Soompi Says: Korean vs. American K-Pop Concerts Pt. 3
We’re back for the final part of our series, this time to talk about the good stuff: the actual concert day itself.
We went through logistics in part one, and we’ve gone through the pain of ticketing in part two, and now we have a golden ticket to a good time. You’d think that a typical concert day would be pretty similar between the U.S. and Korea – after all, it’s a concert! But, my friends, even the day of the concert is different between the two countries. This part is longer than the others because we also included answers to questions we received in previous sections – but we’ll keep in fun, we promise!
Let’s start from the beginning, what time does your day start when you are attending a concert?
Courtney (knims): So in the U.S. when you attend a concert with a GA or standing ticket you have to show up at the crack of dawn (or even the night before if you’re hardcore) and wait in line all day. I’ll be honest, before I joined Soompi I waited in line starting at 10am for the VIXX concert in LA. It was worth it cause I was only two people away from the stage. But it’s such a painful experience to wait in line all day. ALL DAY. And then stand in the venue for another 2 hours while fighting the fans around you to push to the front. I usually spend the day after a concert relaxing/recovering.
Jenny (benightedxflame): The venues chosen by the organizers are usually more intimate, but with more standing section tickets. This means that if you want to get a good spot, you need to spend some quality time outside the venue before the concert starts. A few years ago, fans would literally line up the night before the concert – but due to venue regulations these days, organizers are letting fans line up no earlier than the morning of. Courtney and I once went to a GOT7 show in San Francisco where we witnessed a fist-fight (seriously, punches were being thrown); some of the venues chosen are in pretty shady areas, so the organizers need to be mindful of the concert-goers’ safety.
Monica (harmonicar): So uh…. actually my day starts like… an hour before the concert? I don’t usually go standing, so with seats you literally just show up like… twenty minutes before and go inside? BUT, going standing is a lot less of a headache than in the States. In Korea when you buy tickets, you actually buy a ticket for standing with a number of entry assigned to it. So for standing you just have to show up three hours before. You get to the venue, pick up a standing bracelet, and then get in line by number. Doors open around an hour and half before the concert and you just get to go in. If you’re late you just enter at the end of your line, so if you have a good number it’s best to be on time. I’ve seen some fans with some farther back numbers just show up whenever though.
Courtney: While you wait in line in the U.S., you can also pick up different fan support banners – like when fansites print unique banners or stickers to support whoever their bias is. In the U.S. I feel like these are handed out a bit more randomly – like someone will just appear and walk down the line handing out stickers or banners while everyone makes grabby hands and cheers. I’ve donated to a few fansite projects in the States and by the time I arrived to the venue as press, all the banners/perks were already gone.
Monica: Oh wait, actually you can do the same thing in Korea, but I just never do it HA. Fansites will start giving away free stuff — usually plastic fans — in the afternoon. I did it once for INFINITE and it was insane. Literally I went with a friend who had the whole schedule printed out, so she knew what fansite was starting to hand what out at each time. The fansites will usually advertise on twitter before and post pictures of the goods they’re giving away, which are usually suppperrr nice. There’s also paid stuff that you can reserve in advance or buy at the venue. Usually for the nicer things it’s like a nice cloth banner/towel, stickers, and unreleased pictures that the fansite has taken. I did it once for Woohyun and I got a really nice cloth banner with a pretty picture of him on the front, and on the back were the words “Let’s Be Together Forever” written in Korean in his handwriting.
Courtney: Also in Korea when you donate to a fan support, you include your phone number and the fansite master makes sure to try to get whatever you bought to you. I arrived late to a BEAST fan-meeting and the master of a Junhyung support that I had contributed to called me and was willing to come find me so I could get my banner. She was really sweet and it was touching that she was willing to go out of her way for me!
Jenny: A lot of fans have pointed out in the comments section of our previous segment that there are some visible differences in terms of how Korean concerts and U.S. concerts are held. First, a lot of the independent concerts in the U.S. are planned to be “fan-meetings” – not full-out concert shows. This means less costume changes (usually the groups will switch outfits once throughout the entire show), less songs performed (mostly hits and fan favorites), but more interactions with the fans (read: aegyo!).
Courtney: I think a lot of U.S. fans also don’t quite know what to expect when they go into a fan-meeting since it’s more of a Korean concept. Fan-meetings contain only a few songs and most of the focus is on games or questions taken from the audience. While that is something that runs smoothly in Korea, in the U.S. there’s the added language barrier. You need a translator, there are awkward pauses, and the members tend to be a little more self-conscious in the way they communicate. For instance, they’ll speak English but if they stumble or the audience doesn’t react, they tend to lose energy a bit. But in general I don’t think that many fan-meetings come to the U.S.? They tend to happen a lot in Korea as perks for fanclub members – which most U.S. fans are not.
Monica: Wait, so are the majority of “concerts” that come to the U.S. actually fan meetings then? Because that’s weird.
Jenny: Well, organizers stateside usually do more of a hybrid of a fanmeeting and an actual concert called a showcase. It’s when groups first embark on a big concert tour within Asia with the U.S. concert being a continuation of that concert tour that the setlist and overall concept will reflect that of a concert, rather than a fanmeeting. That being said, although the set list stays relatively the same to the tour’s Asian counterparts, there’s definitely a notable difference in stage setup and special effects.
Monica: Yeah, special effects and elaborate stage setups are huge here. I remember during the EXO concert the special effects were insane. There was one portion where the members were dancing and then they laid down on the floor and part of the floor sunk in and filled with water and they danced in it. SM Entertainment poured so much money into their stage setup it was shocking. All of the concerts here though always have really interactive stage setups and there’s always fireworks, fire, or whatever dispersed throughout.
Jenny: Yeah, like we mentioned before, because the venues are more intimate in the U.S., it’s hard to replicate the tour’s more elaborate sets in other countries (also the cost of transporting all of that equipment to the U.S. would be insane!). But a big plus is: no matter the country, groups still try their best to maximize fan interactions – be it pulling fans on stage for activities, or simply tossing a smile the fans’ way.
Courtney: We received some comments about a lack of fanservice in the U.S. – I’d only partially agree. I think a lot of it depends on the group and how well they can rally. Remember, the groups have traveled 10+ hours to perform and jetlag is a real pain to deal with. It’s tough to bounce back from such a long trip and such a huge time difference. Then there’s the lack of Korean comforts – like groups tend to want to eat Korean food when they’re in the States because they miss home and they miss being surrounded by the familiar. And, sometimes groups are just exhausted during the first U.S. stop and then get acclimated. If you live in a city that tends to always be the first stop (San Francisco), then you will definitely have a different experience from fans in other cities. Jetlag is just the worst.
Monica: Also one thing worth mentioning that I think is really cool about seeing concerts in Korea is the fan events during the actual concerts. A lot of concerts will have coordinated banners that will go up at the same time, and it’s really something to see a stadium of thousands holding up a banner at the same time. Sometimes fan sites will organize more elaborate events. I went to Super Junior’s 100th concert, and they arranged an amazing event for it. The third floor all got glow sticks and cracked them at the same time, and it formed a rainbow. There were some empty spaces so the number 100 was visible too.
Courtney: Fan events are definitely harder to pull off during U.S. concerts. For a lot of fans, it’s their first time seeing their favorite group and it’s really easy to just get sucked into the show and forget that you were supposed to hold up a certain banner during a certain song. I’ve been to shows where over half of the fans remember and then other shows when no one remembers (including myself). Korean fans are used to being involved in the performances (fan chants) and usually have the luxury of having seen the group before so they have some leftover brain power to remember to hold up banners or participate in elaborate lightstick gymnastics.
Jenny: But the one thing that’s pretty unique to shows stateside is the inclusion of fan interaction activities, such as hi-touch (where the idols literally high-five you as you walk by), group photo and fan-signing sessions. Usually these take place after the show itself is over, and definitely add to the fan experience.
Courtney: In the U.S. fans definitely want more out of their concert experience (since it might be their only chance to see their faves) but it puts a huge strain on the artists and concert promoters. I totally understand wanting to spend more time with the artists — trust me, as a fan I do — but I think the current system for fan interactions is a bit flawed. Artists perform for 2~2.5 hours and then immediately after they have to get ready to interact with fans again. In order to squeeze all of the fans into the sessions fans are told to move quickly and it makes the experience much less memorable when you are literally speed-walking past your favorite group with your hand out and only time to call out “I LOVE YOU” or something equally short and cliche. Even for fan-signings in the States, fans are shepherded by volunteers to keep moving down the line of members because there’s a tight schedule that the group has to keep – due to the contracted amount of time the group can work and the venue regulations. It’s all very difficult to orchestrate and even more difficult to keep the group and fans happy with the experience.
Monica: Yeah, it’s important to keep in mind that more intimate fan interactions, like fan-signings, are done on a much smaller scale in Korea. The standard for every fansign is 100-150 fans, and one hour of artist time. It’s certainly not that long, but at least you get the opportunity to exchange a few words with each member and have a light conversation with them. As I mentioned in our first part, hi-touch events aren’t really a thing in Korea. I think it’s because if you see artists regularly through fan-recordings, and they’ll usually chat or high-five fans there.
Courtney: Though, it’s not easy to get into a fan-sign. Like, when BEAST was still new I could buy 8 CDs and could be guaranteed to get a spot. These days, we’re talking 20 CDs or more for just a fighting chance. It’s a random draw, so you need to buy bulk to get more chances to be chosen!
Monica: Um, for INFINITE I think when it’s all seven it’s literally like 40 CDs to even stand a chance. Fans will literally buy cases of CDs to try to get in, CASES. For INFINITE H, I got in after buying 10 CDs and I was considered lucky.
Jenny: Wow, the fan culture in Korea is intense!
Courtney: Understatement of the year. But I think we’ve covered most of the experience. Now let’s move on to some of the questions we received on previous parts!
First off, what advice would you give fans attending their first K-pop concert? In Korea or in the U.S.
Jenny: Unless you’re willing to wait hours in line to be in the first few rows or looking to score a fan engagement pass, standing section tickets usually aren’t worth it. When you’re standing in the middle of the crowd, it’s usually really hot and can get a little bit claustrophobic. If you’re short (like me), you won’t be able to see much anyway with all the people standing in front of you. Instead, maybe look for seated tickets that have a good angle of the stage. If you decide you must have standing section tickets though, be sure to stock up on snacks and water – some fans actually end up fainting after being dehydrated from standing in line all day.
Courtney: And you can’t enjoy a concert with your eyes closed!
Monica: Um… never go standing unless you’re prepared to die. If you are prepared to die though, go for the sections that are surrounded by stage, fans will push less there. Sometimes they stop the concerts and tell people to go back because people push so much. Personally, I only buy standing when every standing section is completely enclosed. Also, when ticketing never pay by credit card, Korea is really finicky with online banking and online payment in general. If you pay by credit card you’ll have to do so through Internet Explorer, and a lot of cards that foreigners get in Korea aren’t technically credit cards and websites won’t process them. When paying, always do direct deposit (무통장입구 mu-tong-jang-ip-gu) for payment, the site will give you a bank account to transfer money too. You have to do it within 24 hours though, so you’ll need a Korean bank account. And make sure you go to a PC Room for ticketing. Beyond that, ditto on the water during concerts, and make sure you go to the bathroom before you get to the venue, unless you want to wait in line.
Courtney: I don’t have any additional advice – except maybe to heed the warnings against photography. You don’t want to get caught and then dragged out of the venue – and don’t get angry with volunteers when they catch you recording and make you delete the photos. They were given a job to do and they’re just doing it! Also – there are probably fansite masters in the audience who are pro at hiding and are definitely taking better photos then you will on your phone, so let them do the work and just enjoy the show. LAST question:
What has been your favorite concert/show experience and (briefly) why?
Monica: Do fan meetings count? I’m going to say YES THEY DO, so I can answer INFINITE’s second fanmeeting! It was a ton of fun for me because they did a lot of dorky things and were really interactive with the audience. Sunggyu had to do ten seconds of aegyo with a fan and had a completely mental breakdown because of it. Sungyeol also had to do ten squats holding a fan, and then he kind of called her fat but not really. LOL. Woohyun was also really cute, he fed a sandwich to a fan, and Hoya did love-shots. Courtney is yelling at me, so I’ll stop now, bye.
Courtney: I said briefly.
Jenny: Man, I have so many favorites, but I’m going to go with the JYJ showcase in New York all the way back in 2010. First of all, that was my first K-pop concert ever and I’ve been watching A LOT of DBSK’s variety shows – especially their appearances on “BANJUN DRAMA” (seriously, who remembers “Dangerous Love?”), so it was an experience just to be able to see them in the flesh.
Courtney: I mean aside from some of the debut concerts I’ve been to (BEAST, B.A.P), I think my favorite concert experience was probably “Hallyu Dream Concert 2013.” I went with a bunch of friends for whom it was their first K-pop concert experience and it seriously changed their lives (infact, they went on to lead successful fangirl lives). We were wicked close to the stage and it made interaction with the groups pretty easy — and when I say interaction, I mean my favorite interaction: when you happen to catch a member’s eye and rather than freaking out you just smile and they smile back. It’s really chill but also special. Also SPEED loved us for some reason. But Junhyung ignored me.
Monica: I WAS THERE TOO. DON’T FORGET MONICA.
Courtney: It wasn’t your first K-pop concert CALM DOWN.
Monica: MONICA WAS THERE.
That concludes our three part series on the differences between K-Pop concerts in the U.S. and Korea! We hope you had as much fun reading about our experiences as we did talking about them (obviously a LOT).
Where there any differences that we missed? What has been your favorite concert experience? Most importantly, what topic do you want the Soompi Says trio to take on next?
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.