Written by: Camilla Jorgensen Ruud
Concerts are fun. Especially when they are practically in your own backyard, and you don’t have to spend a fortune attending them. And perhaps especially when your favourite idols are the ones holding them. I have been fortunate. Through working and saving up money I have been able to see and experience concerts held by my favourite k-pop idols not only in Europe, but in South Korea and Japan as well. I have met some wonderful people in the process, and I have learnt so much about concert culture in general. In light of recent events, especially the past weekend’s concert in London, I would like to express my opinions on k-pop concert culture in Europe and Asia – as seen by an European.
If you are one of those brave souls having bought an unnumbered ticket for standing areas at a concert, you are most definitely familiar with the concept of queuing outside the venue hours and hours before the concert actually starts. To take a recent example, Infinite’s concert in London last weekend had quite a huge line of people already around 10 a.m. in the morning, despite the fact that the venue had asked people to queue only after 1 p.m. This resulted in a rather chaotic situation at first, and the venue had to struggle with rearranging the already huge crowd into lines for each ticket type later on. In addition, those waiting in line were unable to leave the queue in risk of losing their space, or so I heard. People were nice in general after the queues were set up properly, and there were even kind souls handing out free food to those waiting. A perfect example of fan solidarity.
While I do understand that you would want to be as close to your idol as possible when attending a concert, I have never understood the need to queue for several hours before a concert to make that happen. That is partly because I am short and would never have the chance to see anything if I am caught up in the crown in front of the stage, but mainly because I have experienced the wonder that is the Korean numbering system. Back in April I went to Shinhwa’s anniversary concert in Seoul, and despite being vertically challenged I went all in and bought a standing ticket. In Korea, those tickets are actually numbered beforehand, which basically means that you already have a queue number before the concert has even started. Clever, right? No need to stand in line, no need to wait for hours, you can spend your time with your friends eating yummy food and preparing fan projects instead. It saves the fans a lot of time, but it also solves a lot of problems and safety issues for the organisers and the venue. In the case of Infinite in London, the venue had to have safety personnel outside along the lines and lines of people showing up forming a ring around the venue itself. In Seoul however, there were no lines in sight before 4:30 p.m., at which there were 30 minutes left before we were allowed to queue, with the admission to the venue being around 6 p.m.
If there is one moment I am super proud of as a fan of Infinite and an attendee at the concert last weekend, it would be the wonderful moments before the actual concert itself started. People sang their hearts out along with their favourite songs by the group, while said songs were shown on stage. It was truly a beautiful moment, and it really reminded me of past concerts I have been to as well, be it in Korea, Japan, Paris or London. I’ve laughed together with Korean Shinhwa Changjo at the dorkiness of their old music videos, screamed for TVXQ’s songs with Japanese Big East, and sang together with European Inspirits on the high-pitched notes of their song Destiny. In this aspect Korean, Asian and International fans are all very much alike in the way we support our groups – we all sing and chant together as one, collective group of fans before the concert. We support and respect each other as individuals all belonging to one fandom, using our talents, and in this case voices, to show our support for our favourite group.
However, there is a fundamental difference in the way we behave when the concert actually starts. I have never had trouble hearing what the groups are saying during their interactions with fans at concerts before. In London, I did. There was so much random screaming at inappropriate times; during ballads, during talks and also, perhaps especially, when the interpreter tried to speak. Sure, we all scream at the joy of seeing our favourite idols, but in Asia, the screaming is to some extent controlled. When idols sing, we do our fan chants. When idols talk, we scream at comments and when they ask us to, not when they speak. When they do ballads, we show our support by waving our hands and light sticks. We might even do fan projects, such as holding up banners at certain points of the concert.
But we are not Korean you might say. Of course it will be different. And I agree, it will be more difficult for international fans to learn fan chants in Korean. It will be more difficult for us to show our support during ballads and emotional songs when venues does not allow us to bring our light sticks or anything of the sort into the venue. And it will be difficult organising fan projects, because we have no culture for doing so from before. I would, however, like to give an honourable mention to the ones handing out banners at the Infinite concert in London, well done.
But there is no need to scream whenever at whatever, as this would be annoying for other fans and, in my opinion, rude towards the artist. If you think about it, this is just a lesson in basic manners – when people are speaking, you listen, and speak when it is your turn. And writing about manners brings me to another topic I would like to address. While some venues are more suited for concerts than others are, the layout of a venue is not an excuse for pushing other fans around trying to go near the stage. While I totally understand the feeling of wanting to be close to the stage and your favourite artists, 200 people pushing with all their force towards the back of a selected few at the front row is really, really dangerous. I cannot stress this enough. No matter which concert I have been to, be it European or Korean, I have seen countless people being dragged over fences by security because they have either fainted or are close to fainting out of dehydration or lack of oxygen. Please do think about what you are doing to the people in front of and around you.
In Japan, to solve the problem of pushing, most k-pop concerts are all seated. For instance, SMTOWN in Tokyo Dome in July this summer was all seated, no matter if you had tickets to the floor or the tribunes. This may sound a bit too boring for many, and no wonder – it does limit your ability to dance and move around to the music. People are, however, highly unlikely to faint out of fatigue or dehydration. The concerts in South Korea and Europe I have been to have all usually been a combination of the two, and I personally think this solution is the best. However, the pit can be a scary place, so please be considerate towards your fellow concert attendees. I also believe that venues, and especially security guards hired by the venues, should be strict when dealing with people pushing in standing areas, and keep them from doing so in a way that could harm and endanger the crowd. Then again, venues would need to have enough security personnel to do so too.
Being considerate is important in the seated areas as well. A trend I have been noticing is the explosive use of recording devices during concerts – be it legal or not. At Shinhwa’s concert in Seoul there were few people recording, as cameras were banned. There are, however, some fancams out there, from people in standing and seated areas alike. While most of us adore fancams, this writer included, please be considerate to the people behind you. As I mentioned before, I am vertically challenged, so if someone decides to wear heels and in addition hold up a camera in front of me for the whole concert, I have absolutely no chance of seeing any stage action at all. Perhaps most important of all, however, is that you should enjoy the concert with your own eyes, not through a camera lens. Personal opinion maybe, but I have to this day, not taken many pictures at concerts for a reason.
In a way, I feel that we European fans are more selfish in the way we act during concerts. As long as I am fine, as long as my idol notices me, as long as I enjoy it, others are not my concern. I do not think we do it on purpose however, and I do hope I am right to say that we actually do care about the fan next to us during concerts. We just do not see them as our eyes are blinded by everything else. I believe that certain circumstances such as venue restrictions, security, and the excitement of attending a concert make people lose track of others around them, and they stop thinking about how their actions could be making the concert experience less fun, and at some point even dangerous, for other fans. We are all human after all, and seeing our favourite idols live is not a common treat for us Europeans. But there are some rules and guidelines we all could follow; fans, venues and security alike, to make the concert experience more fun and enjoyable for everyone. Just remember that you could make a difference to the fan next to you.