Concerts and Shows: How it is done in Korea

Programs for this blog post

Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Ekram B.

Now, I may not be the most experienced person out there to be dedicating a blog post about this, but I feel that I do have something to bring into this conversation as a hermit and someone who has only ever attended one (standing - you will see why this matters) concert before coming to Korea. The main reason for that being the fact that artists almost never come close to where I have lived for the last 17 years and traveling for such a purpose is beyond what could be deemed reasonable from my dad's perspective (and now mine as a certain extent).

Some background information about the (one) concert I attended was that I went with one of my (very) close friends (he would be upset that I did not call him my "bestie" but I'm not about to do that publicly...) to Cheb Kahled's concert back in 2019. It was pre-covid, so life was still maskless and absolutely wonderful. You may not know who Cheb Khaled is, although I think many people are familiar with his song "C'est la Vie" featuring Pitbull, but let me shed some light for the sake of being on the same page as me and to better understand my surprise here. He's a renowned Algerian Rai artist who has been at peak popularity across not only Maghreb countries but throughout the entirety of the Middle East since the 70's up until this very day. So, him coming to a place that not many others came to (at the time) created alot of buzz and of course, tickets sold out relatively quickly.

The show lasted for about 2 hours and a half with the encore stage, and he interacted really well the audience which matched his energy and maintained it at a relatively high level; people were shouting their lungs out singing along with him and others were just jamming - it was a standing concert afterall. The concert was to start at 10pm and I had arived there an hour early to get to the front where the barricades are to put some distance between the stage. Sure, there was a little bit of nudging here and there but for the most part, things were pretty comfortable up front. This was true throughout my whole time there, even upon leaving at around 1:00am (the show started half an hour late), everyone was calmly exiting the venue with whoever they came with. And so, such is the concert experience I came with to Korea.

The Dream Show 2 - Olympic Stadium

 I got tickets to NCT Dream's concert about a week before the opening day (which was the only day I went) and this was a big deal to me since I had followed the boys since SRB15 and I never really even had the chance to be participating in something that had to do with them. I got 3rd floor seats which was very far from the stage especially compared to having been at eye-level with the stage before, but nevertheless I was stoked that I could listen to what ended up being a wonderful selection of my favorite songs live, as well as seeing the boys play and mess around like I always saw on screen.

Standing Concert Experience

The concert was to start at 8pm, but given this was the first time for all of us going to such an even in a country that was still so new to us, we decided to leave at 1:30pm so that we were there at around 3pm. We took the metro and I am not exaggerating when I say that 80% of the people on that line with us was going to the exact same place we were. How do I know you ask? Lightsticks! Almost every single person there was carrying a neobong and wearing some sort of green - I left my neobong back home but I definitely was wearing green. So here we are, arriving to our station which was (in my view) ridiculously packed for something that was starting in more than 5 hours.

You name it! Buses, cars, vans, an overly-filled parking lot, crowds of pedestrians storming around the area trying to get their hands on food and drinks before admission started, ridiculously long bathroom lines - afterall people needed to sustain their bodily functions within the 8 hours they were going to be there for. After waiting long lines and securing some form of hydration for ourselves, we headed to the ticket booth to collect our tickets and swiftly walked into the dream zone which was this vast field containing various activities and a lot of space with Dream's music blasting to just relax and wait before they let people in. Now this is where my fascination with the fan culture here started. For context another thing I should mention about myself is that I am relatively calm (?) about my interests and do not express or show much excitement, and I knew that about myself beforehand but I was blown away by what the norm was here, especially in Korea's largest stadium which was to be filled with fans (from all over the world even - and yes many did travel solely for concert purposes).

Photo for blog post Concerts and Shows: How it is done in Korea

Fan Culture in Korea

There was a huge screen that was displaying NCT Dream's MVs (from oldest to newest) and let me tell you that throughout the 2 or so hours that we were in that exact same spot for, exclamations of all sorts were thrown within every different MV scene. Every time a certain member's face shows up on the screen, at least 50 or so shouts or exaggerated reactions are to be expected from different groups of pople, at random. I guess it makes sense that people feel more comfortable around those who they know share similar interests with them, so they inevitably become more expressive, but my fascination went deeper than that. When I'm listening to a song or watching a live or a music video, I am either doing so mindlessly or taking in the details and observing (outfits, MV sets, makeup, hairstyling) but never do I exclaim (even internally!) but that could just be me. But here was a whole army of people, outwardly expressing shock and passion, and analyzing this from a social perspective, it only makes sense that this is being done to generate a certain response or to obtain a certain image. Those outwards exclamations were used to attract other peoples' attention and generate conversations about their favourite members, hence making friends! Many people also come with this sense of duty to contribute to what essentially is a community, and simply hand out fanmade photocards, posters, postcards - again, you name it! Here, different people had different roles and specialties: some were casual fans just there to attend the concert, avid fans, some were fansite administrators, akgaes, and most probably sasaengs even. This is to say that many people come to those concerts with certain goals in mind, such as to make friends with fansite administrators or fans who know about the boys' every move.

Photo for blog post Concerts and Shows: How it is done in Korea

I edned up having a wonderful experience this day and enjoyed every single stage the boys and staff had put so much time and effort into preparing. The encore stage went for much longer than I had expected and the boys were sure to be very interactive with the entire crowd, not even leaving us who were in the 3rd floor out of their focus. We remained seated for most of the concert until we were told to stand by the members for some of the songs towards the end, but everything was very civil, much more so than I expected given some of the things you would hear online from Tiktok or Twitter. Ecen upon admission, everyone was calmly walking to their seat number and taking someone elses' seat was unheard of - I did not see that happen at all whereas I would imagine that being more of a problem in the west. Of course, you had a few people who managed to sneak in huge professional cameras which was not allowed, but everybody I had interacted with was very nice - at some point the cola bottle I bought fizzed up all over me onced i tried opening it and boom! here I was surrounded on all 4 sides with girls offering wipes and tissues for me to dry myself with.

NCT 127 - 2 Baddies Comeback Show

Experiences cannot and should not be generalized, and this stands very true in relation to what I will be talking about in this section. The truth is that every single concert or show is entirely unique and different to the other (unless it is the same thing spread out throughout more than one day). There are different rules each and every single time, so DO NOT be the person that just goes without informing themselves because there will be consequences, the best of which will result in you missing the show. I was badly prepared for this, not because of shortcomings from my behalf whatsoever but because this show was very badly organized and information was not as readily available as it should have been. I knew that I was getting into a standing show and the dynamics of that are very very different to sitting shows, but from our side, things seemed to be well-organized as they were admitting people in a certain order and things were relatively civil up until before they were admitting people in. 

We were to gather in this huge warehouse-like (?) room and line up according to our admission number - there were 4 sections and Sections A & B were closest to the main stage which meant that it consisted of the most dedicated fans and those with fanclubs/memberships. This is relevant to this story due to the fact that the situation could have been different in the other sections, which I know is true to some extent - I was in section A. I was mentally prepared for shoving, pushing, and peoples phones and camera to be whipped out and block most of the view, but I was NOT prepared for physically being unable to exit, have to gnaw on lollipops to maintain the limited conciousness I had left, hop and flop like a fish out of water to try and get some oxygen. Long story short is that the venue was way overbooked, and the worst part is that it was far from clear what we were getting ourselves into when booking the tickets. Admission started at a little past 5pm for a standing show that was to start at 8pm, and that should have been enough of a red flag for me to take my leave before I no longer could, even when it was against my will.

Photo for blog post Concerts and Shows: How it is done in Korea

What I thought was going to be NCT127's 4th full album comeback show ended up having an audience the size of a full blown concert. Everyone expected there to be around 800 people in total, but no one was prepared to deal with what I think was more than 4,000 people - again with some fans coming all the way from Philippines for this. I saw at least 12 people lose conciousness and have to be dragged out, with almost no around paying any attention to the fact that there is an unconcious human being they are practically stepping on. The NCT members expressed concern time and time again, warning people not to push and shove since those at the front will quite practically be squished but no body seemed to care whatsoever and I wholely blame the organizing staff for being so unprepared. Of course, the staff that was present at the venue did their best to monitor the crowd and look for any signs of someone having lost conciousness but even that was barely enough due to the fact that nobody seemed to care and it was the same people in the crowd that were signalling for the staff to come drag somebody out.

Halfway through the show the members suggested asking the staff for water, which the staff happily complied with and ended up giving water out for the rest of the show, but it was again, barely enough to make up for the fact that breathing was so difficult. For me and for many, It was physically impossible to find a way out to leave. Why? Because that meant you had to shove through almost a thousand people whose concentration was solely on the performances are were seemingly completely not within our frame of existence. At some point I swear I put no effort into even standing but I still found myself upright due to the fact that there simply was no space to fall - I was cramped and propped up on all sides. This is not to mention the not-so-little ordeal that happened about half an hour before the show had started where, like a tsunami, there suddenly was freed-up space at the front where everybody rushed forward, resulting in - quite literally - hundreds of people falling, rolling and flopping to the ground (including myself and I have battle scares to prove it) which God knows why happened!

Concert & Show Tips:

I thought I should include a few things that are not talked about much when it comes to going to concerts and shows in Korea. I think it's always important to be sure to do your own research because, again, different events more often than not have different dynamics - better safe than sorry. 

  1. Limited data: I do not know I never heard about this prior to experiencing it but phone data connection becomes practically nonexistent (at least in bigger events). This is usually done to prevent illegal live streaming of the concerts/shows. I ran into slight issues with this since I forgot to remind my family the day I was heading out to the show and only was able to get back to them at around 1am the next day - not good.
  2. Getting home: Figure out your way home before the show! If you're here with a group of friends - great - but you need to keep in mind that you all still have to get home somehow. Sometimes public transport is not the best option and that's alright - if it is even an option that is. Encore stages can take quite a while and such events always happen later in the evening or at night. Whether you're taking a bus, the metro, or hopping in a cab with someone, just have an escape plan in mind - you're going to be exhausted and drained after hours of waiting in lines.
  3. Free stuff: Do know that you always have the option of going early to collect fanmade stuff. There's always, and I mean always, dedicated and avid fans who feel that it is their duty to spread love for those they love and hey, I'm totally here for it! Do feel free to approach fans who seem to be giving things out because they have the tendency to avoid foreigners, not because they're trying to exclude you, but because they're usually shy and just aren't used to approaching us. Of course, this does not mean all of them do - I was approached multiple times myself.
  4. Ease up in sitting concerts: I went into the dream concert pretty tensed up and I somewhat regretted that as it drained quite alot of my cognition. Think of it this way, with seated events, wartime is ticket reservation!