Boy group BTS perform at KCon Abu Dhabi 2016. Image Credit: KCon Abu Dhabi

The very first Korean cultural convention took place in Abu Dhabi’s du Arena on Friday featuring performances by beloved K-Pop artists, boy group BTS, Taeyeon from the group Girls’ Generation, Kyuhyun from Super Junior, Double S 301, hip-hop group Monsta X, girl group Spica and pop star Ailee.

Thousands of fans, mostly girls, from across the country and around the region started to arrive at the venue by early afternoon and were treated to a range of Korean cultural activities before the concert started at 8pm.

The du Arena’s grounds were split into two sections, the back side hosting activities ranging from games, calligraphy, sessions by percussionists and makeup lessons to Korean food, while the front end was set up for the concert in a fully seated arrangement.

In the activities zone, fans excitedly flitted from one tent to another. The open performance tent was jam-packed as people enjoyed performances by Miso Kim, a Korean percussionist, and UAE-based Korean stand-up comedian Wonho Chung.

The ladies tent was equally busy, although it was hard to hear over the screams of the assembled youngsters as one of the Spica band members, Narae Park, volunteered to have her make-up done in front of fans so they too could learn the tricks of a flawless look. Her fans watched eagerly and screamed and cheered for her at every opportunity, which was generally at the end of each tip.

The most popular tent by far was the food tent and there was no lull in activity there throughout the day — at least until everything was sold out. Queues never seemed to shorten as people gathered to taste some of Korea’s popular dishes provided by Manna Land, a local Korean restaurant with branches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

A delicious variety of authentic Korean dishes such as Bulgogi (stir fried beef), Tteokbokki (spicy rice cake), Bibimbap (rice with vegetables), Japchae (sweet potato noodles), Gimbap (rice roll) and more, were being sold so fast that people just settled for whatever was left just so they could get a taste of Korean food.

By 5pm, three hours after the convention had opened, 400 Tteokbokkies were sold and everything was sold out before the concert doors opened at 7pm; the hard-working kitchen staff taking their first break of the day finally got to stretch their legs.

As fans got ready for the concert, a few lucky winners were provided with the opportunity to see their favourite K-Pop artist on the red carpet. Clearly overwhelmed and excited to be so close to their heroes, they naturally expressed themselves and their love by screaming and then screaming some more as the performers came out one by one.

Each artist spent some time on the red carpet waving and thanking the fans, bowing and answering a question each posed by the red carpet host, before slipping away to get ready for their performance.

The introduction to the concert was given by Korean comedian Wonho Chung, who became an instant hit as he spent some time trying to engage the crowd — primarily Arabic speaking — in fluent Arabic.

The first band to kick off the much anticipated event were Monsta X, usually a seven-member boy band. However two of the band members did not take the stage although they had made an appearance on the red carpet earlier.

The band delivered exactly what the fans had craved for all day, as they started their show with an upbeat tune and an impressive in sync dance routine.

Earlier on the red carpet, the band members had said that they were nervous and excited as “it was their first performance in Abu Dhabi.” However there was no sign of nervousness on stage as they put on a flawless and dynamic performance.

Up next were Spica, a five-member girl band dressed in pencil skirts, black tops and their trademark big earrings. They gave an equally impressive performance and declared before their fans: “we are so happy to be here.”

That gig was followed by Double S301, the boy band trio dressed in black suits embellished with golden arm bands. They were joined on stage by a group of dancers for their high spirited performance.

Ailee, referred to as the Korean Beyonce, did not disappoint her fans as she danced energetically as she made her way up and down the stage, which stretched into the arena. She was dressed in black shorts, top and a jacket while and wore knee-high leather boots with pointy heels. How she pulled off those remarkable dance moves in those heels is a mystery.

For her last song, she effortlessly performed Ariana Grade’s Problem, with her incredible vocals helping affirm why she is compared to Beyonce even as she appeared to enjoy every minute of the show. On the red carpet, she told fans “the thing that I am looking forward to the most is definitely the fans,” which earned her more a crescendo of cheers from the crowd. “I am also looking forward to the performance for tonight. I have prepared a lot for you guys so I hope you guys enjoy the show.”

She was certainly prepared and she took every opportune moment to interact with her fans while on stage.

Unlike the bands and Ailee whose performances were generally intense and high spirited, solo acts Taeyeon and Kyuhyun performed ballads with shy but gentle appearances. One would have thought this was designed to calm the screaming fans and provide them with a break, although that did not seem to be the case as they wholeheartedly continued to applaud and cheer them on.

But the moment everyone seemed to have been waiting for was the performance by BTS, a seven-member boy band, and they did not disappoint. Their mere presence disrupted the order of the concert as fans started to get up on their seats or push closer to the stage to get a glimpse of their favourite band.

Dressed in black trousers, white shirts and white jackets, the group danced their hearts out, prancing up and down the stage as they tried to connect with their fans across the arena. The fans responded by repeating the words to their songs, which seemed to take the band members by surprise.

On the red carpet, they told fans they never thought their music was so popular in the region and were very thankful to be in the UAE amongst their fans.

The evening concluded with all the performers marching out on stage to thank everyone for their support and saying their goodbyes.

A few of the artists were spotted later on in the evening, enjoying meals at the hotels on Yas Island although seemingly weary after the day’s events.