Soompi Says: American vs. Korean K-Pop Concerts Pt. 2

The Soompi Crew is back to continue discussing our previous question of what the differences are between K-Pop concerts in the U.S. and Korea.

In the first part of our series we opened up by talking about the general concert logistics in the U.S. and Korea. This time we’ll be going more into depth about everyone’s favorite pre-concert experience: ticketing. We’ll also be addressing some of your comments and talking about everything from organizers to merchandise!

Let’s get to it!


How difficult is it to ticket in the U.S. compared to Korea?

Jenny (benightedxflame): Hm, I have to be honest in that since I often rep #TeamSoompi at concerts, I rarely find myself having to ticket. But from what I heard, the VIP packages, which usually include perks like hi-touch or fan-signing sessions, are usually hot-ticket items that sell out immediately after release. Depending on the tour, normal tickets are usually still available up until show day. But a good thing to note here is that, because of the rarity of the groups’ appearances in the U.S., some of the concerts are essentially three or four things bundled into one – a hi-touch session, a photo session, an autograph session, and of course, the concert itself. Whether you get those extra perks are dependent on how much you’re willing to spend, of course.

Monica (harmonicar):  Concerts here don’t offer VIP packages since fans have alternative methods for getting into fan-signs, and surprisingly hi-touch events aren’t really a thing in Korea. However, ticketing is an experience here. A lot of big name groups, like BIGBANG, will sell out within ten minutes of onsale time. There’s actually a Korean phrase that people will use to describe ticketing for harder groups — 피켓팅 (pi-ke-ting)–which refers to the “blood battle” when ticketing. A lot of fans, including myself, will usually wander over to PC rooms ten or twenty minutes before ticketing begins for the faster internet speed. Depending on the group, you might be able to get cancelled tickets later on, but usually the seats are far away and not particularly good. One thing I’m glad I don’t have to deal with is concert organizers, most of concerts are organized in-house by the companies here.


Jenny: Most of the concerts put on in the U.S. are from smaller organizers rather than the entertainment companies themselves, the big exception here being world tours from YG Entertainment. That being said, there are variations to how each company puts on their own concerts, which may or not fulfill all of the fans’ expectations.

Courtney (knims)One thing that exacerbates the “less-than-ideal” experience in the U.S. though is the importance of additional perks to concerts. U.S. fans want fansigns, high-touches, group photos all packed into their concert experience because seeing their faves in-person is so rare. While I totally understand that desire, it definitely puts a strain on concert promoters and the idols themselves. We can go into more detail on that experience in part 3 – but it’s important to note it here.

Monica: Yeah, from what I heard there seems to be a big difference between concert fan culture and expectations between the U.S. and Korea. That being said, it definitely seems like having those extras make ticketing a little more intense in the U.S., since you’re trying to get those as well.

Courtney: At least in Korea you essentially rely on the speed of your internet and your pointer finger. More and more venues are starting to use AXS for their ticketing in the States and that is one weird system. Like, you get on the site and enter a virtual “waiting room” which opens anywhere from an hour to 15 minutes before tickets actually go on sale (and, by the way, you never know when the waiting room will open). Then you wait until ticket sale time and are randomly allowed in to actually purchase tickets. This means you could be in the waiting room the second it opens but still have to wait up to 15 minutes past when tickets open to actually be allowed in to buy tickets and only have second and third tier tickets left. In Korea, the biggest annoyance was that the ticketing websites used to crash all the time. Trying to buy BEAST tickets? Good luck, cause the site crashed due to the number of people accessing it all at once. Maybe it’ll be back up in the next few minutes? Once it took me an hour to get through – an hour. Do they still crash all the time?


Monica: It’s actually gotten a lot better since when we first came, I think a lot of the servers have bulked up their capacity. Sometimes on the websites when they ticket for groups like EXO they’ll also have it now so that you can only buy EXO tickets for an hour and nothing else, like the ticketing page redirects you to the EXO ticket page. Of course, it’s a lot better if you’re a member of the fanclub since a lot of the time fanclub members get the perk of early ticketing — buying tickets two or three days before. This is one of the biggest perks to joining the fanclub, along with the obligatory first-entry into live recordings for music shows when idols are promoting.

Naturally, the company makes it so that you can’t just join the fanclub at anytime — or else tons of people would be signing up right before any artist has a concert. There’s usually a set period to join and fans can only sign up for a month or so, for example INFINITE’s fanclub sign up date is always around their debut date in June. In addition, fans pay a fee — usually around 10,000-30,000 KRW (approximately $8-26) — in order to join. They also have to renew every year, though you do get nice fanclub merchandise every year when you do. This year INFINITE gave us a cute picture set, a photobook, and an eco-bag. One thing that I think is important to point out, and one that a lot of the commenters on our first post mentioned, is the cost of tickets. In Korea, a “expensive” K-Pop concert ticket is around 99,000 KRW (approximately $86). This is usually the cost for the highest tier. It’s a lot more affordable to go to concerts here than in the U.S., where Courtney mentioned before in our previous posts, ticket prices can go up to $200.


Jenny: Concerts are definitely more costly stateside, mostly because organizers are looking to recoup the extra costs of travel, hotels, etc. Don’t forget that when an artist has a tour in North America, they’re usually hopping on flights from one coast to another for different stops, not to mention having to fly halfway across the world just to get into the continent. When you have five members or more in the group, the costs of travel alone are pretty exorbitant. And organizers definitely reflect this in the concert pricing, though they try to offset some of the higher tier tickets with benefits that allows you some one-to-one interaction with the idols, such as hi-touch sessions. This is totally different than in Korea, where the ticket prices are just inclusive of the concert experience itself. All in all, if you want to get good seats and good perks at an U.S. concert, be prepared to lay down some good money. We’ve brought up the fact that groups don’t usually come back for repeated concerts too often – when their visits become too commonplace, less people are willing to travel far or pay the high ticket fees, which means organizers aren’t making a profit.

Monica: This is why — and we had a lot of people asking us about this — there might be more boy groups coming to the U.S. instead of girl groups. As it is in Korea, not many girl groups have solo concerts regularly here in Korea. Girls’ Generation is probably the most consistent, and even then I think they’ve only had two domestic concerts since I’ve been here — versus Super Junior who I think have had like… four. Even more popular girl groups like SISTAR have only ever had two domestic concerts in their entire career. The reason is that girl groups just don’t sell out the venues like boy groups do. My guess is that U.S. organizers want to make the most bang for their buck — which is why they always go for the boy groups.


Courtney: I think if more crowd-funding of concerts happened in the U.S., you could possibly get more girl groups. It’s a big risk to bring the ladies to the states, simply because they seem to have fewer “hard core” fans willing to fly across the states to see them. Thus, concert organizers are more hesitant to bring them over. If there was some better way to gauge interest and guarantee ticket sales, I think we’d be graced by the presence of more leading ladies.

Jenny: When you look at the ratio of solo tours in the U.S. by gender, you’ll find that boy groups drastically outnumber girl groups. In the past few years, only two groups have gone on solo tours in the U.S.: Wonder Girls in 2010 and 2NE1 in 2012. A Pink, who just announced a tour in January, will be the third girl group. That’s three girl groups in six years.

Courtney: Exactly. Also I heard recently that for Seventeen’s debut concert, tickets were sold-out within like 5 minutes of sales opening but a majority of the tickets were actually bought by scalpers? Fans were, understandably, livid. But I hadn’t realized that scalping tickets was such a big thing in Korea!

Monica: I’ve bought scalped tickets before in Korea, and I can say that they definitely don’t go for as much as it seems like they do in the U.S. — but the original ticket price is much lower. Most of the time though, people ask for 20,000-30,0000 KRW (approximately $17-26) on top of the original price if the seats aren’t particularly good. The most I’ve seen tickets go for is maybe around 300,000-400,000 KRW (approximately $262-349) for good seats, which is a 200-300% mark-up on original price. However, it’s important to keep in mind what Jenny mentioned before of it only including the concert experience and nothing else. Also, Korea is extremely strict about filming and recording during concerts, so you won’t be able to take pictures or videos if you’re close up.


Courtney: Concert promoters are getting stricter about videos in the States, too. You used to be able to film or take photos to your heart’s content but this year there was a huge crackdown. Like, volunteers in every aisle to catch cameras crackdown. Another huge difference between the concerts is the merchandise!

Jenny: In the U.S., organizers usually don’t open the doors until an hour or so before the concert starts, which means you usually don’t have time to buy any merchandise until after the concert. When you toss in the fact that maybe half of the attendees have standing section tickets and don’t want to give up their spots, and the fact some organizers forgo selling merch at all, merchandise sale usually isn’t that big in the U.S. Or at least, not as big as it is in Korea.

Monica: Definitely not the case with Korea. Usually companies release their merchandise information a couple of days before, and you have to come line up in the morning for goods. If the goods booth opens at say — 10 a.m. — most of the time fans will be waiting out there from as early as 4 or 5 a.m., some even come at midnight. For standing fans, venues offer free coat/bag-check for them, so most will buy to their heart’s content and then just check in their merchandise. Most of the more popular goods — concert t-shirts or sweatshirts, and posters — will usually sell out pretty quickly, though it’s relatively easy to get lightsticks. I’ll never forget when I waited with Courtney for Super Junior merchandise for almost four hours — after that I decided I never wanted to wait for merch again. Now I usually just show up an hour before the show and pick up anything I want out of the remaining goods, I have too much stuff anyways so it works out.


Courtney: Oh my goodness, that Super Junior experience was 0/10 would not do again – mainly because we waited so long and many of the goods were sold out by the time we got to the front of the line. International fans will show up with suitcases and just go wild (and then re-sell them in neighboring countries) which isn’t that fair. On the plus side for the States, you can pre-order your concert merchandise, which means you are guaranteed to get it and can just pick it up at the venue without arriving like 12 hours before the concert starts. On the downside, there tends to be very few merchandise options at U.S. shows. For example, BTS had like a lightstick and a shirt that you could order during their U.S. tour but in Korea they had over 20 different things you could buy! Also the tour merch in the U.S. tends to be unique to that tour (essentially co-designed by the U.S. promoter) rather than the same as the goods you can buy in the states. It’s definitely a huge bummer, because tour merch in Korea is lovely. Though, my wallet appreciates it.

Monica: A consistent comment that we keep getting on both the comments on facebook and on the site that I want to address — is that it’s easier to see concerts or your idol in Korea. Although I do agree with this statement, I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s mainly easier to see your idol if you live in Seoul. When I was living in Busan, although I would come to Seoul for concerts, I was definitely a lot pickier with which concerts I came to. The cost of living is a lot lower here — which means that people make a lower salary than what we’re accustomed to in the States. A concert weekend usually costs me a cumulative of 300,000-400,000 KRW (approximately $262-349) in the past when I had to travel to Seoul, which doesn’t seem like a lot to concert-goers in the U.S., but is a huge chunk of money for a lot of people here. Do you know how many rolls of kimbap I could buy with that money?! Answer: a lot.

Jenny: I like how you judged your worth with rolls of kimbap.

Monica: I love kimbap.

Courtney: Everyone loves kimbap. But K-pop can sometimes be more important. Just kidding (not really). But it’s true that all those concerts definitely add up – if it’s all you spend your money on you can see as many as Monica, but if you are living on a Korean salary and paying rent, you’d better choose who you see wisely.


Thanks for sticking with us through part two! In the last part of our series, part three, we’ll be talking about the actual concert experience — and addressing some of your comments regarding fanservice, props, and run time, along with any others that you have!

Soompiers, do you have any experience with ticketing in either the U.S. or Korea? Were you surprised by anything we discussed, have differing opinions, or more questions? Share your ticketing horror stories and ask us anything below!

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. 

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