Across one very warm weekend in London and inside an even warmer Wembley Arena, fourteen of the biggest names from Korea’s music scene helped HallyuPopFest make its official debut outside of Asia as well as the company’s post-COVID return.

With hours upon hours of heart-stopping, exhilarating performances on each day, HallyuPopFest’s London foray was a star-studded extravaganza which did not disappoint – for the most part.

As fantastic and exciting as the in-door arena festival was, the lack of women on the line-up was glaringly obvious; out of fourteen total names, just four of those were women. Mamamoo’s Hwa Sa was the only female solo act (compared to four male solo acts) and Weeekly were the only women to be on the showcase stage out of four artists.

There’s no doubt that HallyuPopFest in London has the potential to become an adored gem amongst the European K-pop community should it be held on a regular basis (and with lower ticket prices), but the booking team would definitely benefit by having an even ratio of male-female performers for future lineups; BoA could easily be a main weekend headliner backed up by other top-tier soloists on the bill like HyunA or Ailee (Sunmi has her own headline show coming up at London’s Troxy and CHUNG HA is already booked for MIK Festival), and there’s a plethora of girl groups to choose from: IVE, Brave Girls, fromis_9, WJSN, STAYC, Weki Meki and not to mention LOONA…

The festival will be taking to the stage in Sydney later in August and the lineup sadly seems to be suffering the same fate, but here’s hoping future HallyuPopFests can include way more women on the lineup!

With that said – the HallyuPopFest production team absolutely nailed the visuals, stage design and special effects.

All of the visual logos and background visualizers were of an exceptional high quality; they were extremely well designed, very visually appealing and also suited the aesthetic of each performer and their songs. There was no shortage of pyrotechnics, fire eruptions and steam jets as well as confetti launchers throughout the concert – it was clear that the team pulled out all the punches to deliver a well-rounded experience suited for an arena, and quite literally gave a lot of bang for one’s buck.

Each day was divided into an assortment of opportunities: VIP ticket holders were given access to an exclusive one hour Red Carpet event and a separate Hi-Touch experience with one performer, as well as the opening Showcase stage and main Evening Concert event which was open to all ticket holders. 

Saturday July 9 – EVERGLOW and Hwa Sa

EVERGLOW – HallyuPopFest Red Carpet

Walking out to their latest title track “Pirate”, the Fierce Five (sadly Yiren was not present) strutted in front of the screaming crowd while donning paisley pattern looks paired with PVC, military boots and diamond chains.

Keeping everybody clamoring for more as they charmed fans through striking and powerful poses, EVERGLOW participated in a Q&A where the girls voted E:U as the funniest member and Onda as the girl who can eat the most; Sihyeon also shared that the group did not expect such a strong reaction from fans outside of Korea, which was a heartwarming moment.

Hwa Sa – HallyuPopFest Red Carpet

Tiny in physical size (around 5ft2 in height) but larger than life with her presence and energy, Hwa Sa was clearly a crowd favorite as soon as she appeared.

Slaying the red carpet in a gorgeously chic, shimmering long-sleeve jumpsuit matched with black chunky-heel patent boots, Hwa Sa playfully explained her look was styled like a puma so she could “eat the crowd up and feed off their energy” – which she achieved effortlessly, of course.

Full of smiles, Hwa Sa’s energy felt mellow and gracious as she engaged with the crowd and hosts, noting she would “of course” love to do a concert in London with the other Mamamoo girlies (Wheein, Solar and Moonbyul) at Wembley Stadium – “let’s go” she declared while pointing up towards the stadium. Leaving the red carpet to throw her official HPF mascot into the crowd with a kiss, Hwa Sa shared a coy giggle before disappearing back into the arena.

EVERGLOW – HallyuPopFest Concert

Rising onto the stage as frantic laser lights lit up the arena, EVERGLOW stomped in front of wildly shrieking fans and assumed the position for the slick club-pop of “Adios”.

Taking the time to introduce themselves and engage with the audience in a mix of Korean and English, the group then exploded into the sensual smoothness of their debut hip-pop gem “Bon Bon Chocolat” – followed by the intricate, sharp choreography for the ‘80s flavored synth-pop banger “LA DI DA”, after teasing the number with a series of signature poses in a prior talking segment.

The girls kept the arena hyped and engaged with the high-energy EDM-pop moment “Pirate”, before wrapping up their set with the sassy and booming beats of “Dun Dun”.

EVERGLOW – HallyuPopFest London Setlist

  1. Adios
  2. Bon Bon Chocolat
  3. LA DI DA
  4. Pirate
  5. Dun Dun

Hwa Sa – HallyuPopFest Concert

Emerging onto the stage with a posse of dancers, Hwa Sa set the tone for her set with an electric performance of her first solo hit – the incredibly catchy “TWIT”, which instantly had the arena in a frenzy as Hwa Sa worked the stage with risqué choreography, but still flawlessly hitting every note.

Segueing into the sophisticated funk-pop of “I’m a B”, Hwa Sa’s signature husky vocals were steadfast as she dipped, thrusted and body-rolled across the stage.

Hwa Sa slowed it down for the R&B ballad “Bless U” from her recent Guilty Pleasure maxi single, which gave the arena an intimate opportunity to experience the first class performer’s renowned vocal range in a truly elegant performance; Hwa Sa shared that the tender track is her “favourite song.”

After holding an entertaining quiz with the audience, the dynamic diva enthusiastically asked “London, are you ready?!” as she got into position for what was surely her most anticipated song: “Maria”.

Extending the song’s opening with “Intro: Nobody else” from Hwa Sa’s debut mini album María, the beautifully euphoric synth-pop of the opener gave Hwa Sa’s dance crew enough time to join her on stage for an immensely energetic performance of “Maria” – and the perfect way to close her short but sweet set.

Hwa Sa – HallyuPopFest London Setlist

  1. TWIT
  2. I’m a B
  3. Bless U
  4. Intro: Nobody else + Maria

Sunday July 10 – Weeekly and Kep1er 

Weeekly – HallyuPopFest Red Carpet

Soundtracked by their latest title track “Ven para”, the six Weeekly girls made an incredible entrance in their stylish pairing of white shirts with above-knee skirts, subtle chain details and edgy military boots.

Aside from group member Monday (who appeared to be a crowd favorite), the girls seemed a little nervous during their interview segments, but this could have been due to the language barrier – either way, they were all extremely endearing and received lots of cheers and support from the crowd, especially when Monday made the exciting announcement that this was their first ever overseas activity, which made the adoration from the audience even greater to experience.

Kep1er – HallyuPopFest Red Carpet

Kep1er’s appearance was undeniably one of the day’s most anticipated based on the deafening amounts of cheers and screams.

Bouncing out to “WA DA DA”, their debut, in white combat boots and a sports-themed fashion aesthetic, the girls had tons of energy which was no doubt fueled by roaring fan chants to key moments of the track.

Youngeun, Xiaoting and Huening Bahiyyih seemed particularly popular (Youngeun is exceptionally skilled at fan engagement, consistently pointing out to people and posing for them) but it was incredibly heartwarming in general to see Kep1er so widely well-received considering how outnumbered they were against all of the boygroups.

Weeekly – HallyuPopFest Showcase Concert

Weeekly were the only girl group – and the only women overall – to be included in the Showcase stage this year; the HallyuPopFest Showcase stage is essentially a pre-show consisting of musical performances as well as ‘variety’ segments, which Weeekly excelled in.

Starting the set with an energetic performance of “Tag Me (@ Me)”, the girls then introduced themselves before launching into the aegyo pop-rock of “Hello”.

They then played a fun game called ‘Random Cover Bingo’: a number on-screen was picked by the crowd, which then revealed the name of a K-pop song Weeekly had to cover the choreography for. This was a fantastic segment for Weeekly, which gave them multiple opportunities to display their versatility as dancers and entertainers while also proving they have the skills to keep up with top-tier names in their field. The covers which were chosen included:

  1. “How You Like That” – BLACKPINK
  2. “Ko Ko Bop” – EXO
  3. “YES or YES” – TWICE
  4. “I NEED U” – BTS

2021’s breakout hit “After School” came after this, which saw an impressive usage of a skateboard as a prop. The fanchants for the song were surprisingly loud considering they were ‘showcase artists’, but proved the song’s ongoing popularity within the K-pop community.

After this song came a challenge roulette, where the audience voted for a number and a mystery reveal then explained the challenge to be completed by Weeekly. The first was a ‘Holiday Party’ to locate an enthusiastic ‘king’ and ‘queen’ from the crowd, whereas the second was ‘Tag Me (@ Me)’ where the girls had to strike a charming pose inspired by their song.

They then knocked out a solid performance of the alt-pop track “Solar”, which featured particularly impressive and creative choreography. After finishing the song and taking a selfie with the arena, Weeekly then wrapped up their showcase set with a fiery performance of their newest title track “Ven para”.

Unfortunately – and through no fault of their own – Weeekly’s Evening Concert performance ended up being somewhat of a disappointment: the second set was essentially a rehash of the showcase, where they once again performed “Tag Me (@ Me)”, “After School” and “Ven para” in exactly the same style as the arena had just seen.

As genuinely great as it was seeing these three performances again, it could have made more of an impact had these three performances (which seemed to be their most well-known) been saved for later and instead focused on additional B-sides from their catalog to – quite literally – showcase themselves as a well-rounded group.

The We can mini album was paid dust, as was Play Game: Holiday, which felt particularly odd as “Holiday Party” from that EP would have made perfect sense after the variety game of the same name; whereas “La Luna” or “My Earth” would have been a smart way to introduce the different sides of their artistry alongside the ‘aegyo’ performances of “Hello” and “Tag Me (@ Me)” and the fiercer dance ones for “Ven para” and “Solar”.

Weeekly – HallyuPopFest London Setlist

  1. Tag Me (@ Me)
  2. Hello
  3. After School
  4. Solar
  5. Ven para
  6. Tag Me (@ Me) – Evening Concert
  7. After School – Evening Concert
  8. Ven para – Evening Concert

Kep1er – HallyuPopFest Concert

As soon as Kep1er’s name appeared on the screen, the energy inside the arena exploded.

With non-stop screaming only intensifying as the nine girls made their way onto the stage and got into position, the opening for “WA DA DA” and its “let’s start” line was the only appropriate way to kick things off.

The fan chants for their debut track were amongst the loudest of any performance over the entire two day festival, and Kep1er of course nailed every step of the choreography.

Effortlessly transitioning into the equally upbeat, sophisticated dance-pop of “MVSK” from their FIRST IMPACT mini, the intricately produced track was well-received by the arena and kept the atmosphere incredibly high.

Catching their breath to introduce themselves in between sips of water, all of the members seemed excited to be in front of the audience and lapped up the positive reactions. Breaking up the set with “See the Light” – from FIRST IMPACT – the short track highlighted their top-tier dancing skills and beautiful usage of the stage for choreography.

Slowing things down with the sunset vibes, acoustic electro-pop of “LE VOYA9E” from their second mini album DOUBLAST, the girls then expressed an abundance of gratitude to the crowd before preparing for “Up!” – which unfolded as another incredible example of their strength as a group and their abilities to bring music video choreography to life on an arena stage.

Kep1er – HallyuPopFest London Setlist

  1. WA DA DA
  2. MVSK
  3. See the Light
  4. LE VOYA9E
  5. Up!

All photography by Rachel Wonders.

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