Beyond LIVE: How K-Pop is Redefining Live Performance
Written by: Jeewon Han
During this time of necessary social distancing and voluntary isolation, entertainers have been creating avenues for audiences to enjoy live music at home. Notably, the Lady Gaga-curated One World: Together at Home Global Special charity event in April ran for eight hours featuring artists like Taylor Swift, Elton John, Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, and more. Additional events are being announced regularly with the ongoing changes in the pandemic.
One South Korean company has taken virtual live music to the next level. On April 14th, SM Entertainment, one of Korea’s three largest entertainment companies housing worldwide acts like EXO, Girls’ Generation, and NCT, announced an exclusive partnership with NAVER’s VLIVE entitled Beyond LIVE (https://beyondlive.smtown.com/en/index.html). Beyond LIVE introduces itself as a “live concert streaming service […] provid[ing] online optimized digital concert content beyond relaying existing offline performances online.”
The Beyond LIVE concert series finds its way to fans on the platform VLIVE, which is available as both a website and mobile app. VLIVE is an artist-fan interaction service for K-pop groups established in 2015. The platform posts exclusive, professionally produced content as well as artist-hosted live streams similar to that of Instagram Live. Beyond LIVE is one of the many “channels” that fans can subscribe to on the service; as with all channels, there is an ad-supported free membership and paid membership available. Specially on the Beyond LIVE channel, fans can get access to the exclusive live concerts hosted by their artists of choice.
For around $30 USD, fans can get a virtual ticket that grants them access to the live stream of the Beyond LIVE concert. Deluxe packages including concert merchandise are also available for higher prices. The Beyond LIVE concerts are the closest virtual recreation of live concerts currently available: the performers sing on a real stage, in real time, in front of thousands of fans. Fans are even able to connect their token “fanlights,” a must-have merchandise item, to the app and have it shine in sync with the music just as in an in-person concert venue.
The Beyond LIVE virtual concerts add several features to the live music experience. Assorted camera angles create an intimate front-row, or closer-than-front-row, viewing experience for all. Live webcam streams of fans are displayed on stage to give the illusion of artists and fans occupying the same space, and live comments are updated in real-time for artists to see for those unable to join on webcam. Some lucky fans even receive an enhanced interactive experience in which they get to connect with the artists one-on-one during the concert and ask a question live. Specially developed augmented reality (AR) technology is used to create visual effects: virtual tigers run across the stage, a digital steel cage entraps the performers as they are dancing and later breaks for dramatic effect, and digital graphics seem to “pop out” at the audience in 3-D.
The Beyond LIVE series was first piloted with SuperM, SM’s experimental boy group featuring members from SHINee, EXO, NCT, and WayV who have been hailed as the “Avengers of K-pop.” The concert was a success, bringing in over $2 million USD in one night through over 75,000 viewers, a figure that does not include the potential revenue lost from concert-goers who may been viewing through unofficial streams.
Forbes notes that this earning is double the $1 million USD that SuperM (https://www.supermofficial.com) earned on one of their in-person tour dates from their previous North American tour. In a time where touring is virtually non-existent, platforms like Beyond LIVE create new revenue streams for entertainment companies. After the first Beyond LIVE concert, SM Entertainment added artists to the lineup each week to provide a continuous stream of live music for six weeks. SuperM were followed by boy group NCT subunits WayV, NCT DREAM, NCT 127, the seasoned duo TVXQ! and finally, veteran K-pop idols Super Junior, who brought in a record 123,000 viewers.
It seems that SM Entertainment’s partnership with Beyond LIVE is paving the way for the future of live performance in the music industry. Worldwide K-pop group BTS followed SM’s lead by offering their own real-time concert experience Bang Bang Con: The Live, the title being a reference to the group’s earlier streaming event of their past recorded concerts. Forbes estimates that the live, 90-minute event raised an estimated revenue of just under $20 million. With technology surrounding AR effects and fan interaction continuing to develop, it is possible these virtual concerts will change the way live music is consumed even post-COVID-19.