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K-pop festival Waterbomb splashes into new markets

Touring K-pop festival series Waterbomb Festival is expanding to several global markets this year, with new editions set for the US, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, the UAE, Singapore, and China.

Set to kick off this May in Xiamen, China, the international series will take water-soaked stars to Hong Kong in June before touring South Korea and Japan in July and more cities across both, plus Singapore, in August. A Bangkok edition has been set for September, with stints in Los Angeles, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, and Dubai to be announced.

First held in 2015 in Seoul, South Korea, the festival series first expanded to new markets in 2023 with two editions in Japan and one in Bangkok. This year, the series will visit nine cities in South Korea, four in Japan, and one in Thailand, along with the new editions.

The event was launched by Hong Kong-based streaming platform Viu and Singapore-based Evergreen Group Holdings, with local promoters helping bring it to new territories.

The K-pop genre continues to soar to new hights and into new markets

As the name suggests, Waterbomb intertwines various water activities alongside local and international lineups of K-pop, hip-hop, and EDM performers. Though lineups vary by city, performers include K-pop supergroup TWICE’s Nayeon, American rapper Jay Park, and SHINEE’s Taemin, and South Korean singers Hwasa, Chung Ha, and Bibi, among a variety of others. Former performers include Blackpink, aespa, Simon Dominic, and Jessi.

The K-pop genre continues to soar to new heights and into new markets, with behemoth HYBE reporting its concert revenue skyrocketed by 40% in 2023, reaching KRW 359.1 billion (€253m) in the year. Last autumn, fellow agency SM Entertainment announced its Q3 revenue surged 40% year-on-year, partly attributed to their star’s expansive world tours.

KCON, the world’s biggest K-pop and culture convention, also expanded to a fifth region this year, adding Hong Kong to its 2024 lineup of Japan, Los Angeles, Saudia Arabia, and to-be-announced Europe.

The 2024 schedule is as follows:

May
18-18: Xiamen, China

June
1-2: Hong Kong

July
5-7: Seoul, South Korea
13: Jeju, South Korea
13: Fukuoka, Japan
20: Daegu, South Korea
27: Busan, South Korea
27-28: Tokyo, Japan

August
3: Incheon, South Korea
10: Daejeon, South Korea
10: Osaka, Japan
17: Sokcho, South Korea
17: Nagoya, Japan
24: Suwon, South Korea
24-25: Singapore, Singapore
31: Gwangju, South Korea

September
TBA: Bangkok

TBA
Los Angeles, United States
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Taipei, Taiwan
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 


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HYBE concert revenue surged 40% in 2023

Seoul-based K-pop giant HYBE surpassed annual revenue of KRW 2 trillion (€1.5 billion) in 2023, powered by growth in its concert and album businesses.

Concert revenue soared around 40% year-on-year from KRW 258.2 billion (€178 million) in 2022 to KRW 359.1 billion (€253m) in 2023, with the total number of performances increasing from 78 to 125 during the period.

World tours by Suga of BTS and Seventeen, as well as the first North American stadium and Japanese dome tours by Tomorrow X Together and Enhyphen, contributed to the company’s revenue growth. Le Sserafim also held their first Asia tour with sold-out shows in Seoul, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Overall, the South Korean firm behind BTS scored the highest annual revenue (KRW 2.17 trillion) and operating profit (KRW 295.8bn) since its establishment in 2005, representing a year-on-year increase of 22.6% and 24.9%, respectively.

HYBE has maintained growth of annual revenue of more than 20% each year since going public in 2020

Its three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) stands at 31.7% for revenue and 24.7% for operating profit. HYBE has maintained growth of annual revenue of more than 20% each year since going public in 2020.

Album sales were another key driver in the financial results, with HYBE artists collectively selling 43.6 million units last year, doubling the figure from the previous 12 months. Its global fandom platform Weverse also exceeded a monthly active user base of over 10m.

In addition, HYBE America’s management affiliate SB Projects has signed new artists including singer-songwriter Ozuna and rapper Kaliii, last year. SB Projects is forecasting substantial revenue growth for this year with the release of Ariana Grande’s new album in March.

HYBE has also disclosed plans for a cash dividend of KRW 700 won per share, totaling KRW 29.2bn.

 


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Blackpink to wrap up Born Pink world tour in Seoul

Blackpink’s history-making Born Pink World Tour is to conclude as it began – with two nights in Seoul in the quartet’s native South Korea.

Korea JoongAng Daily reports the concerts will be held from 16-17 September at a venue to be decided, with the second date set to be livestreamed globally.

The K-pop superstars kicked off the tour in Seoul on 15-16 October last year with a two-night stand at the KSPO Dome.

“The two concerts will be a grand finale to the world tour during which the girl group coloured 41 cities around the world in pink over the course of 11 months,” says the group’s agency YG Entertainment. “We are happy to end the tour in Korea, where we began the tour, with Korean fans. The members particularly wanted to hold an encore concert in Seoul. The staff and artists alike are putting their best foot forward to give the best performance.”

Born Pink has long surpassed the Spice Girls’ Spice World 2019 reunion tour, which made $78.2m from 13 sold-out nights, as the highest-grossing concert tour by a female group after reportedly earning $78.5m from its first 26 shows.

The tour also pulled in 113,498 fans across two sold-out nights at Foro Sol in Mexico City from 26-27 April, generating US$9.989 million per night, to become the top-grossing concerts in Mexican history.

“Having a K-pop band headline a UK festival for the very first time and deliver a great show was an important moment”

In addition, Blackpink became the first K-pop and all-female group to headline Coachella and went on to headline AEG’s 65,000-cap BST Hyde Park in London in July.

“Having a K-pop band headline a UK festival for the very first time and deliver a great show was an important moment for us,” AEG’s CEO of European festivals Jim King told IQ.

The group’s previous 2018-20 In Your Area World Tour netted $56,756,285 from 36 dates.

Blackpink currently sit a distant second on Koreaboo‘s list of the 10 most-attended concerts by female K-pop artists in Korea over the past 12 months. Their KSPO Dome shows reportedly drew 20,060 fans to trail singer-songwriter IU, who attracted 87,578 people to her two shows at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium last September.

The top 5 is completed by Taeyeon (17,843 attendees) Twice (13,792) and Red Velvet (11,562) over two nights at KSPO.

 


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K-pop event accused of trying to steal headliners

A K-pop show held as part of the 2023 World Scout Jamboree Korea has been accused of trying to steal headliners from another festival.

The K-Pop Super Live Concert was originally set to take place in Saemangeum, South Korea on 6 August, but was postponed by officials due to extreme heat.

The jamboree attracts more than 40,000 people from 155 countries and has been plagued by problems, causing embarrassment to the Korean authorities. Thousands of scouts have since been evacuated from a campsite due to an approaching tropical storm.

The K-Pop Super Live Concert has now been switched to the Jeonju World Cup Stadium this Friday (11 August), clashing with the start of the Jeonju Ultimate Music Festival (JUMF), which is scheduled to run from 11-13 August.

Koreaboo reports that the move received an angry response from JUMF organiser Lee Tae Dong, director of promoter MBC.

“Am I a fool for preparing for over half a year for this festival’s success? Is it okay for them to disregard a festival in their region just for their convenience?”

“I am filled with anger,” he says. “It’s not just because we’ve been preparing for the festival in the same city on the same day for a long time. JUMF even postponed its event date in accordance to the Jamboree’s schedule.”

Dong also alleged the rival event’s organisers had attempted to remove the artists who were already booked to perform at JUMF.

“The organisers of the Jamboree event contacted me,” he says. “They asked for understanding about their plan to have the headliners of Friday’s JUMF perform at Jamboree’s closing K-Pop concert on the same day – one hour before the festival. I was utterly dumbfounded by their request.

“These artists were announced as headliners for the festival a long time ago. Since they are located close to the closing ceremony, Jamboree must have thought it was easy to invite them. Am I a fool for preparing for over half a year for this festival’s success? Is it okay for them to disregard a festival in their region just for their convenience? Are the rights of the audience who traveled a long way, paying significant costs and expenses to see the performance of a team, disregarded with a free show?”

The jamboree’s concert was initially scheduled to feature 11 artists, including Ive, ZeroBaseOne, NMIXX, StayC and P1Harmony, but there will be changes to line-up. Artists due to headline JUMF, meanwhile, include Oh My Girl and Dreamcatcher. Oh My Girl’s agency WM Entertainment says it has not been contacted by Jamboree organisers, adding that the group is planning to go ahead with their performance at JUMF.

 


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Woodstock Korea hits another roadblock

The Korean edition of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair has been postponed, following a raft of issues.

The event was due to take place later this month at the Multipurpose Square in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, and would’ve been the legendary festival’s first incarnation outside of the US.

“The Woodstock festival has been postponed to 7-9 October to ensure a safe event operation and to work on the event’s completion. The festival is being postponed, not cancelled,” reads a statement from organisers.

Currently, the lineup is mainly rock and pop acts from Asia, including Japanese hard rock veterans Loudness and a number of seasoned Korean artists.

In early July, the organisers also announced that several overseas artists, including Akon and New Hope Club, would be performing, but these artists did not update the new Woodstock festival changes on their respective home page schedules, prompting doubts about their participation in October.

“The Woodstock festival has been postponed to ensure a safe event operation and to work on the event’s completion”

The festival has already gone through multiple challenges since it was announced in January, including criticism over the choice of venue, a constantly shifting lineup and high ticket prices.

Following criticisms regarding the latter, organisers slashed the three-day ticket price from 400,000 won ($310) to 150,000 ($117).

The original Woodstock festival was held in 1969, with anniversary events taking place in 1994, 1999 and 2009. A 50th-anniversary event was slated for 2019 but was ultimately cancelled due to financial problems.

In 2010, there was an attempt to host a Woodstock festival in Korea, but it never took place because of “copyright and artist lineup issues,” according to the Korea Herald.

 


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K-pop’s global explosion ‘yet to plateau’

K-pop is yet to reach its peak despite its incredible growth on the international stage, according to experts.

ILMC’s How K-pop Conquered the World panel charted the history of the genre and how it broke worldwide, while pondering what is next for the scene.

ICA-Live-Asia president Tommy Jinho Yoon, who moderated the session in London, outlined the growth of the K-pop, saying he would never have imagined that Korean music would be embraced on a global platform.

“It’s about perfection,” said Yoon. “These artists live together and are trained at least two years before they do anything. They’re not allowed to do this and that; they’re not even allowed to date. It’s just total military training – this high, intense level of choreography, vocal and physical training – all these elements are embodied in the performance side of K-pop. And apparently, it is working with this generation.”

“It takes a significant time and also talent development for these artists to debut to the world,” affirmed Humid.TV’s David Choi, a former A&R director/producer for K-pop giant SM Entertainment.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage where it’s going to plateau yet”

California-based Choi credited a ’90s show in Korea by iconic American boyband New Kids on the Block for inspiring SM founder Lee Soo-man to create K-pop pioneers H.O.T. in 1996.

“That’s when [Soo-man] got the idea that, ‘Hey, I should build a boy group like this,'” said Choi. “That group was called H.O.T. And he was right – it was a global success.”

With superstars BTS not expected to regroup until 2025 while the band members fulfil their mandatory military service, there have been suggestions that the genre is starting to wane in popularity. But to Live Nation Australasia’s Wenona Lok, who recently worked on Stray Kids’ record-breaking Australian shows, any concerns on that front are premature.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage where it’s going to plateau yet,” she said. “It’s something that people can really learn from and we’re also starting to see a lot of K-pop acts collaborate with Western artists.”

“A lot of Western artists that I deal with are requesting to be connected with K-pop artists to do collaborations, and vice-versa,” agreed Yoon. “So I foresee a lot of that in the future – there is going to be joint shows and a lot of music produced together.”

“We had more traffic in the AXS waiting room for BTS than for Adele’s comeback shows one or two years before”

The O2’s VP and general manager Steve Sayer reflected on the impact BTS’ two nights at the London venue in 2018, which he said exceeded even the promoter’s expectations.

“I won’t put anyone on the spot, but I don’t think anyone really appreciated quite how big it was going to be,” he said. “We had more traffic in the AXS waiting room for BTS than for Adele’s comeback shows one or two years before. We could have had 20 shows comfortably, but they were holding back shows for Wembley Stadium the following summer.

“On the morning of [the first show], I had to double take because it was about 8.30am and there must have been at least 5,000 fans, if not more, queuing compliantly, and the front doors of The O2 weren’t even open.

“You announce one band, you sell 5,000 tickets. You announce the next band, you sell another 5,000 tickets, and then it adds up to 40,000 at the end”

“Everyone was in the arena bowl 90 minutes before the show’s start time. It smashed our merchandising record, which was broken, subsequently, at Blackpink a few months ago – and when the band came on stage, I’d never seen anything like it – not even at One Direction shows. I will use the word ‘hysteria’ because I can’t I can’t think of a better adjective.”

The O2 will host Europe’s biggest K-pop festival Kpop.Flex from 22-24 September this year, while Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park hosted the inaugural edition of Kpop.Flex in May 2022. The event will return to the German venue for a second edition from 17-18 June this year.

“We announced the line-up band by band,” said the stadium’s MD Patrik Meyer. “You announce one band, you sell 5,000 tickets. You announce the next band, you sell another 5,000 tickets, and then it adds up to 40,000 at the end. You could see that every fan had one specific band [they had come to see], but they like it all, so that’s fantastic for a festival.

“We sold out the first day of the [2022] festival within four to six weeks, so we added the second day. That didn’t sell out completely, but at the end we had almost 70,000 – 40,000, plus 30,000 for a first time event, which was a huge success.”

“It’s become a community and a culture beyond the music”

He added: “Social media is key to K-pop. Without that, it wouldn’t be possible to create that phenomenon. For our festival, no flyer was printed, no poster was put up, it was just starting an Instagram account from zero, so it’s a very active crowd.”

Creative director Amy Bowerman, whose past clients include Blackpink, extolled the strength of the genre’s relationship with its fans.

“One of the things that Kpop does so well is talk in youth language,” she said. “The power of that culture is huge, and one of the beautiful things about it is that it obviously lives online, but there’s also a physical space where you see all these dance groups come together. It’s become a community and a culture beyond the music. And I think that that is incredible, specifically for young people.

“With how tumultuous the world has been over the past four years, looking to these people who stand as beacons for  inclusivity and bringing people together… that is one of the reasons I think people are connecting to the artists so deeply and profoundly.”

“I think the reason K-pop is so big is because it’s really accessible,” agreed Lok. “If you go online, there are many fan groups that are happy to help educate you. Having the internet makes a big difference – it’s a right time, right place thing – but a lot of K-pop fans are women in their mid 40s, of all race groups. They come to the shows and bring their daughters because it’s something that is easy to share and get excited about.”

 


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K-pop concerts’ return boosts SM profits by 70%

K-pop powerhouse SM Entertainment has seen its profits soar 70% thanks to the return of concerts and live events, as controversy grows over its “hostile takeover” by rival HYBE.

Bloomberg reports that Seoul-based SM posted an operating profit of 25.2 billion won (€18.3 million) in Q4 2022, with sales rising 18.2% to 256.4bn won. Its number of concerts in the three-month period was up 35 times on the same quarter in the Covid-hit 2021.

SM, which is home to acts such as BoA, TVXQ, Girls Generation, Shinee, EXO and Super Junior, says it expects profits from concerts and music operations will continue to grow in the first half of 2023, with boy band NCT Dream and pop duo TVXQ! holding more than 50 concerts.

NCT Dream recently completed a Japanese tour, including their first dome shows at Kyocera Dome Osaka, which pulled in 120,000 people over three days. The final show was transmitted through WOWOW, Japan’s largest satellite channel broadcaster, as well as live viewing, which broadcasts live performances at 140 movie theatres nationwide, and was also broadcast live on the global platform Beyond LIVE.

The band will tour Asia, Europe and the Americas from March, while girl group Aespa are also planning another 10 concerts in Japan in the first six months of the year.

“As soon as SM’s new vision ‘SM 3.0’ was announced, the largest shareholder sold his stake, and a hostile takeover attempt by a competitor started”

Earlier this month, HYBE became the largest shareholder in SM Entertainment with the purchase of KRW 422.8 billion shares — a 14.8% stake.

The move was led by HYBE’s global team and involved acquiring former chief producer Lee Soo-Man’s shares in SM days after the announcement of the SM 3.0 business strategy and development plan.

HYBE, which has pledged in a separate notice to buy another 25% stake, is home to acts including BTS, Tomorrow X Together, NewJeans, LE SSERAFIM and Seventeen through its subsidiary labels, such as Big Hit Music, Pledis Entertainment, Source Music and ADOR.

However, over the weekend, SM Entertainment CFO Cheol Hyuk Jang released a video denouncing HYBE’s “hostile takeover”.

“As soon as SM’s new vision ‘SM 3.0’ was announced, the largest shareholder sold his stake, and a hostile takeover attempt by a competitor started,” he says, as per Koreaboo. “This is an attempt that ignores not only the fierce deliberation and efforts of the 600 SM employees who have dreamed of becoming the No.1 entertainment company in the world, but also the values and pride of SM that it has pursued together with the fans and artists.”

“HYBE is raising not only its own concert ticket prices but also those of the labels it has acquired, which illustrates the impact monopoly will have on the industry”

Jang also raised competition concerns over the acquisition, adding that it will lead to higher ticket prices for concerts.

“If HYBE takes the majority of the market share by acquiring SM’s managerial rights, K-pop would lose opportunities for a greater advancement forward,” he said. “Ultimately, K-pop fans will be the ones that will be most affected by the monopoly.

“SM puts reasonable prices to concert tickets to allow broader scope of fans to enjoy cultural performances. Meanwhile, HYBE has taken advantage of its position in the K-pop market to almost double the concert ticket prices as reported in the news several times recently. HYBE is raising not only its own concert ticket prices but also those of the labels it has acquired, which illustrates the impact monopoly will have on the industry.

“The consolidation of SM and HYBE will accelerate ticket price increase, adding burden to fans who love and support K-pop and K-pop artists. The concert ticket price hike is just one example. The monopoly created as a result of HYBE’s hostile acquisition of SM will cause more diverse and direct problems, including decreased diversity of artists, music and concerts.”

 


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BTS’ Busan livestream attracts 49m viewers

A livestream of BTS’ stadium concert held to promote Busan’s World 2030 Expo bid attracted almost 50 million viewers, according to organisers.

Saturday’s (15 October) BTS Yet to Come in Busan show at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in South Korea was attended by a 50,000-strong crowd, with 10,000 and 2,000 people tuning in via real-life “Live Play” broadcasts – where fans can watch the concert in real-time on a big screen – in Busan Port and Haeundae, respectively.

The online livestream through Weverse, meanwhile, is reported to have generated approximately 49m views alone.

“We hope our concert will help promote Busan and support the city’s bid to host World Expo 2030 in Busan,” say BTS.

The free event was originally due to take place on a special stage on the site of a former glass factory near Ilgwang Beach, but was moved due to safety concerns. BTS were confirmed as ambassadors for Busan’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan Metropolitan City earlier this summer.

“BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment”

“This will be a great opportunity to contribute to further development of K-Culture as well as its local pop cultures in Busan,” said Bang Si-Hyuk, chair of the group’s management company Hybe, said at the time.

Meanwhile, BTS’ record label Big Hit Music has announced via Weverse and official social platforms that the K-pop superstars are currently moving forward with plans to fulfil their mandatory military service, ending a long-running debate in Korea over whether they should receive an exemption due to their artistic accomplishments.

“Group member Jin will initiate the process as soon as his schedule for his solo release is concluded at the end of October,” says the company. “He will then follow the enlistment procedure of the Korean government. Other members of the group plan to carry out their military service based on their own individual plans.

“Both the company and the members of BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment.”

 


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Korea’s CJ ENM invests in AmazeVR

South Korean entertainment giant CJ ENM has bought a stake in US-based virtual reality (VR) content platform AmazeVR.

The move is intended to enhance CJ ENM’s presence in the metaverse and expand opportunities for K-pop and unscripted content, according to Variety.

Los Angeles-based AmazeVR claims to be the first and only company using its exclusive and proprietary technology, to capture hyper-real 9K+ live-action footage of artists performing. This gives fans front-row seats in 3D stage environments, making VR concerts easily scalable and faster to produce.

The startup has previously developed immersive experiences with Megan Thee Stallion and worked with Korean girl group Aespa on real-world and virtual concerts.

It recently formalised a joint venture with K-pop juggernaut SM Entertainment to produce upcoming VR concerts for other K-pop artists.

“We are talking to iconic names in music to continue to bring the best experiences to their fans”

In January this year, AmazeVR raised US$15 million, bringing the amount of capital raised to nearly $31m since its debut in 2015. It has attracted other Korean investors in earlier funding rounds – Mirae Asset Management and Quantum Ventures Korea.

CJ ENM, which operates music TV channels, organises music award shows and the KCON conventions, says the investment in AmazeVR is part of its strategy to expand its digital and technology-related business sectors related to AR/VR tech, metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other tools.

Earlier this year, it acquired a minority equity stake in Hyperreal Digital, a US-based metaverse firm developing ‘digital humans’ technology.

“We are excited to partner with AmazeVR, a company that is leading premium VR content production technology, to lead a new paradigm in the entertainment industry,” says CJ ENM CEO Kang Ho-Sung.

AmazeVR CEO Ernest Lee adds: “With the support of our dedicated investment partners, we’re excited to enter the next age of VR concert production and deliver some really amazing performances. We are talking to iconic names in music to continue to bring the best experiences to their fans.”

 


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Korea to drop mask mandate for outdoor concerts

The South Korean government is set to finally drop its mask mandate for outdoor concerts and other large gatherings following a steady decline in Covid-19 cases.

The move, which could come into effect as soon as this week, reports the Korea Times. Under the current rules, people who do not comply with the regulations at events attended by more than 50 people are subject to a fine.

However, rules on mask-wearing at indoor shows will continue for the time being.

Korea previously eased its coronavirus protocols in the spring when it lifted its ban on clapping and cheering at gigs

Korea previously eased its coronavirus protocols in the spring when it lifted its ban on clapping and cheering at gigs, but retained the indoor and outdoor mask mandate. Fans were handed plastic clappers to emulate crowd noise at BTS’ Permission To Dance On Stage – Seoul three-night residency in March, which marked the K-pop group’s in-person concert return in their homeland. Just 15,000 people per night were permitted to attend the 70,000-cap Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul due to social distancing restrictions.

A BTS homecoming concert in Korea planned as part of Busan’s World 2030 Expo bid was recently forced to move venues due to safety concerns. The free BTS Yet to Come in Busan show on 15 October was set to attract up to 100,000 people to a special stage on the site of a former glass factory, but has been switched to the Busan Asiad Main Stadium following complaints the venue was ill-equipped for an event of such scale.

 


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