K-Pop’s Star Turn: BTS Tour Reaches Stratospheric Heights

Speaking and loving:
Photo courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment
– Speaking and loving:
BTS rocks one of two sold-out shows at Soldier Field in Chicago May 11-12, which grossed $13.3 million combined. The band is propelling K-pop to never-before-seen visibility after a wildly successful international stadium tour.

BTS has reported numbers from 12 stadium shows across six cities in Europe, South America and North America, showing huge demand for the K-pop group.

The May 4 through June 8 stadium run was titled “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” – a follow-up to the 2018 “Love Yourself” tour – and grossed a whopping $78.8 million from 606,409 tickets sold, according to Pollstar Boxoffice data.

The biggest gross came at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., May 4-5, with $16.6 million reported. London’s Wembley Stadium stand June 1-2 moved the most tickets, with 114,583 stubs reported ($13.5 million grossed). The other markets were Paris (107,328 tickets sold; $13.4 million grossed); Sao Paulo (84,728; $7.9 million); East Rutherford, N.J. (98,574; $14.1 million); and Chicago (88,156; $13.3 million).

The “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour was promoted by Live Nation in conjunction with Big Hit Entertainment, BTS’s management company, excluding the Japanese dates. Live Nation also promoted the European and Asian legs (except Japan) of 2018’s world tour, which mixed stadiums and arenas. 

And BTS isn’t done. At press time, BTS was in the midst of a four-show Japanese run, with gigs at Osaka’s Yanmar Stadium Nagai July 6-7 and Shizuoka’s Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa July 13-14. More shows have been promised.

The production on the live show is elaborate, with stage design including giant replicas of jaguars and Greek columns, giant LED screens switching between the group’s seven members, and top-notch choreography to match the feverish fandom. The group also led Pollstar’s LIVE75 chart for the week of July 1, averaging 51,106 tickets sold per show. 

In terms of recorded music, BTS has claimed the No. 1 spot on Pollstar’s Elite 100 Artists chart twice in the last year: once for the week ending Aug. 30, 2018, after the release of the album Love Yourself: Answer, and again for the week ending April 18, after the release of the Map Of The Soul: Persona EP.

While the group’s music draws on Eastern and Western influences – many songs incorporate English phrases and words into mainly Korean lyrics – BTS is part of an overseas wave, with groups like Monsta X, Blackpink, EXO and NCT all originating in South Korea and now poised to build big followings in the U.S. 

Natalie Morin of Refinery29, a digital media outlet focused primarily on young women, has followed and written about K-pop for years and says BTS’s international and domestic success is having a major impact on the industry. 

“People are starting to look to them and try to figure out what they did right and try to follow the same steps and learn from BTS,” Morin said. “A lot of people are trying to figure out the right formula, the best way to position themselves.”

Morin explains that K-pop is often used as a catch-all term for music from South Korea but, similar to how popular music in the West bends and mixes different genres, K-pop encompasses a broad spectrum of artists who draw on R&B, hip-hop and pop influences and the acts shouldn’t be thought of monolithically because domestically they certainly aren’t. And BTS has demonstrated that opportunities exist to carve out niches internationally. 

BlackPink On Red:
– BlackPink On Red:
Blackpink took on one of the U.S.’s largest festivals when it played Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival April 12. The group visited North America, Europe, Australia and Asia on its 2019 world tour.

The girl group Blackpink reported box office data for two dates from its eight-show North American run earlier this year: April 24 at Rosemont, Ill.’s Allstate Arena (11,417 tickets sold; $1.8 million grossed) and May 5 at Duluth, Ga.’s Infinite Energy Center (9,180; $1.5 million). Other stops on Blackpink’s 2019 world tour included both weekends of Coachella; London’s SSE Arena, Wembley; Amsterdam’s AFAS Live; Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena; and three gigs at Bangkok’s IMPACT Arena.

BigBang, the group of G-Dragon, who is commonly referred to as the “King of K-pop,” hasn’t staged a global stadium tour as large as “Speak Yourself,” but the group did rake in $5.3 million across three shows at Cotai Arena At The Venetian in Macau, China, Oct. 23-25, 2015. BigBang also reported multiple grosses above $1 million in the U.S. and Mexico that year. In 2016, BigBang brought in $6.3 million over three nights at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. G-Dragon himself went on a headline tour of North America, Europe and Australia in 2017, reporting more than $1 million grossed at shows in San Jose, Calif.; Inglewood, Calif.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Toronto; and Paris.

One K-pop group testing the waters is Got7, which on July 10 concluded a five-city Live Nation tour that hit arenas in Newark, N.J; Toronto; Dallas; Los Angeles; and Oakland, Calif. Got7 played North American theaters in 2016 and headlined five North American arenas in July 2018, including Inglewood, Calif.’s The Forum ($1.3 million grossed) and Brooklyn, N.Y.’s 
Barclays Center ($1.2 million). 

In 2019, 68 U.S. venues to date have hosted K-pop concerts and fans from 50 countries have traveled to the U.S to catch those shows, according to recent data from ticketing marketplace Vivid Seats. The research also indicated that California and Texas are the biggest states for K-pop, with Los Angeles being the No. 1 large market for K-pop tickets and Fresno, Calif.,the No. 1 medium market; and the genre’s popularity is growing fastest in major markets such as Chicago and L.A. Per Vivid Seats, while demand for K-pop tickets has increased by 1,700% since 2015, thanks to acts such as Blackpink and NCT 127, nothing yet compares to BTS’s business.

Much of BTS’s rise was because of its music, Morin said, as the group, formed in 2013, has expanded its original hip-hop focus to incorporate R&B and pop, with songs that address universal themes, from generational disconnects to learning to love oneself.  

“They make good music that appeals to a lot of people,” Morin said. “They were doing something different from the beginning. They were very active on social media and making sure, early on, that people got to know their music, their performance, their persona and got to know them as guys. I think the relatable, human element of BTS has been a through line in their work over the past six years.”

Social media is a major point of connection between the group and its army of fans: the largest of BTS’ official accounts on Twitter boast more than 15 million followers; more than 9 million people follow BTS’s Facebook page; and its Instagram has 19.5 million followers.

Morin also said another reason for the group’s rise is simply because the conditions were ripe for one act to break out of South Korea and onto a global stage, as “the market was primed for something different and something disruptive.”

As with touring, no K-pop act has seen the same degree of success as BTS in recorded music internationally, though Blackpink hit No. 41 on the Elite 100 Artists chart for the week ending April 11, with 6,200 album sales, 29,600 song sales and 20 million on-demand streams after releasing the Kill This Love EP.  

Of course, all this international business doesn’t speak to the numbers K-pop groups post domestically or in Japan and China. 

Morin credits much of BTS’s success to Big Hit Entertainment and its founder Bang Si-Hyuk, who has been laying groundwork for long-term success for years and “really gets what works for a Korean audience and what works for a Western audience, how you should position yourself for a different market.” 

As the South Korean music industry evolves, Morin said newer companies like Big Hit and CJ E&M are becoming major players, while traditional powers like YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and SM Entertainment have lost what was once tight control of the industry.  

The promoting titans are certainly looking at K-pop in the long term. Live Nation has an office in Seoul and has been bringing K-pop acts abroad since Big Bang and 2NE1 hit the global road in 2012, according to Jared Braverman, Live Nation’s SVP of touring. “We expect continued growth in this genre across the globe for many years to come. BTS have really helped to shine a spotlight in the mainstream media on the K-pop genre as a whole,” Braverman told Pollstar.

AEG Asia CEO Adam Wilkes recently told Forbes he is now largely concentrating on expanding the company’s operations in South Korea, because, “some of the titans of global industry are based out of [Seoul].”

Morin suggested some gatekeepers might be late to the K-pop party because of old conceptions about foreignness and language barriers. 

“It’s interesting that people are so baffled by the international rise of K-pop. People get stuck on the fact that it seems foreign, and think ‘Why would you listen to something that’s not in your native language?’ … The rising generation isn’t as concerned with that.

“There’s translators who volunteer their time, around the world, to translate content into other languages. The community of people wanting to support others in their fandom is so strong because it’s such a positive thing in peoples’ lives. That’s really what’s driving K-pop’s proliferation.”