With the pandemic in full swing for over a year, K-Pop concerts have almost become a distant dream for many fans. Unfortunately, the end isn’t quite in sight yet. Part of the problem is in how the Korean government classifies K-Pop concerts, and now production companies are uniting against their decision.
In line with COVID-19 pandemic guidelines, all group activities are classified into different categories, each with its own set of rules. While most would assume that K-Pop concerts would fall under the “Performances” category, they’re actually classified as “Gatherings” by South Korean law.
As such, K-Pop concerts are limited to just 100 live audience members while Level 2 social distancing measures are in place, making them completely unfeasible for companies from a financial standpoint. But why are they considered “Gatherings” to begin with, when similar events like musicals are branded “Performances”?
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare in South Korea, K-Pop concerts are different from other types of performances because fans typically sing along to the songs the artists are singing. Since singing projects the voice, it increases the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. As such, the Ministry states that K-Pop concerts can’t follow the same rules as “Performances”, which allow venues to be filled up to 75% capacity under Level 2 social distancing measures.
However, concert production companies aren’t convinced by the government’s explanation. Kim Sang Wook, BTS’s concert director from 2013 to 2019, says that during the earlier days of the pandemic when some offline concerts were allowed, fans did follow social distancing measures and refrained from singing along. “If singing is a problem,” he proposed, “The government can simply ban people from doing that.”
According to Kim and other production company heads, the Korean government is discriminating against pop culture and music, making industry professionals feel marginalized. The concert director went on to explain that production companies are looking for equality, not preferential treatment—especially as industry staff are struggling to make a living from the pandemic.
The global health crisis has devastated our industry for more than a year and pushed a lot of people over the edge. There must be some tangible solutions that can help them make a living ― there are online concerts, but profits from those events are far less than earnings from live events, since the ticket prices are cheaper. Also, a large portion of the profits goes to platform owners.
— Kim Sang Wook
And they’re not the only ones who believe K-Pop is being treated unfairly. Cultural anthropology professor Lee Gyu Tag states that even the military exemption clause for classical musicians shows that K-Pop is still viewed as “second-rate” by the government.
The government still views pop culture and music as second-rate, despite their global popularity. K-pop and classical, they are all music and musicians should not be treated differently merely because of their genres.
— Lee Gyu Tag
Now, production companies are taking a stand against the measures. 38 production companies across the country recently formed an association. Their demands call on ministries, political parties, and government agencies to eliminate discrimination against K-Pop and compensate industry professionals for the damage done to their livelihoods.