This South African Is Making Waves On The K-Pop Scene

Watch out, South Korea: South Africa’s Lindsay Katlego Setlema is coming for your dance scene! Setlema has just arrived back in South Africa after winning the People’s Choice Award at The Changwon K-Pop World Festival, a competition that showcases the best of K-Pop talent from around the world. The 21-year-old filmmaking student studies at the African Academy of Cinematic Arts is based in Maboneng, but dreams of being a dancer in Korea. SHAAZIA EBRAHIM and FATIMA MOOSA caught up with him about the festival.

Ask any K-pop fan where’s the number one travel destination they want to visit and it’s most likely to be Seoul, South Korea: the heart of K-pop. Setlema didn’t just get to experience Seoul’s K-pop scene as a fan but also an artist. “I was exposed to different things and my mind was opened. It was so amazing. Their entertainment industry is so broad,” he said.

Being in that environment had Setlema in tears, and he describes it as “an unforgettable experience.”

“Everywhere on the streets, people were busking. Some were playing music, some were dancing. It was just art all over the place. It was one of the best experiences seeing how seriously they take art over there,” Setlema said.

Getting to Korea happened to him by chance. In June, the Korean Embassy in South Africa held a K-pop Festival, with the prize being a trip to the World K-pop Festival in Seoul. Setlema initially went along to Pretoria for the festival to have fun, not at all expecting to win. “And then I won, and it was the craziest thing. I fell in love with the dance and that’s why I put my heart into that performance,” Setlema said.

Having only been introduced to the genre earlier this year, Setlema hasn’t been into K-pop for that long. But his story is one that will resonate with most K-pop fans. A friend of his was watching a K-pop group dance practice, he happened to see it, and the rest – as they say – is history.

Setlema actually fell in love with SHINee dancer Taemin’s moves. After watching him in two of the group’s videos, he started watching more of the group. “From there, I was like who is the guy? I started watching the videos and said let me see what’s going on with this K-pop thing. And everything unfolded to this moment,” he said.

He still hasn’t completely fallen down the K-pop rabbit hole. “I don’t listen to a lot of K-pop. Because when I learn the choreography, I listen to that song so I’ve just been listening to Taemin this year,” Setlema said.

Chris Brown was Setlema’s ultimate dance inspiration until 2018 when he discovered Taemin. “In K-pop, of course, you know it’s Taemin and then Jimin from BTS and then Yugyeom from GOT7. Those are my favourites for now. Wait, scratch Yugyeom, it’s Jisung from NCT. That kid is on point,” laughs Setlema as he tries to count down his favourite dancers.

Setlema says that in Seoul, the competitors instantly reacted to his dance style and completely loved it. During rehearsals with the other winners from around the world, they would hold freestyle sessions, and Setlema decided to sprinkle in some African flavour. “At one time I actually played African house music for them and taught them a short one-minute routine. We were actually dancing to [BTS] Idol because they wanted to dance to K-pop, because you know BTS has gqom vibes,” he said.

Dancing is something that has always been in his blood, since his days at Sunday School. “I enjoyed it, so I said this is something I want to continue doing. At the end of the graduations we would do pantsula house routines. Then we went to other schools and I decided I’m going to keep doing this because I loved it,” Setlema said.

Some of the artists set to perform at the festival were Red Velvet, Wanna One, PENTAGON, MOMOLAND, and Stray Kids. Unfortunately, Setlema didn’t get to see any of them perform. The events for the day were cancelled due to typhoon Kong-rey. He did get to high five the members of Stray Kids though, which is something he will never forget.

The competition was tight, but Setlema said all the competitors ended up becoming friends with each other and supporting each other. Despite coming home with an award, Setlema said he suffers from a low self-esteem. “I will never feel like I’m better than anyone else. Even after winning something, I never feel like I’m good enough and that’s a very big problem,” he said. When he suffered from that in Korea, he was advised to work on his mind – especially if he wants to be a professional dancer.

And Setlema has his sights set on making it big in the K-pop industry. In the beginning of the year, when he discovered K-pop, he researched the industry and began applying for all the big companies. “In Korea, I got some advice from some people who were from the industry. They told me what songs I should cover, tips about how to get better, and how to approach the companies,” Setlema said.

For now, he will be working on those covers and those applications. Don’t be surprised if you see him dancing alongside Taemin before a crowd of thousands!

Lindsay Setlema wins the People’s Choice Award at the Changwon K-pop World Festival

Images supplied