By Justine Irish D. Tabile
JANEL SUMMER SISON, a 26-year-old civil engineer from Manila, flew to Bangkok on Oct. 1 to watch the concert of K-pop group Seventeen, her first trip in three years amid a coronavirus pandemic.
This was after she failed to get a ticket — sales started as early as July — to the group’s performance in the Philippine capital, where the South Korean stars did their concert leg a week earlier.
“I’d rather watch a concert in another country,” Ms. Sison said in an Instagram message. “As much as the Philippine crowd is iconic, the first step — ticketing — is too stressful, not to mention confusing.”
A global coronavirus pandemic forced concerts, operas, ballets and plays to cancel at the last minute starting in 2020 because of high coronavirus transmission rates among performers and diving audience numbers, especially amid concerns over the Omicron variant in the latter part of 2021.
The concert scene here and overseas appears to be back, with a lust for life, after most countries eased lockdowns and learned to live with the virus at the start of 2022.
It used to be that a frustrated fan travels abroad to watch a concert if their favorite artist or group skipped their country as one of the stops in a tour.
Some Filipinos appear to be skipping the local concert scene altogether to avoid the hassles of local ticketing policy or to simply go on a music holiday.
“Ticket prices are carefully studied by organizers to provide the best possible show while maintaining reasonable prices,” Arnel C. Gonzales, general manager and senior assistant vice-president at the SM Mall of Asia’s Arena Management and Promotions, said in a Viber message.
“SM Mall of Asia Arena’s principle of partnership with its content partners and promoters makes these world-class acts to be within reach of Filipinos locally and help promote tourism by hosting these top-notch events.”
Ms. Sison begs to disagree, citing her frustrating experience in trying — and failing — to get a ticket from Live Nation, the local concert organizer for Seventeen.
Live Nation did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
“After the ticketing experience in the Philippines, I realized that it was better to watch Seventeen overseas, especially if you want to travel,” she said.
“Luckily we got them, since the ticketing system in Thailand is better, with more available seats and less queueing,” she added.
Tickets for Seventeen’s three-hour “Be the Sun” concert in Manila cost P2,900 for a general admission seat and as much as P18,450 for a VIP seat with a soundcheck perk.
In Thailand, ticket prices cost 1,800 baht (P2,857) to 6,500 baht. In Singapore, VIP seats with the soundcheck perk cost S$348 (P14,186) and 3.5 million rupiahs (P12,400) in Indonesia.
“Filipino fans choose to attend concerts because they want the experience of meeting their idols in person even if their seats are too far from the stage,” University of the Philippines sociologist Samuel I. Cabbuag said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
Going overseas to watch their idols perform live also makes sense to them even if most people would consider this extreme.
“Some also attend concerts to meet fellow fans, possibly internet friends they haven’t met in real life,” Mr. Cabbuag said. “It adds to that enjoyment that they get to form connections with their internet friends.”
The Philippines had the third-most K-pop fans — higher than South Korea and behind Indonesia and Japan, according to Twitter K-pop data from 2021.
Ric Charles Jordan Cayat, a 26-year-old job training expert from Manila who flew with Ms. Sison to Bangkok to watch Seventeen’s live performance, said he didn’t have that much interest in concerts before the global pandemic.
“During the lockdowns, I mainly watched recorded performances of my favorite artists, which probably increased my appetite for the real thing,” he said in an Instagram message. “I also wanted to confirm that my K-pop idols are real people.”
Cherish Aileen A. Brillon, a professor from the UP College of Mass Communications, said most fans develop a “parasocial relationship” with their idols — they have come to consider them as friends despite having no or limited interactions with them.
“Concerts attract fans because they offer a feast for their eyes and are an expression of their idols’ talents,” she said. “There is also an affective aspect to it since in watching concerts, we feel like we are closer to them than what we thought was possible.”
“I think money is sometimes not an issue to those who can afford it,” Ms. Brillon said. “Sometimes, what you’re allowed to see of the musicians depends on the money you can shell out.”
Mr. Cayat’s group paid P8,950 each for the Bangkok gig, though their seats were as close as a seated VIP spot at the Mall of Asia Arena, he said.
They also paid P10,000 each for the round-trip tickets plus P3,000 for their four-night stay at the Narawad Boutique Hotel inside Bangkok’s city center.
“If given the chance, I would do it again,” Mr. Cayat said. “While it was a bit more expensive because of the airfare, the experience made it worthwhile.”
Ms. Sison, the civil engineer, said the concert area in Bangkok was filled with fellow Filipino K-pop fans “maybe because we all thought the ticketing system in the Philippines was hopeless.”
“We felt a different energy from our idols because it’s been a while since they performed live in front of an audience,” she said.
“To be in that moment with your idols, friends and fellow fans all enjoying the music, dancing and shouting — plus crying — is definitely a core memory,” she added.
“Also, we’ll never know what will happen in the future. The pandemic taught us to grab every opportunity there is. Watch a concert while it’s there.”