colorado’s audition, held at Hinkley High School in Aurora, 16 various solo and group acts graced the auditorium’s stage for a moment in the spotlight — with hopes that it wouldn’t be their first and only moment. Over a span of two hours, competitors sang and danced to numbers from many well-known K-pop groups including Red Velvet, Seventeen and NCT. Although many auditioners spoke about their love for the aforementioned superficial K-pop elements, such as the lavish attire and intense dance moves, what truly enthralled many of these fans was K-pop’s transformative ability in their lives.

“Dance brings so much confidence and stress relief,” Michelle B. of K-pop group MSC shared. “I used to be so introverted — I wouldn’t talk! Then when K-pop entered my life, I finally became this talking person,” she continued. “I now feel like I have a voice and it’s really great.” Tagging onto Michelle’s comment, fellow MSC member Sylas F. explained, “I never really wanted to dance, but then I saw that k-pop had such amazing choreographies and it was the coolest thing ever. Getting into dance was the best decision of my life, and the confidence I gained is amazing.”

As both Michelle and Sylas took to the stage multiple times, this supposed ‘confidence’ clearly wasn’t just talk — it radiated throughout every performance. From their sensual “Heroine” number, involving a chair prop and slinky moves, to their fun-loving “Blooming Day” number, filled with colorful Hawaiian shirts and beaming smiles throughout, these girls embodied an evident courage that only k-pop could manifest.

Yet for some, K-pop has brought so much more than just confidence — it’s given them hope. “I used to be in a really bad, depressive state and wasn’t allowed to take pills because everyone was worried I would attempt to overdose again,” Arianna E. stated. “K-pop has really brought me out of that place and become my form of therapy.” Though only 14 years old, Arianna has learned hundreds of dance numbers with evident passion pulsing through each and every movement. A love for this Asian music genre means you automatically build friendships — and it’s hard to feel alone with such passionate, wholesome individuals beside you.

“When first finding K-pop I was somewhat skeptical… its music is definitely an acquired taste, but its choreography? That’s universal,” Ethan A. asserted as we sat down together on Hinkley High School’s white, cold tile floor. “K-pop has brought me so many things, but what it’s really brought me most is community.” 

Despite the knowledge of this being a competition, it truly did feel like everyone wanted the best for each other. Moments backstage were filled with nothing but support — teaching one another new dance moves, laughing over k-pop inside jokes and of course, boisterous cheering for various groups as they bowed after their performances. In the end, though, someone still had to win. As the judges took their seats, everyone held their breaths, waiting patiently in the hopes of hearing their names. In third place came Honey Z. with a haunting ballad, in second place came the killer fivesome Cele5tial dancing to “Peek-a-Boo” and finally, taking home the gold was the Hunnies Dance Crew jamming to Red Velvet’s “Dumb Dumb” — but by this point, it didn’t appear that the rankings mattered. Ultimately, everyone had won because what they had gained was immeasurable — a family.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Colorado KonnectPop Facebook page to learn more about all Denver K-pop events.