How Toronto fans created their own K-pop culture in the city

K-pop is here to stay, and Toronto fans approve

Two people behind the counter at Light UpK
Co-owners Anne and Joseph of LightUpK, a Toronto owned K-Pop store, work a normal closing shift doing their dream job. Starting their business in February of 2022, the pandemic had them jump through holes of online meetings, travelling merchandise place to place, and putting trust into people they’ve never met. (Ireland Fidale/Toronto Observer) 

K-pop fans in Toronto have created a community of friendship and comfort by curating their own events and starting their own businesses.

K-pop, an acronym for Korean pop, is a trendsetting music genre that has created a loyal following around the world. Originating South Korea, K-pop takes influence from many genres like pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, metal, and more.

But despite its rise in popularity, the concept is still misunderstood and fans are often taunted at by outsiders. But not at Light Up K.

“We try to create a space where as many fans, doesn’t matter who they stan, they can come into the same space and enjoy K-pop however they would like,” Anne Shea, the chief communications officer of “Light Up K”, said. 

Light Up K is a music store located in Toronto that started online in 2020, and opened a permanent location in 2022. The founders, Anne Shea and Jo Kim, have always had the idea of designing a comfortable space for K-pop fans.

With a cushioned seating area for hanging out and opening albums, and a wall of photocards to trade with ones they own, the store has become a common space for people to meet up and make friends. 

“One thing that I realized in Toronto is one of the biggest cities in Canada. However, I think we lack the closeness among the communities around the fan bases,” Kim, the chief executive officer of Light Up K, said. “I think we lack a central body or organization that would kind of aid and support other K-pop fan bases.”

K-pop fan culture is active in Toronto, with communication happening everywhere from Discord servers and Twitter threads

Live events such as “K-pop K-hip hop Nights” hosted by K-Nights.TO encourage fans to come out and share their passion for music with others.

Searching “K-pop Toronto” on TikTok reveals a plethora of videos curated for fans in the city with tips for buying albums, finding places for merch, servers to meet new friends, and more.

Working with community organizations across Canada and the U.S., Light Up K hopes to push for more events in the city for fans. The popularity of K-pop in Toronto is noticed, as some groups have added Toronto as a common stop on world tours. 

One fan said it the city’s scene is visible, but not over the top.

“Present. The K-pop fan culture in Toronto is simply present, not too overbearing but still seen and noticed,” said Adrianna Cooper, a 20-year-old culinary student from Toronto. 

Fandom can be key to identity: prof

Michelle Cho, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s department of East Asian studies, said in a U of T news story that fandom culture has become more important to how people define themselves and can create other fandoms between people with similar interests.

North America’s interest in Korean culture, history, and music is on the rise, as the visibility of K-pop has increased across the world

K-pop groups start out as trainees, learning skills of dance, rap, and singing, they are conditioned into the perfect performer before their debut. Some go on to become soloists like IU, others are put into groups of like-minded people like BTS, and on the rare occasion taught instruments to become a rock band like The Rose.

“I never ever thought I’d get into listening to music in a whole other language, but the message BTS sends, will literally make your heart burst with euphoria,” Katherine Allum, a 22-year-old pathologist’s assistant from Toronto, said.  

“I think Toronto fans are very passionate, and we hope that can be reflected more as time continues,” Shea said.

About this article

Posted: Mar 24 2022 9:00 am
Filed under: Arts & Life Features Music Spotlight On Small Biz