2019 In Review: The Year In Asia

AP Photo / Chris Pizzello
– Boys With Luv
BTS performs at the 2019 KIIS-FM Jingle Ball concert at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Dec. 6.

South Korea continued to be the international center of the Asian music business in 2019 as K-pop soared on the wings of BTS, which embarked on one of the most lucrative world tours of the year. 

The money is being reinvested domestically in a bold showing of Kpop power in the form of new large-scale concert venue development. In January, the Seoul city government announced that the proposed Seoul Arena, which seats 18,400, would be completed in the northern Chang-dong section of the capital by 2024. In September, the city government of Seoul announced it would invest more than $400 million in the scheme, which in the meantime had become more focused on nine projects to cultivate the local music industry, develop musical exchanges with other global cities and expand music programs for Seoul residents. The scope of the endeavor was broadened to embrace traditional Korean music forms and indie pop and rock. A center devoted exclusively to traditional music will be built by 2022, and various marketing schemes will be put in place to promote indie artists. 

As a footnote, the current vice president of Wu-Tang Management, who is the child of Korean immigrants in the U.S., has said he plans to build a Wu-Tang Clan-themed park in Seoul.

Despite K-pop’s overwhelming success, South Korea’s entertainment world was roiled by a series of sex and drug scandals that ended the careers of some very big stars as well as led to the resignation of Yang Hyun-suk, the founder of YG Entertainment Inc., one of South Korea’s biggest artist management companies. 

Though Chinese consumers are among the hungriest in the world for live concerts and sporting events, logistical and legal problems continue to plague the events industry. Dodgy promotional and ticketing scams are fairly common, with underworld organizations often involved, targeting fans and ticket vendors alike.  

German electronic music superstar Zedd will apparently never be able to perform again in China, after the DJ “liked” a tweet by the American animated comedy series, “South Park,” which ran an episode that mocked China’s censorship laws. 

Johnny Kitagawa, the 87-year-old president and founder of Johnny & Associates, one of Japan’s biggest talent agencies, died in June after suffering a stroke. Since the 1970s, Johnny managed the bulk of Japan’s most popular boy bands and solo male idols. 

Southeast Asia became a huge market for live performances in 2019, especially in the area of electronic music festivals. Along with the demand for tickets has come a simmering problem of resale scams, which the Singapore police, in particular, have found difficult to control. 

One unfortunate development of the soaring popularity of live music shows in Southeast Asia has been censorship by religious groups who disapprove of certain artistic expression. Entertainers in Indonesia protested a draft law that would ban “blasphemous” and “pornographic” music content in the country. More than 100 protesters rallied in the streets of Bogor, a city near Jakarta, in February demanding the draft bill be scrapped. 

It’s not clear if religion was behind a security crackdown on rainbow flags at a Troye Sivan concert in Singapore May 3. Sivan is openly gay and talked about his experience of coming out during the concert, prompting some audience members to unfurl a rainbow banner in support. Security guards immediately told them to put it away. The same thing happened to another group of fans in the venue.

The guards justified their actions by saying the banners blocked the view of other audience members, but one concertgoer told media that it wasn’t just flags that were confiscated. Anything with a rainbow pattern was taken. Same-sex relations in Singapore are illegal. There are no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the city-state.