Irish K-Pop : Sodem Solana

Kpop has taken the world by storm in the past number of years. On a personal level, my younger sister is a massive fan of the group BTS, so I can see, first hand, the loyalty of their fan base. K-pop is a genre of popular music which originated from South Korea in the early 1990s. The first K-pop stars were trio Seo Taiji and Boys with the hit single ‘Nan Arayo’ (I Know). This was the beginning of the massive industry we know today. The genre is apparently influenced with styles from all around the world from hip hop to R&B. When you sit and listen carefully to the songs by these groups, which I can hear, every day from my sister’s bedroom, there are so many different ‘music breaks’ throughout the songs that have their own style. Also, their music videos are oscar worthy!

K-pop has more recently been thrown into the spotlight due to apps such as TikTok. It has featured numerous singles from groups such as BlackPink and EXO.
According to Billboard Media; BTS’ “Dynamite” returned to No.1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart in January 2021 and led on both lists for four total weeks, the longest double domination of any title.
The world of K-pop opens fans to the personal lives of the artists. Their albums arrive in a briefcase style box full of picture books, stickers, postcards and novelty collectables. Similar to the Hannah Montana era or the more recent child star JoJo Siwa, it is a global phenomenon, alongside a million dollar industry.
The training to become an ‘idol’ in the world of K-pop is rigorous with numerous ex-stars revealing the dark side of this industry in recent years. Idol hopefuls begin at an extremely young age, and train relentlessly through performing arts schools in singing, acting and dancing until they finally sign on to a management company as trainees, in hopes to be picked as part of an ensemble.
K-pop may not be as well known in Ireland as it is in other western countries, but in 2019, Ireland won the World K-pop Festival in South Korea, represented by Sodem Solana. I interviewed Sodem about his time at the K-pop Championships, his love for performance and also recent racist attacks made on minority groups in Dublin.

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Finding K-pop
Sodem Solana is a trained actor and dancer living in Dublin city. He studied for two years at BullAlley Theatre Training Company and has been dancing since he was 12 years old. He is trained in numerous different genres and styles. “When I started listening to K-pop, I was intrigued by their music videos. They are made with so much detail and amazing visuals” says Sodem “What I love the most, is that with every K-pop song there is choreography that goes with it. When I was in Korea, if a song came on, no matter if you were all strangers, everyone would start dancing together. It’s amazing”. The fan base has grown at a rapid rate, with merchandise now being sold in novelty shops in Dublin. “I think K-pop fans are extremely loyal, more so than the fans of any other western artist. I think fans appreciate the level of work and commitment the artists have, it takes a long time to become a star in Korea” Sodem recalls the last K-pop concert he attended. “The last group I seen live was BlackPink, I bought all their merchandise, even the glow stick”

The Competition

The K-Pop World Festival is an annual K-pop talent competition founded by South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011. Over 80 countries take part in the competition. Every year, a regional competition is held to find an Irish representative. Sodem recalls; “I first needed to send in a video of myself performing so I formed a group and we worked on a performance”. Sodem won the regional finals and was set to jet off to South Korea for a rigorous two week training programme before the competition. “I knew, going there, the standard I would be expected to get to. It was two full weeks of training every single day, mixed in with filming. One day we worked all day up until 1:30am. That’s nothing to the big K-pop stars though”. I asked Sodem if he ever felt alone being so far away from home. “Yes, I did feel alone. I am actually quite a shy person when it comes to meeting new people, but as the weeks went on, I became friends with all the other contestants. Some of the other groups had 10 or 12 members. We were one of the smallest groups”

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A Win for Ireland
“I honestly didn’t mind if I had won or not. I knew I had tried my best and I was honoured to represent Ireland in the competition” says Sodem “I was shaking on stage, it doesn’t look like I was, but I was so so nervous but I was really happy with my performance” Sodem performed in front of over 30,000 people. He was the second Irish representative ever, to win the grand prize at the competition.

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Returning to Ireland

I asked Sodem what his welcome party consisted of after returning to Ireland with the grand prize; “Every country is different, Ireland wouldn’t have a huge following for K-pop music. However, I was a bit disheartened with the lack of publicity of my win for Ireland. But as I said, every country is different”. Once Sodem returned to normal life, he set forth on a career of being a dance teacher. “I don’t think I will become a K-pop star, unfortunately I am too late to begin that career” says Sodem “But I love teaching. I love being able to teach and meet people with the same interests as me, especially through dance. I teach in Trinity College with their K-pop Dance Society and I really enjoy it. There are people from all different nationalities, it’s really cool”

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Recent Racial Attack

Although Sodem has been praised for his time representing Ireland abroad, he is still faced with racial assaults in Dublin; “It’s always been there, but now more than ever, it is being brought the surface” says Sodem “A lot of people blame the Asian community for Covid, and it has become a real issue”. Sodem recently posted an Instagram post of an assault he experienced in Dublin City centre. “I was with two other girls and a bunch of kids from town started calling us racial slurs and threatening us with what they had in their hands. They kept calling us names and it was extremely disrespectful. One of the kids went to steal my friend’s hat and I went to retrieve it. It was very frightening.”. I asked Sodem what he would like to see change to help eradicate this kind of abuse; “I posted it to draw awareness to the issue. There were a lot of people there who didn’t do anything. I was heartbroken to see my friend being assaulted and everyone nearby did absolutely nothing. There have been more and more attacks in the last year, it needs to end”. However this has not changed his view of Ireland, “It hasn’t changed my love for Ireland or my want to live here, but I urge if anyone witnesses this kind of assault taking place to please help the person. These teenagers are in gangs and it can be extremely scary”. Sodem hopes that his post will bring awareness to the issue and highlight the need for change.

You can find Sodem on Instagram @sodemsolana. His K-pop dance troop @savagefamilydancegroup are also on Instagram and YouTube.

You can watch Sodem’s winning performance here :

KathyAnn Murphy
KathyAnn Murphy

KathyAnn is a playwright, theatre and film designer and director from Co. Wicklow. She holds an MA in Theatre Practise and a BA in Design for Stage and Screen. She is a third level tutor, drama teacher and is currently studying a Diploma in Irish Studies. KathyAnn has a great interest in the arts, social justice, history and music.

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