I went to the opening concert of the BTS World Tour, and it was beyond anything I've seen before - and then I got kicked out
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
- Hailing from South Korea, BTS is one of the biggest bands in the world.
- Their latest single "IDOL" had the biggest YouTube 24-hour debut of all time.
- I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the opening concert of the group's "Love Yourself' world tour, which kicked off in Seoul, and it was truly crazy.
- Getting a ticket itself was a scary experience: I was scammed and even blackmailed by fans into trying to give up my ticket.
- Outside the stadium, many had been camping for days to get hold of merchandise. And inside, I was booted out for snapping several photos.
- The overall experience made me realize how protective and obsessive fans can be about their favorite K-pop idols.
Forget "Gangnam Style" and PSY: the boys from BTS are the undisputed kings of K-pop.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard about Bangtan Sonyeondan, also known as the Bangtan Boys or BTS. Debuting in 2013, the South Korean group has been all over the internet in recent years, breaking record after record in the global music industry.
Anything they touch goes viral - including appearances on The Ellen Show.
Their latest single "IDOL" raked over 45 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours of release, earning the largest first-day debut in YouTube's history by knocking off Taylor Swift's 2017 single "Look What You Made Me Do," which earned 43.2 million views in 24 hours. "IDOL" also has an alternative version that features Nicki Minaj.
The group's album "Love Yourself: Tear" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart in May, making it the highest-charting album in US history for a K-pop act.
BTS owes their success to their die-hard fan base, dubbed the "Army," which stays busy on social media, spreading the BTS message around the world and generating millions of clicks, views, and BTS-related retweets.
The group's "Love Yourself" world tour kicked off in Seoul in August and will pass through the US, Europe, and Japan through February. All of the tour dates are currently sold out.
I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the opening night on August 25 in Seoul. But as I found out, BTS fans will employ whatever means possible to get their hands on tickets - including blackmail.
Here's how I got a ticket, the scene outside the stadium, and how my experience of the concert unfortunately lasted for less than 20 minutes.
With tickets having sold out in seconds, I resorted to going online to find resale ones. They were of course selling for several times face value, but I thought to myself, “But this BTS,” and convinced myself to go.
There was already euphoria in the air as I arrived at Sports Complex Station located in Jamsil, Seoul, early in the afternoon of August 25, the day of the opening gig for BTS’ “Love Yourself” World Tour. The station was packed, and the exit was decorated with a massive poster of BTS member Jungkook to celebrate his birthday on September 1.
Outside the station, I literally could not move. The concert was going to take place at the Olympic Stadium located hundreds of meters in front of me. I’ve been to many concerts at this stadium including Lady Gaga, but cannot remember seeing this many people — and so early in the day.
Business was brisk for vendors selling unofficial merchandise. BTS fans were hurriedly grabbing whatever memorabilia they could. The cash was flowing.
Take your pick: banners, postcards, badges, key rings...
Other vendors were busy making homemade merchandise on the spot. Something a little more unique, I guess. Badges, fans, hairbands...
There’s no denying it: BTS is a global megahit. Some Koreans even say the Bangtan Boys are more successful outside Korea. Many non-Koreans, exchange students, and BTS tourists made it to Jamsil, even without tickets, which sold out in seconds. Here Salle and Samira from Germany were desperate for tickets, willing to fork out hundreds of dollars to get to see their favorite band.
In front of the Olympic Stadium, the crowds were getting slightly ridiculous, considering there were still four hours to go before the concert actually started. A massive photo wall panel was set up too, with fans flocking to all take selfies.
Striking a pose.
Seriously, at one point I felt like there were more people outside than could fit inside the stadium. But like I said, this is BTS we are talking about. As I would later find out, fans for the next day’s concert had also come that day to partake in all of the day’s excitement.
Wherever I looked, the place was filled with fans who had set up base outside. Some were practicing the lyrics to the group’s new single, “IDOL,” which had been released less than 24 hours prior. Others were applying makeup, and some were rummaging through their suitcases.
The lines for the official merchandise were insane. Organizers had to transform a parking lot into a massive makeshift camping site. I asked around. Some had been waiting since morning, others since up to two nights before. Many had suitcases.
I kid you not: everyone had a suitcase. Hand luggage size. Jumbo size. Every size. At first I thought they were for clothes to camp outside. But then I found out...
...it was for merchandise! Loads of it. These fans from China showed me their treasure chest, full of stickers, banners, torch sticks and the likes. The price for the content of one suitcase? 1.2 million Korean won. That’s nearly $1,100. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked others around… but many admitted to having spent well over $1,000 on BTS goods.
I admit, this took me by surprise: a tax-refund booth, and a post office tent. But considering the sheer amount of die-hard international fans that flew in just to see BTS, it sort of made sense. They spent hours, if not days, in line just to get hold of official merchandise, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in the process. Duty free was actually a very clever move. The temporary international shipping post office booth was just the icing on the cake.
Vans and buses were decorated with massive pictures of favorite band members. These were, of course, all funded by various BTS Army fan clubs. This van was decorated to celebrate the birthday of BTS member Jungkook.
And then an announcement was made to make our way into the stadium. I was quite excited to finally see the spectacle that is BTS. As I entered, I was handed a banner. It read, “We could believe because it was you. We could win because we were together.”
The stalls were packed. So many people. My seat was at the very top, last row, but I couldn’t complain: this was an opportunity to see BTS live, in flesh. Living in South Korea, it’s difficult to escape their music. They are huge. And nowadays, absolutely massive abroad, too.
The sun was setting over the Olympic Stadium. The excitement was growing. Ok, I think I was the only male in the audience, but yeah… five minutes to go!
And suddenly the BTS boys came out. They performed their latest single “IDOL” which is literally taking the world by storm. The single debuted on YouTube and has already become the most successful video launch of all time. Stating a current figure of how many millions of views the video has is useless: the number just keeps growing.
Everyone was holding BTS lights, devices which can be paired to your seat number and will emit a specific color to form massive patterns across the stadium. Except I would not be able to see this spectacle, because I was booted out the stadium for taking several pictures using a small hand camera.
Fans outside the stadium lined every exit to try get listen to the concert for free.
Oh and those light-sticks? This is what it would have looked like.
And of course, more suitcases, waiting for the merchandise stalls to open the next day. The entire experience was exhausting to say the least.
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