The K-Pop Fan Experience in the ‘New Normal’

It’s difficult to grasp that we are nearing the end of 2020, and we have spent the majority of the year stuck in our own homes. Just like you, we miss going to concerts and experiencing the thrill and excitement of meeting our favorite artists in the flesh. (It feels like a dream – pun intended – that our last concert coverage was NCT Dream’s solo concert last February.) But with the power of technology, K-Pop artists still manage to meet with their fans through concerts and fan events done online.

Case in point is Beyond LIVE, “a new concept of online live concert that combines Augmented Reality (AR) with Live Video Chat Technology.” In an international webinar analyzing K-Pop and its online contents post-COVID-19, SM Entertainment Group CEO Kim Young Min expounded that from the name itself, they wanted to go beyond the usual live concert broadcasting through Media Art+ Technology. SuperM, NCT127, and Super Junior were just some of the artists who have held online performances using the Beyond Live platform.

How is it like watching concerts in the “new normal”? How is the experience meeting your favorite K-Pop artist through a video call? We have asked some fans to share their experiences as well as their insights having attended offline versus online events.

NOTE: Responses have been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Pre-Event Preparations

Camping out the concert venue a day before tickets go on sale has pretty much become a usual sight for K-Pop concerts in the Philippines. While it is optional to do ticketing online, fans still largely prefer to line up for hours just to get the ticket they want. Michy, who attended 2020 SVT 4th Fan Meeting ‘SEVENTEEN in CARAT LAND’, agrees that the preparation wasn’t as intense compared to going to a physical concert. “All I have to do is to wait for the Ticketing and Merch Preorder to open. Buying tickets is smooth as I received a queue number. As for buying merch, it was a bit difficult to secure some items as they got ‘sold out’ even if it was on a pre-order basis. Luckily, they immediately restocked. Unlike during a physical concert, you have to wait in line and for hours before the concert to buy.”

Gillie was fortunate to have a video call with VICTON’s Han Seung Woo, but of course, with a hefty price.I joined a Top Spender type of event, so I really had to prepare myself for the amount of money I was willing to spend. I initially had a cap na ‘Okay, I’m willing to spend only this much money.’ I went waaaay above my cap! Once you see your name kasi in the Top Spenders, ‘di ka na papayag matanggal! I think a misconception with video call fan signs is that it’s A LOT cheaper than physical fan signs but that isn’t the case. It costs quite a sum, too!”

Having been confirmed as one of the winners, she shared that she only had 24 hours to prepare for the event. “I was so nervous! I had to practice in my non-existent Korean and set up the space and equipment needed for the call. I remember tweeting, ‘Nasusuka ako!’ all throughout the day of the event. Kasi totoo, nakakasuka talaga. (Parang gusto ko nga mag back out nun, eh? Like what if the Wi-Fi didn’t work all of a sudden or I wasn’t able to screen record, ganun. Basta super nerve-wracking.)”

Knowing that his favorite girl group will be disbanding soon, Ramon made sure that he will make the most out of IZ*ONE’s ONEIRIC THEATER concert experience. “I was a bit excited and bought my ticket immediately on the first day. Manila was not on their list of concert venues for Eyes On Me and since malapit na ‘yung April 2021 na disband date, this was one of my decent chances to watch an IZ*ONE concert! I didn’t go overboard naman with my preparations, siguro just bought the rattle bong lightstick just to feel like I was going to go to an IZ*ONE concert.”

The Main Event

Each experience was different as every artist customized the experiences for their fans. “During the event, the idols still give their 100% in performance, but you can definitely observe how awkward it is without screaming fans,” Aya observed as she attended ASTRO’s 2020 ASTRO Live on WWW. “It feels empty, somehow, especially if you’ve gotten used to the Philippine crowd which boasts of the loudest ones.”

For Paola (not her real name), it was a dream come true for her to attend a fan meet of Super Junior – K.R.Y as their fan meets were exclusively held either in Japan or Korea. “I haven’t been active in Super Junior’s fandom, so hearing both their old and new songs being performed felt a lot like coming home. It did admittedly feel more like a year-end show performance than a concert with the flashy wardrobe, CGI backgrounds, and stage transitions. There were also lull times during the event itself, so I was easily able to chat with my friend who I shared my Beyond Live pass with and make tweets about it while the performances were ongoing. The usual concert moments are there – the cheesy VCRs, the crazy ments, and even fan service (in the form of video calls). Unconventional as it was, I definitely enjoyed the event and I’m more than glad that I was able to experience a K.R.Y fan meet in this lifetime!”

Steph, who also watched 2020 SVT 4th Fan Meeting ‘SEVENTEEN in CARAT LAND’, enthusiastically shared some highlights of the four-hour event:

I was surprised to see that they prepared a logo song that’s like the one they did in My Little Television a few years back, it was definitely nostalgic!

I didn’t expect them to perform “Together” so early in the setlist, but it’s definitely a highlight! They attached a Caratbongs, which represented their fans, to the audience seats, and when “Together” started, it lit up in sequence and it was so emotional to watch.”

Seventeen during their performance of “Together”. (Screenshot provided by Steph)

They did “Lucky” for encore, and it’s the most-awaited performance because it got the Carats cheering by doing the dance chant on the LED screen! At the last chorus, SVT just sat and watched the Carats do the dance chant and it was so sweet.

Kam (IZ*ONE Online Concert: ONEIRIC THEATER): The live chat opened an hour before the show, and the girls were talking to the fans in it until the last possible second. The concert started at 4 pm and ended at around 6:30 pm. It felt kind of odd watching it because usually the crowd would be going wild and screaming. There was some screaming edited in, but somehow it didn’t feel the same. Some performances had wonky camera work because they kept zooming out in some parts like it was a music show hahaha. The quality of the concert — the CGI, the performances, the live band they brought out for the flower trilogy songs — was fascinating to see and kind of a bummer because they deserved a live audience. We have less than a year left into their run. Interesting moments were the unit performances (ahahaha) — I laughed, I gasped, I gasped some more (lol). Syempre ‘yung 01z Adult Ceremony stage — I was like, “What happened to my baby cheeks daughter, Hitomi???” Then I freaked out nung Monster because my bias Eunbi and Reveluv President Sakura did a good job with it, and also…I’ve recently come to accept that I do want to see them live (haha) so watching this was nice.

IZ*ONE during one of their stages. (Photo by Kam)

Gillie: Videocall fansigns are usually about two minutes long, but I won a three-minute slot. The event I joined wasn’t so strict about the time limit because I actually spoke to Seungwoo for almost 4 minutes. It was really fun! I think the best experience a fan could ever have with their idol is to make them genuinely laugh or smile. After nun, goods ka na. Feeling mo lahat ng happiness na nabigay niya sayo, kahit kunti lang, nabalik mo na sa kanya. I was so nervous, so I told Seungwoo about it. He was kind enough to say comforting words to be, so I could calm down a little. I started off congratulating him on his solo debut (which he was happy about) and then asked about his tattoos

My favorite part of the conversation was him doing boyfriend poses for me

And his “Akin ka, Gillie!”

10/10 would recommend to anyone who gets into a videocall fansign to make it as personal as you can. We also promised to meet each other in person once COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Jane (Jeong Eunji ‘SIMPLE’ Meet N Call): One of a kind. Sobrang fun ng experience. To be honest, I felt super blessed talaga kasi this whole experience happened after I finished my quarantine and received my negative RT-PCR result and clinically recovered na din ako. At first, I didn’t know what to say gawa nga ng unexpected na yung call and all preps I did eh nawalan na ng silbi cuz I went outside just to get a decent reception. So, ayun. Naiiyak na lang ako and she asked, “Why [are] you crying?” I said, “I was just happy, and I can’t believe that I am talking to you right now”. I told her she was so beautiful my eyes hurt. Tamang chika lang and more tawanan lang talaga. I also asked her to sing for me my favorite track sa new album niya which is yung “Moisturizing”. Then she sang for me. SHE. SANG. FOR. ME. I couldn’t believe it pa rin. Sobrang ganda ng boses kahit acapella. Her voice calmed me down. And I told her that she’s one of the few people na I turn to every time I feel sad. I asked her to share some message for those who are feeling sad and depressed this time of pandemic. She said (in Korean of course), “Just hang in there. Please be healthy and don’t be sick. Let’s promise to meet again soon. In my next concert, call?” I said yes and we bid our goodbyes. And the video call ended. Umabot kami ata ng more than 3 minutes kahit na usapan lang ay 2 minutes? Too bad lang talaga hindi ko na-record yung video call. Well, na-record ko naman siya but without audio. Diba ang galing? 

Video call screenshot by Jane

Online Concerts: ‘Cheaper, comfortable, convenient, but with challenges’

Fans who have gone to a live event would definitely agree that they have spent months #iponing their allowance or spent their entire Christmas bonus (or more) to afford the best possible seat or section for their favorite artists. Not to mention, they also had to book nearby hotels, deal with Metro Manila traffic, or fly to a different country if they want to.

Frances, a Filipino ARMY based in Canada who watched BTS’ Bang Bang Con The Live, summarized the online experience perfectly in one word — convenience. “And, for some, you can get a copy of the concert.” Paola adds, “I also like how I can repeat the exact concert experience I had through VOD. Since Beyond Live tickets automatically come with VOD, I can just wait for it to be available and fangirl again whenever I want.

Aya: I like that I can attend it. I like groups that tend to get competitive when it comes to ticketing, so online concerts guarantee a ‘seat’. As an introvert, I also like that I can enjoy a concert in the comfort of my own home, and not stress about where to hang out while waiting for the event to start. Additionally, the tickets are also quite affordable compared to live concert ticket prices.

Paola: Tickets definitely cheaper than actual concert tickets. V Live allows one pass to be streamed simultaneously on two devices, so I was able to split a ‘ticket’ with my friend and save even more money.

Steph: Physical concerts also require more preparations even if this was all in the Philippines. I’d book an AirBnB with friends if I can, estimate travel time if I won’t, prepare my money for food and extra merch that I can buy, schedule meetings with mutuals that I can only see on D-Day, etc. For online concerts, I’d just grab my lightstick and set up my laptop, then I’m all set.

Kam: You can literally watch online concerts anywhere, as long as you have a device. Meanwhile, for physical concerts, you have to plan so many things ahead like your schedule what time you’ll be there, an outfit, what you’ll spend on, etc. Sure, you still need to plan your schedule when you do watch an online concert and maybe plan an outfit and makeup, but you don’t have to spend as much time getting ready. You also don’t need to spend as much on transportation, your meals in the venue. I cannot say it’s the same for concert merch, though.

Ramon: Walang judgment kung kumakain ka habang nanonood ng concert. And yes, ‘yung price. Mas mura. Just think of it as nanonood ka ng sine. And if di pa umaabot sa bansa nyo yung favorite artists mo, eto na ‘yung chance din na mapanood mo sila mag-perform for 2 hours.

The challenge, of course, is internet connectivity. And for some, forgetting that you have an online event to attend to. “Our connection experienced occasional hiccups and lags along the way, which can be very frustrating,” shared Nica while watching Golden Child’s ONTACT CONCERT: NOW. “It’s hard to ensure that your ISP will 100% cooperate on the day itself, so make sure it at least works well consistently. You can also have a back-up if you want.

Jane: This damned turtle internet connection ng Pilipinas. Kamuntikan na ding ma-forfeit yung slot ko for the video call kasi hindi maka-push through yung tawag nila sa akin. It’s like 4-5 attempts pa bago maging successful itong most-awaited video call ko

The first call, nag-hang talaga. I was stressing out. Kausap ko pa lang yung manager/organizer, intermittent na yung signal until it dropped. They sent me a message to find a place with a better reception. So they attempted again kaso napuputol talaga. So I thought, hindi na ata talaga sila tatawag ulit. I was crying na. Pero I sent them a message na baka they can try to call me again. 

Lumabas pa talaga ako ng bahay just to have a decent signal. So lahat ng preps ko sa loob ng kwarto, nabalewala. I was planning to show her some artworks and a cake for her birthday sana pero ayun. At last, the call has been connected na. Sobrang stress ko naiyak na lang ako sa umpisa ng call at narinig ko na yung boses niya. Dyahe pa kasi may mga tao sa labas pero kebs lang. Eunji yun. Napawi din naman ang stress ko. 

Steph: Online concerts are honestly easier to slip your mind. For a physical concert due to the amount of preparation needed it’s impossible to forget the day of the concert. For an online concert, I already encountered someone who bought a ticket but forgot to watch, especially since they’re not involved with the fandom.

“Attending a physical concert feels like you’re in another world for a day.”

Despite the advantages and accessibility of online concerts, fans still prefer physical concerts. And it’s not just because of the artists. 

Nica: I truly miss the adrenaline and excitement before, during, and after a live concert. I miss the preparations, even weeks before the concert day! I miss choosing my outfit’s pegs. I miss talking to my friends, discussing which tickets to buy and our back-up plans in case the section we want is sold out. I miss the adrenaline rush when entering the concert venue, hearing the artists’ music being played. Heck, I miss even the “in case of emergencies” public advisories in the venue because it means the show’s about to start (lol)! I miss screaming with my friends and hearing the performances and ments live and in person. I miss the post-concert feels, scouring through social media for airport photos. I even miss the sore muscles after standing in the mosh pit for so long (haha)! I miss almost everything about live concerts!

Gillie: I haven’t been to a physical fansign, but I still believe that physical fansigns are better than virtual ones. In physical fansigns, you actually get to have skinship with them and, of course, seeing them in the flesh is a whole different experience!

Steph: Physical concerts have more interactions, and that can be both good and bad! Good because you have a chance to get eye contact with your idol and even interact. In my experience, Dino waves at people who have his uchiwa, so I’ve been noticed for many times now. Bad because the pit puts you in a position where you can be pushed by the people behind you and it’s really not the best feeling ever.

Kam: Attending a physical concert feels like you’re in another world for a day, to be honest. You kind of forget you have responsibilities while you’re there at the stadium, and seeing your fave in the flesh makes you feel like you’re in a huge lucid dream. I even miss the days after, when you kind of replay everything in your head and wish for it to happen again.

Cheska De Ocampo
Always up and about, Cheska was once asked if she always meets different people every single day. Well – not always – but almost because it is part of her job description and because she is actively involved in church. Having the opportunity to join KStreetManila, she combines two of her loves – writing and Korean culture. During her downtime (which somehow rarely happens), she is either scrolling through Twitter, writing for her blog, trying to be fit, reading a good book, or appreciating beauty and fashion.

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