The fans roared. Four girls in short denim pants took the stage. They started dancing to their song “Color,” shaking their hips seductively. ”You’re perfect, I’ve never felt this way before…” But were the cameras even filming?
From my seat at the “live” show of the Kpop music program “The Show” on SBS MTV, I could see the whole glamorous spectacle on display: hosts preparing, fans waving signs, artists performing, and producers waving them off stage.
Music shows are huge in the land of Kpop. Almost every night one of the channels broadcasts its countdown show, from the English-language “Simply K-Pop” on Arirang channel on Mondays to “Inkigayo” on SBS on Sundays, and of course “The Show” on SBS MTV every Tuesday night.
Tickets to the big shows can be a hot commodity. Superfans will go to shows night after night to see their favorite idol bands and then wait outside for an hour to try to catch a glimpse of them leaving. Outside the SBS Prism Tower outside the show, two fans waved a Vromance album at me and said that they were planning on attending every show where the new group performed.
To obtain tickets, one usually has to apply in advance on a Korean website and hope to be selected by lottery. However a number of tour agencies provide tickets that can be purchased for guaranteed seats. My tickets were provided by HaB Korea tour agency, which also offers Kpop dance class tours and M Countdown tickets.
The Show features a countdown of the top new songs—and other notable songs—as voted on by viewers, including Chinese viewers on Tudou video platform. The performance and production is fast, flashy, and energetic. The stage is adorned with lights. Performers are either pretty girls in short skirts and hot pants or handsome boys in stylish dress. They have their dance moves down to every detail such that when you are watching from the stands and keeping your eyes moving between the stage and the television feed, it looks like they are broadcasting live.
But then a production assistant comes up on the edge of the stage and waves the dancers off and the music continues and the broadcast feed shows them continuing to dance. No, the live performances for fans at the studio are not the ones that are broadcast to viewers at home. The performances are filmed earlier in the day, so as to make it easier to move the props, and most of the artists stay to perform again at night in sync with the broadcast. What appears to be filmed live is the commentary by the hosts between breaks.
Some people may look down upon this as a form of fakery. Even the artists could be lip syncing. But the appeal of Kpop is as much (or more) in the dancing and personalities of the idols. To stand together with your fellow fans and see the divas you have read so much about up close and moving step for step and interacting with each other is a treat. (I haven’t even read about these performers—I am just a general fan and a connoisseur of culture—and I was impressed.) The dancing is a skill worthy of respect in itself.
For the real fans, the personalities (real or manufactured) of each individual artist do matter. It’s not just about the spectacle, which, to me, was exciting to see at least for the first time. Many of those waiting outside afterwards were there for a specific artist, jumping up and down like crazy and photographing their favorite, but standing cold when a different artist walked by. Some of the artists would engage their fans, signing autographs or waving from the car for a few minutes before driving off.
I watched and admired the lovely dancing of Yeoeun, Chahee, Yein, and Yoomin of Melody Day and their four backup dancers unabashed in my enjoyment. ”Anyone can see how funny I’m acting, after I’ve fallen in love … I only know you, you’re my only celeb…”
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.