It wasn’t easy getting tickets to see the Korean pop band BTS when they stopped at the Rose Bowl back in May.
Chueyee Yang had her whole family signed in on their computers, phones and tablets and still couldn’t get through for tickets until the band announced a second show. Both shows sold out quickly, because BTS is that popular.
“Getting concert tickets for them was the worst thing ever,” says Yang, 23, who became a fan of Korean pop music, or K-pop as it’s known, while a student at Central High School.
The effort was worth it. The tickets put her on the floor, 20 rows from the stage. She spent $500 for floors seats to see the group Big Bang at Los Angeles’ Staples Center in 2015. It was her second time seeing the band (the first time was at the Honda Center in 2012) and she sort of lucked out by finding a pre-sale code on Twitter, she says.
Big in Fresno?
Yang is indicative of a growing number of K-pop fans, both in the U.S. generally and in Fresno, specifically.
As a mid-sized market, the city ranked No. 1 in the nation for K-pop ticket sales, according to data from the online ticketing marketplace Vivid Seats. Four of the top 10 cities are in California. Of the largest markets, Los Angeles, ranks No. 1 followed by Chicago and San Diego.
Overall, demand for ticket sales has increased by 1,700 percent since 2015, according to the site.
It’s for the kids
K-pop generally refers to pop music, specially from South Korean and mostly revolving around boys bands (see: BTS and Big Bang, but also Monsta X and others). It has grown to include a fashion, dance and other elements as well.
Charlie Perkins got into K-pop like many others of her age: via Youtube.
The 18-year-old Clovis High School graduate noticed the music starting to trend around 2009 and 2010 and then really hit with the release of “Gangnam Style” in 2012. The video for the song, by South Korean singer/rapper Psy, racked up more than 1 billion views on Youtube, a first for the streaming service.
It’s still one of the most viewed videos of all time.
And while K-pop is now seeing some attentions from mainstream media (BTS was on “Saturday Night Live” in April and on “Good Morning America” in May), it mostly operates outside of the traditional media boundaries on radio and television.
Fans connect with the bands and each other via Youtube, and also through K-pop conventions, stores that sell K-pop merchandise (Silkroad Gallery in Clovis, is one) and friends at school, Perkins says. She was member of a K-pop club dance group on campus and still gets together three times a week to learn the latest K-pop dances with her crew Panoramicpanic.
No language barriers here
The music, style and aesthetic appeals to a younger generation, she says, one that is less hung up by any language barriers (even if she knows some people who seek out English translations).
“The language barrier is kind of a thing for the older generation,” Perkins says.
Fresno has a large population of Asian-Americans, who might be even less bothered by the language differences, Yang says. Which could explain why the genre is so popular here, as those fans share the music with their friends, who in turn share it with others.
“So, it’s like telephone, kind of,” she says.
What’s happening with K-pop isn’t different from what’s been happening since the start of the live music industry, says Mitzi Evans, the regional director of sales and marketing with SMG, which operates the Save Mart Center.
Think Beatles or boy bands or the recent success for EDM (electronic dance music).
“We just haven’t had new music in a long time,” Evans says.
Promoters are certainly taking note, but they aren’t yet booking K-pop groups on the kind of full tours that would bring them to places like the Save Mart Center, Evans says. Instead, the bands are are doing one- or two-night runs at the largest venues — like the Rose Bowl — or at smaller venues in the largest markets — places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, or New York, Chicago.
Fresno is a B market, she says.
So, for now fans have to travel to travel to see their favorite K-pop groups until promoters see that the trend really has some staying power, she says.
“Then they’ll come do normal tours.”