BTS fans travel to US to attend K-pop band's first concerts since Covid-19 pandemic struck

BTS, United States, South Korea, the US

When K-pop sensation BTS announced that their first in-person concerts since the start of the pandemic would be in the United States, Kim Ji-eun immediately booked a flight and hotel, praying that Covid-19 rules would let her attend all four shows.

Permissive entry rules have prevailed so far in both South Korea and the US, allowing Kim and other fully vaccinated, diehard fans of BTS – known as ARMY – to see their idols in person for the first time since 2019, when they wrapped up their last tour from North America to Europe to Asia.

The seven-member group will hold four “Permission to Dance on Stage” concerts at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on November 27-28 and December 1-2.

“It’s a historic event,” Kim said ahead of her departure from Seoul on Thursday. “I’m just so happy and excited to meet BTS and other fans, and share our energy and hearts hoping for an end to the pandemic.”

A 40-year-old mother and YouTube content creator, Kim said she and her friend had to engage in a “nightly click war” to secure their concert tickets.

Waiting for her flight at Incheon International Airport, Kim had a bag stocked with fan staples such as BTS branded glow sticks and snacks, as well as pandemic-era necessities such as her vaccination certificate and Covid-19 self-test kit.

BTS, United States, South Korea, the US

Kim Ji-eun and Lee Hyun-joo check in at Incheon International Airport ahead of their flight to the US. Photo: Reuters

Since their 2013 debut, BTS has spearheaded a global K-pop craze with catchy, upbeat music and dances, as well as lyrics and social campaigns aimed at empowering young people.

The band won three awards on Sunday at the American Music Awards, including the top prize of Artist of the Year as well as best pop song for their summer hit Butter.

As the pandemic spread last year, the band postponed and then called off what was meant to be its biggest international tour involving nearly 40 concerts. Instead, it has held online shows.

Having the new shows in the US – which continues to have a much larger Covid-19 outbreak than South Korea but has fewer rules on gatherings – left some fans who cannot make the international trip feeling left out.

“I was so glad to hear about the concerts, but it’s a shame for me being unable to go, especially as I had just become a fan right after the pandemic hit,” said Emily Seo, a Seoul resident who said because of her job and young baby she could not risk testing positive for the virus and having to be quarantined.

Some fans have lamented on online communities that BTS didn’t opt to kick off the tour at home, while others say they are now global superstars no longer bound by commitment to local fans first and foremost.

BTS, United States, South Korea, the US

BTS performs during the 49th Annual American Music Awards on November 21, 2021. Photo: Reuters

The band’s management, Bit Hit Music, did not respond to a request for comment on its choice of concert venues, but has said the decision reflected national and regional health regulations and other conditions.

“It’s great BTS is enjoying global attention and making a big name, but I have to admit that I’m sad on the other hand because that means fewer chances for me to see them here,” Seo said.

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