K-pop’s reach extends to Muslim Malaysia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 3:14pm

Maznifa Mustaffa doesn’t understand Korean, and would be unable to get away with dressing like her favourite Korean pop stars due to conservative attitudes in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

But that didn’t stop her joining thousands of fans who bought tickets to a K-pop extravaganza costing half a month’s average salary in Malaysia, underlining the phenomenal cross-cultural appeal of Korean entertainment.

“I’m very excited. I’ve waited a long time for this,” said Maznifa, a 29-year-old administrative assistant who wore a white hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women in Malaysia that covers all but the face.

Maznifa spoke as she queued in sweltering conditions on Wednesday with crowds of other delirious fans for tickets costing 1,000 ringgit (US$330) – she dipped into her savings – to a two-night K-pop concert and awards show.

“For them, I’d do anything,” she said of her favourite K-pop bands like G-Dragon and Super Junior. “It’s very hard for us to see them (perform).”

Organisers have said the annual Golden Disk Awards, viewed as the Korean Grammys and which included occasionally racy performances by some of K-pop’s biggest acts, saw more than 15,000 tickets sold for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The exporting of the show for the second straight year – it was held in Japan last year – was aimed at further promoting the global appeal of Korean pop culture.

Korean soap operas, with their slick production and telegenic stars, have long been popular throughout the region as part of the so-called Hallyu (Korean Wave) of culture that has taken Asia by storm over the past decade, helped by substantial support from the Seoul government.

But pre-packaged K-pop with its teen-idol groups, glossy hooks and meticulously choreographed dance moves has taken the world by storm, while the “Gangnam Style” phenomenon has helped fuel global interest in Korea’s music scene.

The song by the artist Psy, intended to poke fun at materialism in a wealthy Seoul district, made history last month when the video featuring the singer’s signature horse-riding dance became the first clip to log one billion YouTube hits.

Psy has swept all before him in recent months, hoovering up awards and scoring guest appearances with everyone from Madonna to the head of the United Nations and being handed walk-on roles at major world events.

On Wednesday, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang and who was not at the ceremony, received Song of the Year for his hit, while the Album of the Year award went to Super Junior’s “Sexy, Free & Single”.

The thousands who thronged the Sepang racing circuit were further testament to the cross-border appeal of Korean culture.

“I’m always so happy when I come to Malaysia because I get a lot of support and that always cheers me up,” Kwon Ji-yong, better known as G-Dragon, told reporters, dressed in black leather pants and an array of silver necklaces.

Sharon Tan, 18, said she and her friends enjoy K-pop for its music and dance moves, and doesn’t care that the Korean-language lyrics are meaningless to her.

“The music is unique. Oh my god, it’s awesome. It’s unforgettable!” said Tan, who won a ticket via a radio show’s song-guessing contest.

Some 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 29 million people are Muslim ethnic Malays, and some well-known Western artists have scrapped shows in the country due to Islamic opposition over their supposedly “immoral” content.

Others have abided by guidelines such as no kissing, swearing or too much skin on stage.

However, K-pop, many of whose biggest stars have already performed to large groups in Malaysia, has so far avoided such trouble.

Whatever the views of Islamists, Maznifa said such content is acceptable to her and her friends.

“Especially the guy groups!” she said with a giggle.