K-Pop is a popular Korean music genre that is currently gaining popularity overseas. People can meet K-Pop around the world, including on the U.S. Billboard chart and are fascinating Japanese Oricon chart. Korean Idols made their debut into an interesting universe and have various concepts and narratives that fascinate people. Idol performances are even highly praised as a kind of art and are receiving a lot of attention. As a result, Korean idols are entering the world via overseas performance tours and TV programs as well as concerts and fan meetings at home. However, the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019 has made it difficult for them to meet their fans in person. At first, most of the schedules were postponed indefinitely, but as the situation continued for a long time, many changes were made in the idol culture of meeting fans. The culture of meeting fans offline began to take place online after the situation. Furthermore, with the introduction of advanced technologies to complement online events, a new K-Pop’s non-contact culture has emerged.
Enjoying Comfort at Home: Online Concerts
One of the drastic changes in Idol culture to COVID-19 is the change in concerts where fans are not allowed to meet in person. The existing concert format is a meeting where fans enjoy music together, held not only by idols but also by many singers and instrumentalists. However, the concerts are being canceled due to concerns over the spread of infections caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, many performances, including idol concerts, have been being held online without spectators. There were concerns about online concerts, but the online concerts have some advantages of being able to watch them at home because there are no limits to the number of people watching them compared to offline concerts that can only accommodate a limited number of people. Online concerts are being held one after another, starting with the group BTS’s concert on April 18 and the group Super M’s ‘Beyond LIVE’ on April 26. At first, some of people expected that online concerts would not be profitable, but in an interview with Korea Economic TV, a Naver V LIVE official said, “After COVID-19, the amount of paid online concerts and fan meetings has more than 10 times. Many music agencies are preparing for paid online events, so it is expected to increase further in the second half of the year.”
In an interview with YTN News, professor Lee Kyu-tak of George Mason University advised on the direction of the online concert, saying, “It is important to make a distinction between using VR and watching recorded videos through various media.” As Lee said, the production of online concerts is evolving with the variety of media and the introduction of many new technologies. Super M produced ‘Live Sync Camera Walking’ in 2020 and ‘World’s First Online Customized Concert’ that also implements real-time 3D graphics that were not encountered in offline concerts. In the case of BTS, AR (Augmented Reality) and XR (Extended Reality) technologies were utilized at the ‘MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E’ concert.
In a two-month survey conducted by the Korean Digital Policy Society from October to November 2020 on 80 people in the age of 20s and 30s with a high participation rate in K-Pop concerts, 67% of the respondents answered in the affirmative that ‘There are fun and moving elements that can only be felt in online concerts.’ In addition, the answer that accounted for the largest percentage of ‘What is the specific element that provides the plot’ was technical support (CG, AR, XR) and various directing styles. It was found that the higher degree of completion of new technologies such as AR and XR used in concerts and other performances, the higher satisfaction of the fans. Afterward, in an in-depth survey on satisfaction, respondents answered that they were able to appreciate the stage matched the mood of the song through technical effects, and that they were satisfied in terms of visual effects and technical perfection.
Online customized concerts have the advantage of being able to perform high-quality performances in various directions regardless of location. Furthermore, given that the public can easily access it, the possibility of a new fan influx can be expected. According to the survey mentioned above, 70% of respondents answered yes to the question ‘Is the new experience at an online concert meaningful enough in the field of performing arts and culture?’ and expressed their intention to participate again in the future. Online concerts were held to replace offline concerts, but, this has become another new culture.
However, it is necessary to deal with problems that occur during the performance, such as frequent network errors, screen cutouts, and delays when communicating using video programs in the middle of a concert. To solve these problems, experts say that it is necessary to prepare for system or specification problems in advance.
Meet Your Favorite Idol Just Like a Frien: Video Call Fan Signing (Meet-and-Greet)
In March, starting with the group MCND’s ‘Meet & Call fan signing’ event, video call fan signing has emerged as a new idol culture along with online concerts. Idol groups hold fan signing events after an album is released, however, as face-to-face events became difficult because of COVID-19, fan signing events were held online. Same as the face-to-face fan signing event, video call fan signing will be held by lottery among album purchasers, and for a limited time, idols and fans have a 1:1 video call. Although it is for a short time, the satisfaction of the fans is high in that can call like a friend with own’s favorite member and have a video of conversations with idol members. Idols commented that they anticipate a wide range of marketing advantages in that they can perform fan service regardless of time and place, and that they can meet even overseas fans who could not otherwise come to Korea. As video call fan signings became popular, establishing themselves became new trend in the non-contact era.
Bubble, a new fan platform for contacting your favorite artists
As K-Pop has become more popular around the world and face-to-face events are restricted, fan platforms are receiving a lot of attention. These fan platforms include Lysn, Weverse, and Universe, which offer various concepts and services. Recently Lysn, owned by SM Entertainment, introduced ‘Bubble’ which is a paid service where fans can interact with artists for a subscription fee of 4,500 won per month. Fans can directly exchange private messages with artists through Bubble. A private message written by the artists themselves will be sent to fans who can reply in the form of a 1:1 chat. Since Lysn’s launch in 2020, it has signed contracts with 18 domestic entertainment companies, including JYP Entertainment, FNC Entertainment, JELLYFISH Entertainment, WM Entertainment, Brand New Music, Play M Entertainment, TOP MEDIA, Mystic Story and Bit Interactive. They have Bubble services with 44 groups/solo artists and a total of 177 artists. Fans around the world are also using the service platforms because through Bubble, artists can send pictures, music, and voice messages to their fans, allowing them to communicate more.
Starting with COVID-19, there were many changes in artists culture, including online concerts, fan meetings through video calls, and 1:1 interaction like Bubble through which fans can contact their favorite artists. The K-Pop communities had a crisis that all face-to-face events were impossible due to COVID-19, but they turned the crisis into an opportunity and fascinated the world by creating a new culture. The K-Pop’s non-contact culture made fans feel refreshed and joyful in times of depression. It looks forward that the further development of K-Pop and its cultures in a rapidly changing world.