KPOP feat. Big Bang Concert

February 04, 2013

As a frequent concert-goer suffering from concert withdrawal, I was pretty interested to see what a kpop concert might entail. This opportunity presented itself when I got word that my favourite kpop group, Big Bang, would be rounding off their world tour with a three-day finale in Seoul. I touched a bit on kpop way back in June with a focus on beauty standards but kpop and associated fandoms run much deeper. 

Kpop is more than just a genre of music; It's a huge subculture and differences from Western genres can be seen both through the groups themselves as well as their fanbases.

One of the biggest criticisms of kpop is the systematic manufacturing of groups. There are three main agencies within Korea which sign and manage the biggest kpop groups: SM Entertainment (TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls' Generation, and Shinee), YG Entertainment (Big Bang, 2NE1, PSY, and Epik High), and JYP Entertainment (Wonder Girls, 2AM, 2PM, and Miss A). Individual members are sometimes scouted by these agencies and trained from a young age. Once auditions are held and members are formed into groups, the training continues until management perceives that the group is ready for their debut. 

While some criticize it, there is no doubt that the system of kpop in Korea is efficient and incredibly beneficial for the economy; a combined profit of $160 million USD from The Big 3 in 2011. It has been reported that the revenue from Big Bang's recently-concluded world tour is around $73 million USD (not including merchandise).  

On the topic of economic benefit, celebrities are often seen advertising particular products. It's rare that I go a day without seeing Psy's face on advertisements for ramyeon, or kimchi fridges. Big Bang has done their part by endorsing huge brands like LG, Samsung, as well as the popular shopping website Gmarket, and relative peanuts like beverages and more beverages. While putting your face on a product is considered to be "selling out" in the West, it's very commonplace in Korea and it works. 

Within the group member dynamic, there are notable differences between Korean and Western pop groups. Members of kpop groups are referred to as "idols", and a "leader" is selected to represent the group and maintain harmony among the members. Within the group there is also a 막내/"maknae" who is simply the youngest but must live up to the role of being the cutest member (words cannot express my distaste for dudes overplaying the 애교/cutesy thing). Fans tend to choose a favourite member, whom they refer to as their "bias" (for example, my bias is TOP. Boomshakalaka).     
I've also found kpop groups to be much more conscious of their fans. While Western groups tend to largely ignore their fanbases (aside from the occasional tweet and award acceptance speech), kpop groups are very aware of theirs and seem to make more of an honest effort to connect with them (a sentiment that is often expressed through interviews, and manifested through consistent updates, fan meetings, and bromances among members). 

Segue to fanbases themselves. 

For each major kpop group, there is an associated fan club name and colour. For example, Big Bang fans refer to themselves as VIPS and the associated colours are black and yellow. At the Big Bang concert, the majority of the crowd had a yellow lightstick to show their support (which is easy to see in the photos below). 

Fans are incredibly loyal, active, and organized. Before the Big Bang concerts, fan clubs announced when/where they would be outside the venue to give out free stuff (each member has their own fan club, in addition to one for the group; No free stuff for me. They met 4 hours before the show and Seoul is cold). Fan clubs somehow arranged to deliver a "WE ♥ BIG BANG" cake on stage to commemorate the tour coming to an end. There was also an "event" planned where "WE ♥ BB" balloons were distributed prior to the show and instructions were given to inflate them following one specific song. The group was surprised and the atmosphere was incredible and unified. 
Lastly but not leastly, fans around the world made donations to various charities throughout the duration of the world tour. 23,290 lbs of rice will be donated to a charity of Big Bang's choosing, 3,000 coal briquettes will help elderly people stay warm this winter, and 2,000 eggs will be donated to the National Food Bank. Fans also donated $470 USD during the three-day stint in Seoul that will go to the 푸르메 Foundation, a charity spear-headed by Sean, a fellow YG family member. Needless to say, there is quite a sense of community among VIPs. 

Now... for my concert story! I'll tell it through pictures...

This story has to start with the madness  that was ordering tickets online. Each night had separate, albeit consecutive, sale dates for tickets . For the first day, to be safe, I asked a (great!) Korean friend to accompany me to a PC Room where I heard the internet would be fastest. Anticipating how fast these things would sell out, I had the window open and my cursor ready. Once the site opened, available seats were disappearing and I was somehow able to secure three seatsThis was the first night. For the next two nights I was only looking for single tickets but, after server glitches and competing against the speed of Korean teenage girls, I came out empty handed. To say it was stressful is an understatement, lol. With (angelic!) help, I was later able to get a standing-room ticket from Korea's craigslist. 

I actually attended two of the three shows in Seoul. For the first night, I attended with two friendsI really expected to walk into a giant dome venue much like Toronto's sky dome but was pleasantly surprised that our seats in the "nosebleeds" were decent. 

First night was the most eventful since I almost got kicked out within the first two songs. As we walked into the venue, there was a sign that said we would be asked to leave if we took photos. But we thought, "Who is ever serious about those warnings?" Koreans. Koreans are serious about those warnings. Long story short, a girl came over to me and gestured for me to follow her. After failed attempts at persuasion she went to get a bigger guy who came over and started talking to Gilbert, the hero of the story. This security dude, much like the girl, got annoyed and just went away after a while but not before stressing us out. Anyway, the pictures are worth it! 

Day 1


This is the start of day 2. After the shenanigans of day 1, and being amidst a sea of eager fangirls, I thought it best to hold out on the photos and just enjoy. I was essentially in the mosh pit of kpop fans which was less smelly dudes punching each other and more teenagers professing their love. It was an amazing concert, and an amazing experience.

Day 2

More (much better) photos here.

Wow this post was much longer than anticipated. Thanks for sticking it out! ^^ 

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