The Hallyu Wave has been trending for some years, and nowadays K-pop is a huge attraction for those who come to South Korea, especially Seoul, the city where pretty much all the k-pop label have their head office.
K-pop in Gangnam
The best neighborhood to visit if you are looking for k-pop tourism is definitely Gangnam. Yes, the same “Gangnam” from the hit “Gangnam Style” by PSY. Gangnam is a very rich neighborhood in Seoul know for a large number of plastic surgery clinics, huge skyscrapers, expensive stores, etc: it’s the neighborhood for ostentation – even the cafes will have a higher price. But do not worry much, most of the k-pop related attractions are for free.
It is really easy to go to Gangnam by subway, you can drop off at various stations and enjoy a nice walk through the neighborhood. If you are not really good with directions, I do recommend that you download either Naver Map or Kakao Map on your mobile, as Goggle Maps doesn’t work really well in Korea.
The SM Town COEX Atrium
Once you drop off the subway, SM Town Coex Atrium is super easy to find, it’s a really big building with a gigantic screen on top of it. Oh, it’s also written “SM Town Coex Atrium”, so there is really no way to miss it.
As I said, it’s free to get into the building! But the nice things start on the outside: right beside the building, you can find the famous signs with artists’ hands for you to take pictures or compare your hand size with theirs. You will find the hands of every artist in SM Entertainment. Some of them actually have a very small hand, especially Girls Generation Yoona and SHINee’s Taemin. But it gives out a feeling of being kinda close to your idol, it’s like your touching their hands for real so the experience is very worth it! The signs also have the artists’ autographs.
Once you get into the building you will already feel emerged into the k-pop universe. There will be a lot of pictures from all SM Entertainment idols, and some of the pictures are signed by them! Super Junior’s Choi Siwon signed pretty much every picture of him, if you see his face you will probably also see his autograph right beside it. Some former artist doesn’t have their pictures in the Coex Atrium anymore, but most of them do. It’s very nostalgic to see the pictures from the first k-pop “era”, around 2010. You can totally spot how different it was from today.
What’s Inside the Building
But it’s not all about pictures! Inside the building, you also find murals with most recent prizes won by SM Entertainment artists, and also some very important prizes won by some artists, like the 2013 MELON Artist of the Year, won by SHINee and many more. As fans, we know we also helped our idols win these prizes, either by buying their albums or just voting and/or streaming their music, so it can get pretty emotional when you see the prizes right in front of you. It gives out a proud feeling of seeing your idol succeeding in their career.
Besides the prizes, you can also find in the SM Town COEX Atrium some exhibitions of items and clothes used in official Music Videos. When I went there, they were exhibiting NCT’s “Cherry Bomb” outfits and also SHINee’s “Good Evening (데리러가)” outfits. It’s amazing to see their worn outfits in person, especially if you know the artist very well. As a shawol myself, seeing SHINee’s outfit exhibited made me really happy, because I remembered the whole music video in my mind.
Cafes and Goods Store
Another really cool part of the SM Town COEX Atrium are the café and the goodies store. Although the prices are very high, the store often has sales of “buy 1 take 3” or “1+1”, so if you are lucky you can get items for a lower price. In the store, you will find not only lightsticks but also official merch of each artist, stamps, and many nice goodies.
The cool part about these goodies is that they’re not too obvious, so it’s kind of a symbol understood only by other fans of each artist. Some goodies have a really different and interesting design, I’m sure you will get fond of something.
At last but not least, we have the SM Town COEX Atrium café. Here they don’t hold many sales and the prices for the café are really above average – even for Gangnam – so I’m not really sure its worth it buying drinks, but you can find other idols goodies, albums of all SM artists and also food merch of the groups.
The SM Town COEX Atrium also offers the atrium itself, where they screen SM artist’s music videos and the museum, which you have to pay 18,000 won to get in. It is said to be an immersive experience, but the price was way too high for just a visit, so maybe another time.