Here’s the dirt on demands top stars have made in KoreaMany world stars insist, in their contracts, on everything from low-fat chocolate bars to oxygen tanks, not to mention flower arrangements, masseurs, certain furniture, limousines and even computer games.
For years in Korea, signing contracts were a simple affair. Performers agreed on the date and how much they’d get paid for the gig. That’s still the case for most Korean performers, said Park Seong-hyeon, a staffer at Good Concert, a concert organizer.
Yet as more and more world artists begin to think of Korea as an important market to penetrate rather than just a simple stop-over between Japan and China, local concert organizers are dealing with their stringent requirements.
“We’ve had musicians who ordered everything down to the texture of their towels, and the soap and incense in their hotel rooms,” says Kim Hun-gi, an organizer for Access Entertainment, which has hosted major concerts for musicians such as Ricky Martin, Metallica and Celine Dion. “They’ve canceled their shows over the level of hotel suite we’ve offered. The fact of the matter is that many world musicians still don’t seem to know much about Korea. They’re afraid to walk around on streets at night. They’re being overtly careful. They don’t know what to expect.”
Celebrity guests to Korea have made a wide range of demands.
Marilyn Manson’s list of requests before his first concert in Korea in 2002 included a small wooden panel filled with dirt in his dressing room. He wanted to step on it to relax before running out on stage.
When Celine Dion came to Korea in 1997 for a concert at Olympic Stadium, the pop diva, who has a severe allergy to smoke, ordered the entire stadium to be smoke-free, including the entrance and bathrooms located outside the hall.
“This was 1997, when it was perfectly natural to smoke during a concert in Korea,” Mr. Kim says. “We had an outpouring of complaints from the audience when guards patrolled the halls and tried to stop every smoker they found.”
Yet in many cases, local organizers say the stars crossed the line.
In a famous episode, Britney Spears requested in 2003 that her hotel suite (which cost 6 million won, or $6,3445 a night) at the Marriott Hotel be adorned in pink wallpaper during a promotional tour.
A staff member at Credia, an art management company, recalls getting bitter complaints last year from members of the vocal jazz group Manhattan Transfer, because when the food they had ordered arrived, their catering service did not provide the “silver cutlery” or “ceramic plates” they had demanded in their contract.
Indeed, food and drink have always been a big issue with traveling celebrities.
The standard drink for most world musicians is Evian water. But others have asked for green tea and oolong tea as essential drinks between sets.
When the staff at Credia last year hosted a Cuban band called “The Bar at Buena Vista Social Club” at the LG Arts Center, the players requested rum in their dressing room to get them going before dancing and singing on stage. Never before had the classical music specialists filled the musicians’ dressing room with bottles of Bacardi.
Local treats work just fine in other cases, though.
Lee Se-hwan, a public relations officer at BMG Korea, says his company has been offering “honey tea” as a standard fix for foreign musicians to Korea.
“People like Gareth Gates really loved it,” he says, referring to the English pop artist’s visit to Korea on a promotional showcase two years ago. “Originally he had asked for orange and coffee on his wish list for his standard snack in his dressing room. But he had switched to honey tea by the time he left Korea.”
Some musicians touring Korea take the chance to sample local delicacies.
Kenny G asked for sushi before his Korean concert, although others have stuck to Big Macs.
“We’ve had musicians who asked for the number of ham slices that go into their sandwiches,” says Kim Ji-hyun, a staff of Jarasum International Jazz Festival. “You wouldn’t imagine the kind of things they request.”
Yang Seung-Mo, an organizer at the JoongAng Culture Media, recalls an incident before a major performance of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2005.
“The chief ballerina insisted that she wouldn’t attend a press conference if we didn’t get her a sandwich,” he says. “When we rushed out to bring back the sandwich, she refused to eat it, saying the bread was too warm. She ended up going to a press conference without eating anything.”
There have been occasions, however, where musicians turned down the host’s treats.
When Yo-Yo Ma visited Korea for a concert in 2004, he sent back a limousine that had been sent to pick him up and hopped on a bus with the other performers, explaining “he was in the same group.”
In 2002, when the New York Philharmonic held a concert in Korea shortly after the World Cup, they asked a local organizer to prepare prints of Red Devils T-shirts for them to wear during the encore.
“We ran out to get 100 prints of the T-shirts,” Mr. Yang says. “It was great. The audiences were thrilled to see the group of classical performers dressed in red T-shirts. But the staff had to sweat a bit.”
Mr. Park, a staff member at Good Concert, said at least one group of Korean musicians wished they’d made more specific requests while traveling overseas.
At a concert last year by the Korean singer Lee Mun-se in Los Angeles, Mr. Park said Lee’s crew was disappointed about the meal arrangements made by the local organizer.
“We regretted that we weren’t specific about food in our rider,” Mr. Park said. “Because we had a completely Korean staff, they booked us in Korean restaurants for every single meal. As a result, we ate more Korean food than we do in Korea. By the time we were leaving, we asked the American crew whether we could get some doughnuts from Krispy Kreme.”
by Park Soo-me