Cynthia Nunez may be Cuban, but she breathes Korean.
"I have an emotional attachment," Nunez says. "I watch Korean dramas and listen to Korean music whenever I'm stressed out about school."
The FIU physics major is an organizer of Kpop Con Miami, the first Korean pop-culture convention on the East Coast. It will take place Saturday at the Miami Convention Center.
Nunez expects about 1,500 people to attend the convention, which will feature workshops on Korean music, fashion and language, and offer games of charades, a dance contest and a singing showcase. "Kpop," of course, is short for "Korean pop music."
"Kpop just brings us all together," says Nunez, who finds the genre's vibe similar to that of Latin music. The 20-year-old immigrated from Cuba at the age of 6, and spent her nights watching cartoons on Adult Swim. Many of these cartoons were Japanese, which led her to seek out Japanese pop music, or Jpop, on YouTube, which recommended she also watch Kpop videos.
Nunez says she learns about new Kpop bands, TV shows and movies online and from the community she created, South Florida Kpop Fans, a Facebook group that has grown to include 700 people since 2012. More than 100 of its members meet every other month. "We have people from every single age," Nunez says, "and we all get along."
Korean pop is similar to American pop, with syrupy-sweet lyrics by baby-faced stars. Korean pop stars are often triple threats, singing, dancing and acting in film or on television, much as Miley Cyrus did in "Hannah Montana" and Hilary Duff did in "Lizzie McGuire."
According to the 2012 Census, Asians made up only 3.5 percent of Broward County's population and just 2.6 percent of Palm Beach County's. In Miami-Dade county, according to the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, Asians were the fasted growing race or ethnic group in 2012, with the population increasing by 4.3 percent, four times the overall population growth. Although this is still a small percentage — Asians compose only 1.69 percent of the county's population, and Koreans account for just under 4 percent of that — the interest reflects a national trend.
The most popular Korean pop star is Psy whose 2012 single "Gangnam Style" was the first Asian song to play on Miami radio station Power 96. It reached No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and has received more than 2 billion views on YouTube. Psy was in the lineup for 2012's Jingle Ball at the BB&T Center in Sunrise with Justin Bieber, Kesha and Enrique Iglesias, and recently collaborated with Snoop Dogg on the song "Hangover."
The Wonder Girls are another Kpop group that has garnered attention in the United States. The Korean girl group opened for the Jonas Brothers on their tour, performing at the BB&T Center in 2009. Back in Asia, they started a dance craze, with moves similar to the Macarena, with their song "Nobody."
"What makes Kpop popular is that they combine the American influence with dance routines and pretty people," says Ted Kim, who founded Kpop Con Miami. He sells Kpop goods from West Palm Beach through his online store, Kpoppin USA (KPoppinUSA.net). It was his dream to present a convention locally. The nation's only other Kpop conventions have taken place in Berkeley, Calif., and Los Angeles.
Kim scheduled Kpop Con Miami to coincide with a concert by Korean boy band Block B at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The show is only one of three the group will perform in the United States, following concerts in New York and Washington, D.C. The tour's promoter, Jazzy Group US, polled fans as to where Block B should perform, and Florida outranked California.
But Woo Ji Ho, a.k.a. Zico, leader of the seven-member Block B, says the group is coming to South Florida for two reasons. "Miami is hot, and the enthusiasm [of fans]," he writes in an email. In their early 20s, the members of Block B, describe themselves as "cute but scary" (Taeil), "cute brother" (P.O.) and "preppy Muppet" (Zico). They all have dyed hair, some in shades of blond and red
This lightheartedness makes Block B the favorite band of Nunez, who says she listens to the group's music to relieve stress.
Nunez's group, South Florida Kpop Fans, often meets to discuss Block B and similar acts at Gabose, a 14-year-old Korean restaurant in Lauderhill. It's one of several Korean restaurants in South Florida, including the new barbecue eatery Drunken Dragon in Miami Beach, Korean karaoke spot Sushi Cafe and Shilla Korean BBQ in Miami, Myung Ga Tofu and Barbecue in Weston, and R.O.K. buffet in Lauderhill.
"They know so much more about Korea," says Gabose owner Susan Kim, of South Florida Kpop Fans and the restaurant's other non-Korean patrons. "They inspire me to keep listening and find out more."
As for Nunez, she hopes the convention will introduce her to even more Kpop fans.
"The people who like Kpop," she says, "they're just like family."
Block B: 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 27; $83.50-$223.50; The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., 305-673-7300, FillmoreMB.com
Kpop Con Miami 2014: 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday, June 28; $20; Miami Convention Center, James L. Knight International Center, 400 SE Second Ave., 305-416-5970, KPopConMiami.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun