As New York’s largest free outdoor arts festival, the Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage has long championed a diverse range of artists in its nearly 40-year history. This year, a full-fledged, multi-artist K-pop collaboration joined the legendary mix that takes place annually in Central Park.
On July 10, KOREA GAYOJE presented SummerStage the first K-pop show in the City Parks Foundation series, in association with the Korean Cultural Center New York. Viral girl group Brave Girls, boy band Golden Child, plus soloist and American Song Contest champion AleXa all performed at the free concert as an opportunity for the artists to visit and connect directly with their NYC fans.
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According to organizers, fans were lined up in the early morning hours to ensure they could be close when their favorites performed that evening.
“The response from fans has been unbelievable,” says Paula Abreu, director of programming for City Parks Foundation SummerStage. “Our digital and social media responses have been off the charts. The fans, and the artists themselves, were deeply engaged leading up to this date. As expected, we had lines forming as early as 5 a.m. to get into the venue. I have never seen an audience so committed and enthusiastic about a concert.”
While SummerStage has hosted a range of Korean artists in the past (the series points to Korean rock band Ssing Ssing, Korean-American rap group Year of the Ox, and TOKiMONSTA, the SoCal DJ-producer who is of Korean descent), 2022 marks their official introduction into the K-pop fandom and all it has to offer.
“This year is the first time we have K-pop on our stage and we are thrilled,” Abreu adds. “The fans knew all the lyrics, held up signs, and were even ‘waving’ to their favorite artists on stage — and many waved back! This was a true demonstration of how artists and audiences are so connected. It was beautiful to see the diversity as well. We have done shows where the majority of the audience is from the same ethnic group of the bands on stage, and this audience was so diverse.”
Conveniently, SummerStage acted as the New York tour stops for Brave Girls and Golden Child’s ongoing U.S. tours. But this was the first time AleXa performed a set for such a large crowd after entering the scene just months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down touring and live performances.
“I am so happy and grateful to have been able to perform in front of such a large audience for the first time,” AleXa reflects on the performance post-show. “Being able to perform for SummerStage KOREA GAYOJE in Central Park was such a fun experience that left me walking away with such positive energy from the crowd.”
Adds Kim Junhong, CEO of ZB LABEL / Zanybros that manages AleXa: “SummerStage hosts so many of New York’s greats, and it is such an amazing honor to be invited. Because this was her first time performing in New York, I was so proud for AleXa to showcase a powerful K-pop stage. As a native English speaker, she created an interactive experience for the audience that filled them with energy. We hope we were able to truly show New Yorkers that AleXa is the beginning of a new trend.”
While AleXa joins the growing trend of K-pop integrating into mainstream American spaces, SummerStage sees a “promising future” for more.
“Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage loves to keep up with trends in the music industry and make sure we are always presenting the latest and greatest,” Paula Abreu. “We love our festival to be a place for discovery. While it may be too early to know, we were thrilled with the audience’s responses to this show and felt it was definitely a success. We curate each season with a lot of planning, thought and intention as dates are limited and competitive. Based on last night, I would say it’s a promising future at SummerStage but we will wait and see what the next season brings.”
SummerStage continues throughout various parks in New York City through Oct. 1.