Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, first arrived in the Philippines in the 1990s in the form of Koreanovelas, now popularly known as K-Dramas. Eventually, K-Pop (or Korean Pop) songs followed suit and snatched the hearts of the young generation. Communities called fandoms are born out of the common love ‘stans’ share for entertainment and their idols, proving that there’s beauty in everything—even those things you don’t entirely understand.
One of these stans is Aya Villa-Real, Managing Director of Makeitlive, an events and concert organization that specializes in all things Hallyu. Aya is also the author of Hello Hallyu, a book about a fangirl’s perspective on the Korean wave phenomenon in the Philippines.
“I’ve always been into Hallyu as early as 2003,” Aya says. “I had a Korean neighbor back when I was a kid and binigyan niya ako ng tape. I listened to it. I started liking it. I didn’t even understand it but I was really enjoying it.” This is how Aya discovered her love for Hallyu.
While the influence of Hallyu in the Philippines grew bigger over the years, Aya admits that it wasn’t easy to be a fan back then. “It wasn’t the cool thing to do, to listen to. In school, it was quite hard to talk about K-Pop because there’s literally no one I can talk to. Nobody really understood it and [people think] you’re just getting “obsessed” [over idols].”
Young Aya didn’t know that this “obsession” people used to judge her for will turn into a future career. What merely started from getting graphic design commissions in fan forums blossomed into meeting friends who helped her bring Makeitlive to life.
With Danie Tiu and Nina Tay, Aya created Makeitlive, which they used to call Studio VC. “This whole thing started with us being friends and being active in a lot of the events in the scene,” she says. “In everything that we do, the motivation is to provide fans a great experience all the time.”
Like most fans, having that sense of belonging from people who share the same interest as yours made a big difference in a fangirl’s life. “Back then, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this. And then, the community grew and I started meeting new friends,” Aya recalls. In this sense, Makeitlive was a gift to the community that welcomed her and made her feel seen.
For more than 10 years, Aya has been navigating the entertainment industry, focusing on Hallyu events and live concerts. Just recently, they mounted the first Hallyu Market, a K-Merch Festival where Hallyu fans enjoyed a weekend of Hallyu-ing in the South. “We decided to do it as a culminating event for fans. [During the pandemic] nauso online to trade photocards, albums. So sabi ko, ‘Why don’t we do it in real life?’ It would be fun and hindi na kailangan ng shipping.”
Over 70+ official merch sellers, fan artists, K-Café owners, and K-Beauty suppliers were present in the event. There’s also a much-anticipated photocard station where attendees can meet and trade.
As someone who witnessed how Hallyu grew in the Philippines from the very beginning, Aya knew that we hold the most interesting story about how the wave got big. She talked about this in her book Hello Hallyu, where she took inspiration in the beauty of the community. “The book is dedicated to the entire community rather than Hallyu itself,” she says. “It was made for anyone who wanted to know more about Hallyu and, at the same time, for the long-time fans who have been in the community for so long.”
Writing the book also became an avenue for Aya to tell the story of the fans. “One thing I also wanted to do is to break the stigma on fandoms or fan clubs in general. There’s so many negative press about them. But a lot of people don’t actually see that they are one of the most socially aware groups,” she says. “The Hallyu community has always been known to give back to important causes. They usually do this as a birthday project, donating money in the name of the artist instead of buying gifts for the artists.”
It's no wonder that the Hallyu community continues to influence and empower her career and life, even after all these years.
When mounting events, Aya finds beauty every time a show starts. “The most beautiful thing for me is to see the things you worked hard for come together, and witness how people are enjoying it,” she says. To her, nothing is more priceless than building and being part of an event that will be forever ingrained into the fans’ memories. “There will always be complaints. There will always be shortcomings from us, organizers. But as long as fans remember the show and it becomes a memorable one for them, I think we have done the bare minimum of our job.”
During the peak of the pandemic, she also dipped her toes into K-Beauty to get out of the lockdown depression of not having live events. She experimented on make-up formulation and dropped a Korean-inspired cosmetic line, featuring blush pots and lip glosses that serve very ‘90s vibes.
On a personal level, Aya finds herself relying on a lot of Korean beauty products and getting skincare inspiration from the famous ten-step routine. She appreciates that, more than make-up, K-Beauty focuses a lot more on the skin. “Our concept of beauty was more about whitening until the idea of making the skin more hydrated and healthier was introduced to us by Koreans,” she observes. It easily found its way into Filipino culture because it’s an effortless, more natural look.
When asked how she takes care of herself in spite of her busy schedule, one of Aya’s go-to services is nail art. “I’ve been obsessed with getting my nails done. Minsan, magpapa-extensions ako and I will direct my nail artist about the design,” she shares. “Kahit hindi maayos ang hair ko, basta ang nails ko, maayos.” She also goes to facial clinics that offer Korean beauty treatments and gets foot spas and massages.
But when her schedule makes it impossible to squeeze in an hour in the salon, Aya says that her “version of self-care is a bottle of white flower.” Like a boss.
To Aya, the best beauty advice is to be your authentic self. “I think when you start becoming comfortable with yourself, you can start doing things at your own pace, for yourself, and not because of what other people are saying.”
At the end of the day, Aya powers through her self-doubts and insecurities. She lives the life she loves as an events coordinator, a concert promoter, but most of all, a fangirl.
🚨 Catch Hallyu Market at SM North EDSA Skydome on August 20, 2022! Parlon is proud to be an event partner and a co-presenter of this exciting celebration of all things Hallyu. With an entrance fee of P150, go crazy over 70+ K-Merchants, exciting prizes (we’ve got Parlon vouchers!), and more surprises as soon as doors open at 10 a.m. Can’t make it? No problem! You can also catch the Hallyu Market at Venice Grand Canal Mall on all weekends of August.
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