Seoul – Jubilant BTS fans gathered Thursday for the first live K-pop concert in South Korea in more than two years, an event that was expected to draw up to 15,000 people – despite Covid restrictions that prevented cheering, screaming or singing.
“It still feels like a dream,” said Park Hyunjun, 40, an independent video producer from Incheon, west of Seoul. Outside the Seoul Olympic Stadium on Thursday, I carried a poster with the concert’s slogan: “Of course, nothing has changed between us.”
It was the first large-scale gathering of BTS fans in South Korea since the band’s last concert in their home country, in October 2019. The multi-billion dollar act Performed live in Los Angeles in Novemberbut for most of the pandemic, it has been on the air instead.
In 2020, the group appointed Guinness world record To attract the largest number of viewers to attend a live concert. The pandemic has not only stopped the band’s live concerts: Five of the seven BTS members have contracted the coronavirus. They have since recovered from Covid-19.
Thursday’s concert, the largest approved by the South Korean government since the pandemic began, was held amid the Omicron wave that has pushed the number of cases in the country to unprecedented levels. On Thursday, health authorities reported 327,549 new daily cases. But the government, which says the country has to learn to live with the virus, has eased some restrictions.
In and around the stadium on Thursday, 750 safety personnel were enforcing virus protocols, silencing the festivities somewhat.
Fans who took group photos in front of the stadium entrance were told: “Please move once you have finished taking pictures.” “Please keep your distance to prevent the spread of Covid.”
Fans had their temperatures taken before they entered the stadium. The band’s agency, Hybe, said the rapid antigen kits were made available to people with high temperatures. Ceremony-goers had to enter through designated entrances, and during specified periods of time, so as not to flock at once.
Fans were also forbidden to chant, shout or sing during the concert, and had to wear their masks, except for drinking water. Attendance at the stadium, which has a capacity of about 70,000 people, was limited to 15,000.
“I’m curious about what kind of atmosphere there would be with every masked person and no one screaming,” said U Haram, 17, who has followed the band for four years and was about to see them live for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic, Ms. Yu said, she has followed the band online, sometimes gathering with her classmates to watch the live broadcast together. “I finally see them,” she said, “and I’m nervous.”
The concert was the first in a three-day series, with more scheduled to take place Saturday and Sunday. It was broadcast live for people who were unable to attend in person.
Yang Ji-woong, 15, said he had listened to BTS’ song “Mikrokosmos” throughout the pandemic alone in his room and had been looking forward to seeing it live.
“Honestly, I’m a little worried about Covid,” he said. “But I want to enjoy this moment as much as I can.”
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”