I had my first brush with K-pop, that infectious and energetic brand of music from South Korea, in the 8th grade. Indonesian friends online had recommended a group called SISTAR, with whom my 13-year-old self remained fascinated for a month before a storm wiped out LAN connectivity for a while. But the seed of curiosity remained, only to be watered by boy group BTS come 2015. While the genre’s productions (I’m not entirely sure it qualifies as one yet, though the VMAs certainly seem to think so) are musically similar to American pop, with more experimental hip hop and dance breaks thrown in between, the concert experiences, by design, are by far more theatrical, engaging and intimate.
Most popular K-pop acts have shows built for stadiums instead of smaller venues, as countries with loyal audiences (such as the US, most of Southeast Asia, and strangely, Chile) tend to sell out tickets in minutes. They know what’s in store—mesmerising choreography by the idols (and not just backup dancers), personalised fan service, games and signings before/after the show, and more. It’s difficult to satisfyingly package this kind of fanfare into a smaller venue, but India’s slowly showing that it’s not all bad. Though our concert-going population is still in its infancy, K-pop groups have shown enough star power to bring audiences not just in the Northeast (where they’ve enjoyed everyday popularity since the early 2000s) but also in major Indian cities. I regrettably missed boy group VAV’s debut performance in New Delhi this year, but there was no way I’d repeat this mistake for the second major group to come here—KARD.
The ‘Play Your KARD Right Tour’, organised by homegrown company Pinkbox Events on July 12, saw the co-ed pop group run a crisp and highly entertaining show at Talkatora Indoor Stadium. Here’s what I loved, and why these concerts are worth a visit:
K-pop is a Family, Even If You Know Nothing
I saw several first-timers at Talkatora who were befriended by long-time listeners and quickly given a briefing on lingo, fan chants, and the names of the idol performers (J.Seph, BM, Somin and Jiwoo). Light bands, seats, names and phone numbers were readily exchanged before the performance even began, and the community feeling eased the potential discomfort of a language barrier, especially for older attendees. Given the group’s renown, and the largely concert-deprived state of K-pop listeners in India, about 50 per cent of the audience had flown in from other states with uninterested family and friends, who caught onto things surprisingly quick due to this unity.
The Impeccable Fan Service
The paisa vasool sentiment is strong. Singer J.Seph delivered an endearing rendition of ‘Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai’ from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi; rapper BM popped and locked his way through Bum Diggy (it’s Delhi after all); fans were randomly called on stage in teams to play a slippery cup-stacking game. It’s not everyday you get to fist bump or be in a team huddle with your favourite celebrity, but K-pop shows bridge the gap between listener and superstar well. Before the show began, those who’d bought the Rookie-category tickets (Rs 7,000 a pop) were treated to a ‘fansign’ event with guaranteed perks like receiving photos with the idols, signed albums, and more. Since it was my first time, I’d opted for the Scouted ticket (Rs 1,800, no fansign) but my experience didn’t feel lacking in any way.
They Run A Tight yet Humble Ship
Relative to everyday India, I feel like East Asian cultures tend to prioritise punctuality better. Save for a technical difficulty or two, the show started right on time. Despite the flashy outfits and performative swagger, the idols were humble and respectful throughout the many personal chats they had with the audience, with no signs (from what I could tell) of the braggadociousness that tends to accompany global stardom. Their Korean-to-English translator wasn’t efficient when it came to enabling an accurate exchange on stage, but the idols remained patient and quickly took over matters themselves.
And of Course, the Music
This group’s got some incredible earworms that anyone who listens to pop and dance music will enjoy. The concert started with hits like ‘Don’t Recall’ and ‘Oh Na Na’ that had shot them to stardom in 2017, and ended with fiery club banger ‘Bomb Bomb’. A lot of their choreography seems inspired by Caribbean and US contemporary styles, but despite the occasional twerk or two, I liked that the co-ed group doesn’t even attempt to pitch its performers as couples. It’s no romance, and all performance. The encore was astoundingly good, with Talkatora’s seating being replaced by a calm yet exciting mosh pit by attendees.
It’s not to say that India’s K-pop scene is a perfect one. In something of a catch-22, many fans refuse to attend concerts by smaller or rookie groups, wanting to save up for when bigger acts arrive. Given that the majority are still in high school, college or fresher careers, you can't blame them for austerity. Labels, on the other hand, need proof that smaller groups or soloists have selling power, before they pull out the big guns. I’m not saying you should be forced to attend so that it propels the business, but if you’ve got a free day and are curious about experiences beyond your native language, a K-pop show’s definitely worth the ticket.