SEOUL — Delighted BTS fans gathered Thursday for the K-pop group’s first live concert in South Korea in more than two years, an event that was expected to draw up to 15,000 people — despite Covid restrictions that banned cheering, shouting or singing.
“It still feels like a dream,” said Park Hyunjun, 40, an independent video producer from the city of Incheon, west of Seoul. On Thursday, outside Seoul’s Olympic Stadium, she held up a poster with the concert’s slogan: “Of course, nothing has changed between us.”
It was the first large-scale gathering of BTS fans in South Korea since the group’s last concert in their home country in October 2019. The multi-billion dollar act performed live at Los Angeles in November, but for most of the pandemic it was livestreamed instead.
In 2020, the band set a Guinness World Record for attracting the most viewers for a live music concert. The pandemic has not only interrupted the group’s live concerts: five of the seven members of BTS have been infected with the coronavirus. They have since recovered from Covid-19.
Thursday’s concert, the largest endorsed by the South Korean government since the start of the pandemic, was taking place amid an Omicron surge that has pushed the number of cases in the country to unprecedented levels. On Thursday, health authorities reported 327,549 new daily cases. But the government, which says the country must learn to live with the virus, has eased some restrictions.
On Thursday, in and around the stadium, 750 security personnel were enforcing anti-virus protocols, cutting into the festivities somewhat.
“Please move once you’ve finished taking photos,” said fans taking group photos outside the stadium entrance. “Please keep your distance to prevent the spread of Covid.”
Fans’ temperatures were taken before they entered the stadium. Rapid antigen kits were being made available to people suffering from high temperatures, the group’s agency, Hybe, said. And spectators had to enter through designated entrances and during specific time slots, so they wouldn’t all flock at once.
Fans were also prohibited from cheering, shouting or singing during the concert, and they had to keep their masks on except when drinking water. And attendance at the stadium, which seats around 70,000 people, was limited to 15,000.
“I’m curious what kind of atmosphere there will be with everyone in masks and no one shouting,” said 17-year-old Yu Haram, who has been following the group for four years and was about to see them in concert. for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic, Ms. Yu said, she had followed the group online, sometimes meeting up with classmates to watch live streams together. “I finally see them,” she said, “and I’m nervous.”
The concert was the first in a three-day series, with more scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. It was broadcast live for people who couldn’t attend in person.
Yang Ji-woong, 15, said he had been listening to BTS’s song “Mikrokosmos” throughout the pandemic alone in his room and was looking forward to seeing it live.
“I’m frankly a bit worried about Covid,” he said. “But I want to enjoy this moment as much as possible.”