Experiencing a Concert in the Capital of K-Pop: Seoul


Soompi is happy to announce a new series of guest content from our friends over at Green Tea Graffiti (GTG). GTG is fairly new but have already been to over 100 concerts in Asia as certified media in the K-pop industry. If you want to learn more about east Asian pop culture, you should definitely check them out. For the first GTG article, we have GTG founder Jason’s take on K-pop concerts in Seoul. 

Have you ever been surrounded by EXO fans and witnessed their screaming so loudly that you needed to go to the doctor’s office the next day? How about seeing Korean students who loathe learning English, yet when a group starts singing English lyrics, these same pupils bust out perfect English? Or witnessing passionate fans chase their idol’s cars moments after a concert ends?

Welcome to a normal K-Pop concert in Seoul.

EXO dances on the main stage at last year's Melon Music Awards.

EXO dances on the main stage at last year’s Melon Music Awards.

As BIGBANG, B.A.P, SHINee, and other K-Pop groups make their 2014 world tours, international fans all over the world cheer on their favorite groups. For many fans overseas, the chance to see these idols up-close is too hard to pass up. After all, it’s not everyday these stars just get up and leave Korea.

Yet, there’s just something different about seeing a K-Pop concert live in the K-Pop capital: Seoul.

The kimbap. The saeseangs. The glow sticks. The Hangul.  The crazy stories. And of course, the K-Pop stars performing on their home turf. And as both a fan and media member in the K-Pop industry, I’m glad to have witnessed it all firsthand.

Let’s take a look at how a typical K-Pop adventure goes.

The Beginning: Going to the Concert

The 2014 SHINee concert at Olympic Park

The 2014 SHINee concert at Olympic Park

When going to your favorite idols’ show on a given day, you’ll immediately see hints of the concert even before you arrive. If you step onto the subway, bus, or happen to be walking and see a group of chatty teens decked out in K-Pop regalia, there’s a 99% chance they’ll be heading to your concert.

Aside from these fans dressing up in their group’s attire, they will be other clues too. Shirts proclaiming their idols’ love will be in fashion. Trinkets, glow sticks, and poster paper will be used as fan signs. Strategies about what these fans will do when they see their stars up-close are discussed. You don’t have to be a detective to spot these signs.

Shinhwa fans gather before the 16th anniversary concert.

Shinhwa fans gather before the 16th anniversary concert.

Once you arrive near the concert venue, prepare for the stampede of teenage fan girls and couples to run towards the event. You’ll have to bring your best dodging and juking moves to successfully navigate through these fans. After fighting through the throngs of fans, you’ll finally emerge out of the crowd, only to see even more of them already at the venue.

Surprised? Don’t be, as many fans get to the concert sometimes six hours ahead of time. K-Pop concerts are an all-day event, so fans get there early and snag a good spot when the lines start to form.

Arriving at the Venue

Vendors selling third-party K-Pop memorabilia will also make their presence felt soon after. Light sticks, notecards, bunny ears, and socks are the norms at vendors. Even pillows of your favorite stars can be bought. What better way to be closer to your stars than to sleep on them?

You’ll also see ajummas selling ₩3,000 (about $3.00) kimbap. Oh, these wise women know you’ll be hungry during the concert. Some of them will even speak English to sell their food. “Awesome kimbap, you want,” one ajumma asked me before. Of course, I couldn’t refuse her great pitch in English, so I bought two kimbap rolls.

The  delicious rolls of kimbap. Photo credit: Wikipedia common photos

The delicious rolls of kimbap. Photo credit: Wikipedia common photos

After seeing the long, snaking lines, you’ll be greeted by a collage of stands. These stands show the pop idols smiling and generally in funny poses. Bags of rice will also be seen from all over the world, as rice symbolizes respect and gratitude towards their favorite groups. From countries in Southeast Asia to Europe and the U.S., the various countries represented from the rice donations feels like a mini-United Nations.

Speaking of a mini-United Nations, the fans here aren’t just native Koreans. A good portion of them come overseas. That bus that just pulled up? Those are the Japanese fans part of a package tour. How about the group of fans huddled together, excitedly talking about how close they can get to the stars? Those fans are from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. And those fans will the huge fan signs, towels, and posters in tow? Those are the Chinese fans.

Stands from the B.A.P "Live on Earth" concert in Seoul.

Stands from the B.A.P “Live on Earth” concert in Seoul.

We can’t also forget about the European fans, nor the American and Canadian fans that make up the fandom here too. It really doesn’t matter which country you’re from, as K-Pop has this global feel at these concerts.

Waiting for the Concert

While waiting for the concert, the fans will be taking pictures next to the collages, posing next to their favorite cardboard stars for a photo moment. Others will be taking selcas – self photos of themselves.

Fans wait patiently for the opening act of the 2013 GS concert: 4Minute.

Fans wait patiently for the opening act of the 2013 GS concert: 4Minute.

The fans are generally chatty and open during this time too. Some of the more memorable quotes that I’ve heard over the years were:

  • “OMG, I can’t wait to see BIGBANG! You think Taeyang will take off his shirt today?”
  • “You need a girl Taeyang? I’ll be your girl!”
  • Infinite is really my Destiny!”
  • “Did you see Kris (from EXO)? I ALMOST touched his hand!”
  • Hyorin-unni looks so pretty. I wonder how I can be as pretty as her.”
  • “I’m getting hot already and the concert hasn’t even started yet.”

About an hour before the concert, one of the staff members on a loudspeaker will let people know that it’s time to enter the concert hall. You’ll be amazed how orderly and organized how thousands of fans line up and enter the concert venue.

All you have to do is pass a quick checkpoint to see if you have a camera or camcorder in your belongings. If you have either, you’ll have to put it in storage, as it’s a general no-no to take photos and video during the concert. Concerts have big, burly men in ties patrolling the concert at all times. If you get caught, they’ll forcibly delete your photos and videos. At worst, they’ll kick you out of the concert. Simply, it’s not worth the risk to take a few photos.

Even with long lines and a security checkpoint, it generally takes 10-15 minutes to get in the concert. Quick and painless.

Experiencing the Concert

Now, your concert experience will differ depending on which group you see. The norm is a two and a half hour concert with song performances, talking to the audience, a plot, and an encore.

Shinhwa brings down the house during their 16th anniversary concert.

Shinhwa brings down the house during their 16th anniversary concert.

The encore section has become so predictable these days that even Eric from Shinhwa joked about it. During the Shinhwa 2014 16th Anniversary concert, he said at the start of the concert, “Hey guys, you already know we’ll have an encore, because every group does it. So just stay until the end of the show and enjoy!”

As for plot, many groups are putting this story-telling element in their concerts. The plots range from war-induced flashbacks (Shinhwa’s 16th Anniversary concert), tackling serious subjects in Korea (B1A4’s 2014 The Class Concert), fighting against the anti-Infinite police (Infinite’s 2013 One Great Step tour), and aliens coming from the Planet Mato (B.A.P’s 2014 Live on Earth Concert). While some plotlines include Korean cultural jokes and idioms, fans will still be able to understand these stories.

Yet, if there is one thing all plotlines have in common, it’s being hilarious.

Jay Park shows off those trademark abs he's known for.

Jay Park shows off those trademark abs he’s known for.

Also, whether you see a guy or girl group, their image concept will differ. For guys, it will usually be their fashion, cuteness, or six-pack body. The master-of-abs, Jay Park and Taeyang, are well-known for taking off their shirts. For girls, it’s either fashion or leg. And by legs, they will show off a ton of it. In fact, nearly all female groups will show off their legs; heck, I can’t remember a time when they didn’t!

If you wanted to get close to your idol in a legal and non-creepy way, some concerts have great fan service. During last year’s SISTAR concert, the members randomly chose a member from the audience to take a photo with him. The random member was chosen by looks – glasses, jeans, a certain style of shirt, hair, and sock color. While SISTAR didn’t ask, some groups even ask your age, with an ID check to make sure.

Dasom takes a selca of herself during last year's SISTAR concert.  Picture courtesy of Starship Entertainment to GTG.

Dasom takes a selca of herself during last year’s SISTAR concert.
Picture courtesy of Starship Entertainment to GTG.

In other shows, group members will randomly take someone’s Smartphone, take a selca of themselves, and return their phone.

Getting a photo of your favorite star up-close: Wouldn’t that be a good memory?

After the Concert

Once the encore finishes, it’s a race to get out. Are you a fast runner? Good, because you’ll need that speed. The thousands that cheered on their favorite idols now turn into a stampede to get out. This is the time that buses will be over packed and taxis line up outside the concert halls.

It’s worse if you take the subway, as most people prefer taking the fast, clean, and cheap Seoul subway system. Running to the nearest subway station is the norm, as if you miss a train, it can take 20 minutes for the next train to come.

The subways become jam-packed after concerts are over.

The subways become jam-packed after concerts are over.

You’ll know the concert is finally over when you get back home. The memories, fan chats, singing, and “I love you Oppa/Unni!” screams, however, will be with you for a long time. K-Pop concerts are entertaining to see wherever they are. But in Korea, they have this magical aura that you can only get by seeing one live in the motherland of K-pop: Seoul.

Have you ever been to a concert in Seoul? Or wanted to come to Korea to see one live? Sound off in the comments below!

Follow GTG’s Facebook and Twitter! And to find out the life of a K-pop star, check out their Behind the K-pop Scenes series.