Korea's biggest entertainment agencies pay homage to the year of online
Big Hit Entertainment wrapped up 2020 with its all-hands-on-deck online concert “New Year’s Eve Live” on Dec. 31 and SM Entertainment picked up the baton to kick-start 2021 with its very own online concert “SMTOWN LIVE Culture Humanity“ on Jan. 1. The two agencies had been at the frontier of keeping the K-pop industry going within the safety of the online space, becoming the leaders of a cyber-revolution within the K-pop industry.
There is a superstition among the younger generation in Korea that the very first song you listen to will be the defining song of the year for you. So taking the case of the concerts, does this mean that Korea is up for another year full of online concerts at home?
Big Hit Entertainment’s concert was the first time for the agency’s newly acquired sublabels and affiliates to perform together. Big Hit’s headliner BTS was joined by its junior boy bands Tomorrow X Together, Enhypen and singer Lee Hyun, girl group GFriend of Source Music, boy band NU’EST and singer Bumzu of Pledis Entertainment. The concert took place under the motto "We've Connected," to link both fans and artists as well as 2020 and 2021.
Armed with the hottest lineup, the concert took place for three hours on fan community platform Weverse, with part of the concert airing on TV channel JTBC. The agency did not provide an exact number of viewers because “an exact number was hard to pin down because the concert was streamed online and also televised.” But having set a Guinness World Record for the highest number of viewers for its online concert “Bang Bang Con: The Live” in June with 750,000 logging on, there is no better fit to wrap up a year of cyber success for K-pop.
Contrary to Big Hit Entertainment, which lured fans with a promise of the best of the best and a lineup of foreign acts outside of the Big Hit family — including Halsey, Lauv and DJ Aoki — charging 39,500 won ($36) to 59,500 won per ticket, SM Entertainment took a totally different approach. For “Culture Humanity,” SM Entertainment opened up the concert for free on Naver V Live with its bands SuperM, Super Junior, WayV, NCT, Red Velvet, aespa as well as soloists Taeyeon, Kangta and more.
SM Entertainment’s SMTOWN franchise began more than 20 years ago when the agency’s bands joined together to record songs or perform together. The first all-band concert was held in 2008, flaunting SM's power as K-pop’s biggest entertainment agency. The “Culture Humanity” concert counted 35.83 million views during the four-hour run on New Year’s Day, from people in 186 different countries around the world.
“This is the highest number of streams by any online concert held in Korea,” SM Entertainment said.
Last year, when the pandemic was declared, K-pop was one of the first business sectors in the nation to adapt to the new environment. While musicians and agencies rolled out all sorts of online events and performances for viewers to enjoy at home, SM Entertainment led the way by holding the first paid online concert in April in partnership with Naver and making “Beyond LIVE” a series of online concerts for not only the agency’s bands, but also for other bands in Korea.
Big Hit Entertainment soon joined with its very own BTS online concert in June, and paid online concerts have been consoling the hearts of saddened K-pop fans as well as providing business opportunities for musicians to make up for the canceled tours and concerts that were set to take place in 2020. Almost all concerts and festivals have been canceled since last February, with no overseas tours taking place for K-pop acts or foreign acts who had planned on performing in Korea.
“People have been banned from enjoying outdoor activities, so we’re likely to see a substantial increase in demand for sectors like concerts and travel as soon as they become available,” said Professor Lee Gyu-tag, who teaches pop music and media studies at George Mason University Korea. “Offline concerts make way more money than online concerts. Even though entertainment companies are trying to make ends meet online, that’s purely for survival. If offline concerts become an option, then that’s what people will choose.”
But that doesn’t mean that online concerts will disappear with the eradication of the coronavirus. In fact, many agencies are likely to hold both online and offline concerts to maximize profit, according to Lee.
“The online concerts sell tickets and make money as well, so there’s no reason for us not to make the most of the two formats together,” said an insider from an entertainment agency that held online concerts in 2020, who wished to remain anonymous. “We know how it works now and have gone through the hiccups that needed fixing. They have the big advantage of being able to be transmitted to fans all over the world at the same time, and so we’ll most likely go with both methods.”
On the question of when, according to industry insiders, it’s likely that the first half of 2021 will only see online events, but there are hopes for a brighter second half of the year. Fans long for an opportunity to meet their favorite idols in person and companies are dying to make some serious money from offline concerts.
“We expect a similar situation for the first half of this year, but we’re keeping a close eye on how things work out with the vaccine and other factors,” said an official from concert and festival organizer Private Curve. “It usually takes at least three to six months to put together a festival or invite foreign acts, so it’s hard to tell when exactly we will be able to hold our first offline event. But for now, we are hoping for the next half of this year.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]