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The enormous power of K-pop, especially over the past decade, has made South Korea a major music centre as well as a prime exporter of its homegrown acts around the world. It is also a major destination for international acts and a central plank in their Asian touring plans.
With a population of just under 10m, Seoul is South Korea’s capital and is a priority city for international touring, with its Gocheok Sky Dome being the biggest venue in the country. It is primarily used for baseball games but can accommodate upwards of 25,911 people for concerts. In recent years, it has hosted concerts by Metallica, U2, Sam Smith, and Britney Spears, although such shows are relatively rare now as the venue puts on, at most, a handful of music concerts each year.
Tommy Jinho Yoon is CEO of International Creative Agency (ICA), one of the leading concert promoters in Asia. He says that many of the shows and festivals happening this year in South Korea are rescheduled ones following their postponement due to Covid restrictions. The country is, he notes, a key stopping off point for many international acts as they tour Asia.
“Korea and Japan go hand-in-hand in sharing the routing for major summer festivals and tours in this region”
Several artists and festivals booked for 2023 in South Korea are, he says, contingent on Japan opening up post-pandemic. “Korea and Japan go hand-in-hand in sharing the routing for major summer festivals and tours in this region,” he explains.
He notes that South Korea only really began opening up to international acts earlier in 2022 but suggests things remain sluggish in terms of bookings. He is confident things will start to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
“A lot of promoters in Korea did jump right into the scene as the market opened – which currently is raising a lot of questions and issues,” he says. “Strategically, and after careful evaluation of the market here in Korea, we decided to go extra slow and to take careful steps.”
The KSPO Dome, also in the capital, has a capacity of 14,877 and was previously known as the Olympic Gymnastics Arena (it was renamed in 2018). Concerts there since the early 2010s have tended to be dominated by the biggest names in K-pop, with BTS, Seventeen, and Blackpink among the acts returning there. Western artists who have played there in the past include Elton John, Taylor Swift, Santana, and Celine Dion.
“A lot of promoters in Korea did jump right into the scene as the market opened – which currently is raising a lot of questions and issues”
Many of the leading venues in Seoul were constructed to be part of the Summer Olympics in 1988 and since then have had to be upgraded to become multifunctional, including for the staging of concerts.
The Jamsil Indoor Stadium (aka the Jamsil Arena) is also located in Seoul and is part of the wider Seoul Sports Complex. It has a capacity of 7,608 and has had several K-pop acts play this year (notably EXO, Stray Kids, TXT, and Super Junior). It has retractable seating so that it can scale up or down depending on the event. International acts who have played there in the past include Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, Sigur Rós, Josh Groban, and The Chainsmokers.
“With the K-pop scene now taking over to become part of the general mainstream world, I would say the split would be 60% domestic and 40% international,” says Jinho Yoon about the changing face of concert bookings in South Korea.
“With the K-pop scene now taking over to become part of the general mainstream world, I would say the split would be 60% domestic and 40% international”
Also located in Seoul, the SK Olympic Handball Gymnasium is a 5,000-capacity venue that opened in 1986 and two years later was a key venue in the Summer Olympics. Again, like many of the venues in the city, its recent bookings have been dominated by K-pop acts, although international names who have played there over the years include Chvrches, Avril Lavigne, Megadeth, and Scorpions.
Typically, says Jinho Yoon, these venues are booked out during key sporting seasons in the country, but music makes up the bulk of their bookings when sport is not taking place. He adds that government investment in road building, public transport, and wider construction projects have helped create a better infrastructure that all these venues benefit from.
“There has been a strong educational foundation to further international relations, which means that South Korea has strengthened its position as the international hub for Asia,” he says. “Most current international artists who have played South Korea will agree that it is one of the world’s leading modernised territories to perform in.”