Concert venue shortage becomes headache for K-pop industry

K-pop girl group BLACKPINK performs during its tour finale concert at Gocheok Sky Dome in southwestern Seoul’s Guro District, last September. Courtesy of YG Entertainment

When it comes to music, Korea has almost everything it needs — talented singers, songwriters, dancers and even different crews who can elevate stage performances to the next level. The country, however, lacks one big thing: places where singers can perform and showcase the fruits of their efforts.Korea is the birthplace of K-pop, a music genre that has evolved into a global cultural phenomenon. K-pop stars today frequently grab the top spots on coveted charts like Billboard and take the stage at some of the largest music festivals in the world, such as Coachella. Their albums fly off the shelves once they come out, as evidenced by data from the Korea Customs Service (KCS). According to the KCS, export sales of K-pop albums hit a new high of $290 million in 2023 — a 25.4 percent jump from 2022.Nonetheless, in Korea, K-pop acts cannot hold concerts as often as they want. If they plan to do so, they have to win an uphill battle to rent performance venues, which are limited in supply.Korea’s prime facilities capable of hosting large audiences are few. As of now, the venues in the Seoul metropolitan area that can accommodate more than 10,000 spectators include Jamsil Sports Complex’s Main Stadium, Jamsil Auxiliary Stadium, Jamsil Indoor Stadium, Seoul World Cup Stadium, Gocheok Sky Dome, KSPO Dome — formely Olympic Gymnastics Arena — and Inspire Arena.The Jamsil Sports Complex’s Main Stadium in southeastern Seoul — the largest in Korea with nearly 70,000 seats — has been under renovation since last August as Korea prepares to host another Olympics there and is scheduled to remain closed until December 2026. Gocheok Sky Dome, which can hold some 20,000 people, will open its doors in March after a facelift, but K-pop singers cannot perform there during baseball season that runs from April to October. Seoul World Cup Stadium has a seating capacity of 60,000, but it often does not issue permits for concerts to prevent damage to its field designed for football games.

Against this backdrop, the competition for available spaces is fiercer than ever, making it demanding for the singers to perform at the places they want.”Korea does not have a sufficient number of sports stadiums, not to mention concert-specific venues,” music critic Kim Do-heon told The Korea Times.”Thus, many singers have no choice but to reserve the places left available for them, as can be seen from the case of K-pop trailblazer BoA. Last March, she staged concerts marking the 20th anniversary of her debut at the Olympic Hall in southeastern Seoul, which has only about 3,000-4,000 seats. It actually did not make sense to celebrate such a meaningful event at this tiny venue.”Having fewer options also implies that K-pop stars have to perform at the same places over and over again. According to Kim, this can be frustrating for the artists who are eager to display something new and inventive during their concerts.”Concerts are entertainment shows chronicling the singers’ careers and highlighting their musical philosophy,” he noted. “But under the current circumstances, it is tough for most of them to exhibit themselves to the fullest and add uniqueness to their performances.” Unlike Korea, Japan and the U.S. — the countries with the largest markets for recorded music in the world — boast numerous large arenas, domes and stadiums that can host concerts bringing in more than 10,000 spectators. There are reportedly 40 such places in Japan including the reputed Tokyo Dome. In the U.S., California alone has 40 such venues, including SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles where K-pop juggernaut BTS mesmerized some 70,000 fans with its concert in 2021. The current situation in Korea begs the question: why is the country suffering from a shortage of performance venues despite being the epicenter of K-pop? It is partly because Korea has a relatively small land area, which makes it challenging to construct large-scale facilities with easy accessibility.Experts, however, say there is a more fundamental reason beyond the superficial — the government’s lack of investment in culture.

“Popular music, in particular, only began to earn proper recognition in the mid- to late 1990s, after government censorship was abolished,” critic Kim said. “So, Korea did not have enough time to build infrastructure for the singers and it also did not make a massive investment in the realm of culture. It just started to set up new facilities after Korean music gained global traction.”Ko Jeong-min, a professor at Hongik University’s Graduate School of Arts and Cultural Management, added that the majority of sports facilities here do not provide the optimal environment for concerts.”In the case of Japan’s Tokyo Dome, it was built not only for baseball games, but also for performances,” he said. “But the sports stadiums in Korea were constructed solely for sporting events, so they are often not considered as the best places to enjoy music concerts.” To tackle the dearth, Korea is in progress of establishing a handful of new concert-specific venues. CJ LiveCity Arena in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, and Seoul Arena in the capital’s northeastern Dobong District are slated to open their doors within a few years. They will be able to accommodate up to 60,000 and 18,000 audience members, respectively. Another K-pop arena with 20,000 seats is also being built in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province.Professor Ko believes that the new establishments will help alleviate the shortage of performance venues.”Although there is a delay in the construction projects due to cost increases and inflation, the new arenas will be able to resolve the current challenge at least to some extent,” he said, adding that the rise in the number of concert venues is likely to bring in more acclaimed pop stars to Korea as well.”More concert halls will benefit K-pop stars and allow Korea to lure more tourists and raise its profile,” he explained. “It will also prompt pop singers like Taylor Swift to perform in the country instead of skipping it, further enriching people’s live concert experience.”Critic Kim advocates for building more multi-purpose facilities to utilize the country’s limited space more efficiently.”Since we have a comparatively small land area, we have to establish facilities that can cater to different needs. For instance, it will be ideal if we can have a sports facility with good acoustics and visibility, which can satisfy both sports and music fans,” 카지노사이트킹 he said.

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