In June last year, BTS fans in the UK helped raise 3,000 pounds ($4,100) for a billboard in London to celebrate the group’s fourth anniversary. This year they plan to do it again, and are nearing their slightly higher goal of 3,500 pounds.
With such a dedicated fan base, it’s a surprise that BTS -- who became the first K-pop act to enter the official albums chart in the UK in October 2016 -- only recently announced its first headline concert in the UK as part of its world tour that will also visit three other European cities.
The news has been welcomed by K-pop fans across Europe who have for years watched their favorite acts skip the continent on global tours.
With two world tours under its belt, K-pop sensation Big Bang visited 17 countries with only one stop in Europe compared to eight nights spread across three countries in North America.
Even though the group’s 2016 “Made” album -- which was released in full after its second world tour -- reached the top 20 on the iTunes charts of three European countries, Big Bang’s tour only came to Europe for two nights in London.
Tours like this aren’t uncommon for K-pop acts, and it’s a pattern that hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans in Europe.
“I won’t say we’re totally ignored, but when you look at the amount of concerts that the US gets, it’s kind of easy to be like ‘Oh you could have come here too.’ There’re so many fans here, why not?” said Freya Bigg, founder of UnitedKpop, a UK-based website dedicated to K-pop in Europe.
K-pop groups Highlight, EXID, KNK and Snuper pose together at the Feel Korea event during the London Korea Festival in June 2017. Apart from one-off events like this, K-pop shows are thin on the ground in European cities. (Feel Korea)
Recently, there has been an uptick in K-pop acts coming to the continent. In 2016, the annual Hallyu festival KCON expanded to Paris, and tickets for the event sold out in minutes. Acts last year including Block B, G-Dragon and Monsta X performed in European cities.
With an evident following in Europe, why do world tours still tend to heavily focus on the other side of the Atlantic?
“Although European fans are growing rapidly and (are) very passionate, the logistics of touring Europe are a bit more complex than North America,” said Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a Korean music artist and label services agency.
“In the US and Canada, many Korean music acts can rely on one concert promoter to handle an entire nationwide tour whereas in Europe, Korean music acts have to often work with different promoters in different cities and different countries,” he said.
While big acts have played in Europe successfully, not every K-pop performance has gone down so well.
In early January, a “KpopKnight” concert was announced to take place at the end of the month at the Wembley Arena in London. For 110 pounds, fans would get to see performances by popular K-pop acts including Seven and MonstaX.
However, with reports that only 700 tickets had sold for a venue with a capacity of 12,500, the night was soon branded a disaster. Angry fans posted photos and videos of an empty arena on social media, citing communication issues with the promoters as one of the major problems.
Bigg worries that concerts like this could harm the K-pop scene in the UK.
“There are plenty of MonstaX fans (in the UK), they could have held a venue on their own. But because (the tickets) were too expensive and a dodgy organizer, these kinds of things, it will have an effect on the amount of concerts we can get overall,” she said.
This interest, however, may just not be enough to entice a full European tour. Ticket sales may not emulate the sold-out tours in Asia, meaning European cities could be a gamble. Sarah Shim, head of marketing and user communications at MyMusicTaste, an organization that has organized concerts for K-pop groups, said that while interest in K-pop across Europe has increased, there’s still concern over demand.
“Even in the US, many K-pop acts tend to focus on cities with large Korean or Asian populations, such as Los Angeles and New York,” she said.
With BTS becoming a global phenomenon, it is likely entertainment agencies will want to emulate its success, eventually bringing concerts, fan meetings and glow sticks to Europe. But until then, European fans can only continue to show their appreciation for their favorite K-pop stars by buying their music, wearing their merchandise and crowdfunding money for billboards.