Concert season is fast approaching in Seoul, while lately in the United States there has been a steady stream of K-pop groups coming to tour stateside.
Here at Soompi, we’re no strangers to the concert grind — though our K-pop concert experience has usually been separated by something called the Pacific Ocean. Recently, our staff — OK, only three of us — came together to chat about exactly what the differences are between K-pop concerts in the U.S. and Korea.
Believe it or not, there are quite a number of differences that we found to be rather surprising — from the ticketing process to concert day itself. We’ll also talk about INFINITE’s faces (OK, maybe only I’ll do that).
To start with, how qualified are you to talk about concerts?
Monica (harmonicar): Man, we have to start with qualifications?? OK, so pretty much I’ve lived in Korea for three years and during that time I’ve seen a lot of concerts, like, a lot. I originally bought a ticket book that can hold like, 100 tickets and I… may… have… almost… filled… it….
Jenny (benightedxflame): Total judgement.
Courtney (knims): Side-eyeing you right now.
Monica: Y U DO DIS TO ME JENNY. Courtney, you went with me so…
Jenny: Wait, so basically you spent a third of your time in Korea attending concerts? Not gonna lie, that is THE LIFE.
Monica: I WORKED, OK? But haven’t you gone to like a lot of concerts in the U.S. too? I seem to remember you telling me you saw VIXX. Multiple times.
Courtney: To be fair, it’s wicked easy to attend concerts when you’re in Korea.
Jenny: OKAY, so I may or may not have (totally have) seen VIXX every single time they came to the U.S. I cover a lot of U.S. concerts for Soompi, so I would say that I’ve been to maybe 80% of idol groups’ tours in the U.S. since 2010. And it’s pretty astounding – you wouldn’t believe how much the scene has changed, just within the past few years. Concerts in the U.S. for K-pop were pretty rare a few years ago, but there seems to be one or sometimes even more than one every month or so. Before 2011, most artists just attended festivals in Los Angeles and stuck to the West Coast for minor performances, but now you have artists like B1A4 performing solo in Dallas. Still, organizers are pretty selective in getting artists to tour the U.S., but I’d assume people will get to see their favorites more often in Korea?
Courtney: Definitely! When I was in Korea for a couple of years I saw BEAST like 30 times but I’ve only seen them in the states once. For the past two years I’ve been seeing concerts in the U.S. (mainly West Coast), so I’ve played the ticketing game in both countries. In the end, seeing concerts in Korea is so much easier (when you live in Seoul) so I went to a lot of various groups’ solo concerts and while I’ll also go to random groups in the U.S., I have to be a bit more selective because tickets here are expensive. When I go for work, I’ll see anyone but when I actually join the ticketing game it’s only for groups I really love (mainly BTS, along with the rest of North America).
Monica: Personally, I’ve never been to a K-pop concert in the U.S. so I’m not exactly sure what the process is like. Most groups hold at least one solo concert once a year, and often times there will be smaller appearances at festivals or “collective” concerts like Dream Concert interspersed throughout the year. Add that to your idol actively promoting and you’ll be able to see them multiple times a year on stage.
Courtney: Yeah, Korea loves having smaller concerts featuring a bunch of artists for random reasons – like university festivals, brand-sponsored events, church events, tourism-related festivals. You can win tickets, go for free as a foreigner, or even just pay a cheap $50 to see up to 10 acts in one night! Sure, the U.S. has the KTMF at Hollywood Bowl and KCON but those will set you back at least $200 for quality seats – if you can get the quality seats!
Jenny: Wow, it’s pretty wild to think that you can see your bias group in person every month or so in Korea. Very few artists have had more than one solo tour in the U.S. For example, I really like INFINITE, and I haven’t seen them since they toured in 2013, and won’t get another chance to until next January.
Monica: Yep, in contrast, I’ll be able to catch them while I’m here since, even though I’m only here for three months, they’ll be making an appearance at the Pepsi Concert in December.
Jenny: I actually just visited Korea for the first time last month thanks to KOFICE, and had the opportunity to catch iKON’s first debut concert live. For a debut concert, it was A LOT of people. I know in the U.S. concerts, even more veteran artists are mostly confined to smaller spaces that seat a few thousand people so the concert itself feels more intimate, but iKON brought in, what, 15,000 people? I feel like I say this a lot, but, that’s crazy.
Monica: Actually I think the concert venues in Korea are actually smaller than compared to the U.S.? Where you saw iKON, Olympic Gymnastic Stadium, is currently considered the biggest concert venue in Korea; if an artist does a concert there they’re considered to have “made it.” It’s definitely smaller than say — Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center, maybe two-thirds the size?
Jenny: Well, the last act that performed at Madison Square Garden was SMTOWN NYC back in 2011. DJ DOC, COOL and some older artists performed there this September, but other than that, groups usually go for the smaller Best Buy Theater when they’re performing in New York. Groups definitely don’t opt for the huge, all-out venues.
Courtney: Most of the groups that come here on tour hit up smaller venues – for example on the West Coast, Club Nokia (LA) and the Warfield Theater (SF) are favorite stops and they only seat 2,300 people each. In Korea, we’re talking Olympic arenas!! But, it’s also important to note that in Korea most people can travel to Seoul pretty easily to see their faves – even from the farthest point south it’s a 5 hour, roughly $40 bus ride tops. In the U.S., the audience is so much more spread out and flights are very much not cheap.
Monica: Interesting, I haven’t really been to concerts in the U.S. so I really can’t say, but in general the venues in Korea feel a lot smaller compared to the venues I’ve been in in Japan or Taiwan.
Courtney: Oh! Another interesting thing is the prevalence of “mystery” concerts in the U.S. For example, every year the KTMF Hollywood Bowl tickets go on sale before the lineup is announced. Fans who want the best seats have to buy before they actually know who’s attending. We also had another concert this past year that sold tickets before the lineup was announced – I wonder if it is a trend that the U.S. might be moving towards? I can’t imagine Korea having mystery concerts…
Monica: Yeah Korea doesn’t really do mystery concerts. I feel like it’s because fans are so in-the-know that there wouldn’t really be a mystery, they’d figure it out right away.
Jenny: Never question the power of the netizens.
So, I hope we’ve convinced you that we know what we’re talking about and that you can trust us. In parts two and three of this series, we’ll go more in-depth into the process of ticketing and then the actual concert experience!
How many concerts have you been to? Do you have any questions you’d like us to address in the upcoming parts?
Courtney (knims) is located in the San Francisco office and desperately awaiting a BEAST North American tour. In the meantime, she’s seeing a lot of BTS and isn’t complaining about it. She’s also passionate about gifs.
Monica (harmonicar) is located in the Seoul office, and is a former teacher who once taught at CNBLUE’s Yonghwa’s high school in Busan. She is an avid INFINITE fan, and was once served beer by Sungyeol in Seoul.
Jenny (benightedxflame) is all over the East Coast going to concerts (particularly VIXX’s), and wishing she was a part of the Running Man cast.