I attended a Kpop concert on Roblox. Here’s how it’s changing stan culture as we know it – Screen Shot
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I attended a Kpop concert on Roblox. Here’s how it’s changing stan culture as we know it

If you’ve ever fallen into the unhinged chasm that is Kpop and emerged as a soft, hard, or multi-stan from the other end, chances are that you’ve always wanted to indulge yourself in the countless multimedia experiences offered by the music genre. More specifically, concerts. For many enthusiasts however, a wall projector and a BTS Jungkook figurine taped to a string were the closest they’d ever get to attending a show… until online gaming platform Roblox entered the chat.

Once synonymous with role-playing games like Adopt Me!, Roblox is now witnessing the rise of concert companies, entertainment agencies, and Kpop idols—with avatars, outfits, discography, and dance routines emulating their favourite real-life groups. Here, fans can be seen curating stages, and hosting shows and even world tours while Roblox trainees spend days at a stretch prepping for their debut.

As someone who’s never attended a Kpop concert despite being a multi-stan since 2017, my first brush with the pixelated rendition of the genre came from the depths of TikTok. Set to TWICE’s ‘Alcohol-Free’ and NewJeans’ chart-topping ‘OMG’, the clips featured avatars flooring routines in front of a live audience. 20 TikToks into #robloxkpop, I craved to experience a fandom-fronted concert hosted on the gaming platform.

And that’s exactly how I found myself wrecking my keyboard to type fanchants and become a digital paparazzi for my bias in ReVe (styled after the five-member girl group Red Velvet) on Roblox.

The feral highs and robotic lows of digital concerts

Although all of the tickets including VIP, general admission, and obstructed view are free of cost for most Roblox concerts, the experience at its core is designed to echo their physical counterparts. In ReVe’s case, the free VIP passes to their show were sold out in a matter of seconds.

As soon as I spawned into the experience on the day of the concert, I was greeted by jumping silhouettes in front of an impressive stage set at a distance. “If it’s an original stage, like the ReVe concert stage, we first come up with a design idea or sometimes just play around on Roblox Studio until something good comes out of it,” explained Al, the CEO of Roblox concert company and entertainment agency Sweetener Events and Sweetener Entertainment respectively.

On the other hand, if the set is a recreation of an existing, real-life stage, Al mentioned that Sweetener Events’ creative team spends considerable time taking screenshots of videos and digging up pictures of its details before building the same. “We host rehearsals to make sure everything works—including lifts, screens, lights, and effects,” he continued. The results are some of the finest productions in line with Roblox’s ideology of “powering imagination.”

In terms of the actual performances, I was surprised to witness the full range of motion in Roblox’s LEGO-like avatars. Be it the dynamic poses in ‘Psycho’ or the smooth footwork in ‘Zimzalabim’, all five members of ReVe—managed under Sweetener Entertainment—nailed choreographies down to their ending fairies.

Coupled with backup dancers, confetti, fan interactions, and a camera, their sequences exuded stage presence to form one of the best digital experiences the Kpop fandom can offer today.

Sure, if you’ve attended a real-life concert before, it’s easy to nitpick at a few details. For instance, if an avatar has long hair, it remains static throughout the show and occasionally covers other characters. Similarly, if the dance moves require members to sit on the stage, chances are that they would glitch halfway into the ground. The Captain Hook hands don’t help the case either.

That being said, it should be noted that the idols on stage are not scripted bots. While the dance routines and music can be credited to both in-game features and Discord, the performances still require users to practise formations, lyrics, and outfit changes. “There was a lot of thought and effort put into our show,” Rene, the Roblox idol styled after Red Velvet’s Irene, told SCREENSHOT.

“All of the formations and lyrics took about a week to carefully prepare, and it took us a total of three to four days for rehearsals to make sure we could give ReVeLuvs (our fans) the best performance possible.” Considering that their sync was off the charts on-stage, ReVe’s commitment undoubtedly paid off.

Liberation in the age of digital fandoms

In my chat with Al, the CEO admitted that he used to work for an Ariana Grande Roblox group as a light tech before focusing on his own venture over the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was really fun to recreate real-life events in Roblox, and at a time when concerts weren’t able to be held in person, it was great to entertain everyone’s quarantine,” he said.

Out of all the concerts Sweetener Events has hosted in the past, Al’s favourite remains the TWICE 4th World Tour held in collaboration with Venus Entertainment and the opening night of the BORN PINK World Tour. “Both of these shows did extremely well in terms of attendance (around 200 in each server) and they were so fun to prepare.”

Another defining factor of the experience is the community gathered on Sweetener Events’ Discord server—where members are encouraged to share their database of concert screenshots, give game suggestions, and report technical issues and trolls.

Somewhere between finding lifelong internet besties and attending concerts on Roblox together, the community is redefining the concept of a digital-first fandom. It is also this environment that has birthed infinite possibilities for fans to engage with the Kpop industry as creators—without the physical burden of performing. But this hasn’t stopped Sweetener Events from chasing perfection during its rare audition process.

“We allow people to dance and sing to one song of a list we put out previously,” Al explained. “They need to know how to do lyrics (for one member only) and move to the respective dance forms all while the lyrics are on-time and don’t tag—which is when Roblox sends ‘####’ messages instead of certain words.”

On the other end of the conversation, ReVe members admitted that their hustle as Roblox artists is now a natural part of their routine. “Daily life as an idol [is something that] I find easy,” said Jess, styled after Red Velvet’s Joy. “I’ve been doing it for over two years, so I find it manageable to balance my personal life with my idol life. I know how to equally split it and do the things I want to do within both.”

ReVe idol Choo, Yeri’s Roblox counterpart, also noted that the group has never witnessed any disputes between members. “We enjoy working with each other to create and practise the performances we give you, and if there’s something that is bothering someone, we would open up and try to work on them.” According to the star, it’s easier to solve issues in a virtual environment—given that they can take their own time to learn things and review each other’s opinions, be it in terms of formations or practice hours.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses in the geometric world of Roblox idols. When it comes to listing hurdles faced by the stars, an unstable internet connection barely scratches the surface. “One of the biggest challenges I’m faced with is probably talking to people about it being one of my hobbies,” admitted Pepsi, the idol behind ReVe’s Seulgi.

“It’s not exactly something that people will find interesting—they would most likely question why I do it. If I tell them I can’t meet up with them because I have a Roblox concert, they would probably make fun of me.”

Virtual idols and the divisive future of Kpop

Although South Korean music has witnessed the rise of digital idols since the late 90s, the phenomenon didn’t grip the rest of Kpop until the 2010s. Be it fully AI-generated girl groups like ETERN!TY and K/DA, or partly virtual groups including aespa and SUPERKIND, the technology is hailed as the revolutionary realm of an industry that is otherwise plagued with scandals, mistreatment, mental distress, and exploitative contracts.

However, the artists continue to polarise opinions. Pointing out Kpop’s toxic affair with plastic surgery, weight control, and gruelling training schedules, some fans believe that the innovation is subjecting real-life groups to further unrealistic standards. At the end of the day, they believe virtual idols are incapable of building connections as strong as their physical peers—with whom audiences share the same human tribulations.

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What separates Roblox idols from the former narrative is the fact that they are fandom-centric, with the broad purpose of making Kpop a decentralised form of entertainment. “In the way we’re using it, I would say we’re trying to reach out to more people for them to have fun experiences [related to] their favourite artists, and attend concerts, fan meets, fan signs and award shows,” Al said, highlighting that the events are merely a new venue to enjoy Kpop and make the industry more accessible.

At the same time, he believes that Roblox’s potential to house a completely virtual idol can’t be ruled out. “Just look at MAVE:, they’re AI-generated and the popularity they’re gaining is insane,” he noted. Ultimately however, Al sees Roblox concerts as an enhancement rather than a fully-blown replacement for physical experiences. “I still think nothing beats a concert in real-life, the vibes are just different.”

Five years down the line, Al visualises Sweetener Events and Sweetener Entertainment delivering bigger events without him at the helm. “I have been getting busier with college and my personal life, and I do pretty good at balancing it, but I do think I’m getting to an age where the motivation is slowly fading away.”

As for those who are interested in debuting as a Kpop idol on Roblox themselves, Sarah—Wendy’s Roblox peer—had this to say: “Have basic knowledge of what it means to be an idol, know the use of lyrics, and practise them. Be capable, have enough time to dedicate yourself to [the experience], and have fun!”

So if you, like me, constantly gaslight yourself into believing you’re attending a concert while streaming fancams on YouTube, I recommend giving Roblox a whirl. You’ll be fine as long as your laptop doesn’t start smelling like a heap of burnt plastic.

Inside BTS ARMY’s plans to boycott South Korea until the band returns from military service

On Saturday 15 October 2022, global Kpop sensation BTS performed their ‘Yet to Come’ concert at the Asiad Main Stadium in Busan, South Korea. Drawing over 55,000 fans, the 90-minute event was free and livestreamed on both Weverse and South Korean television, and was organised in support of Busan’s bid to host the World City Expo in 2030.

While the concert briefly captured the legacy of the biggest boy band in the world and proved to be a reminder of their fierce hard work and sincerity—with all seven members lingering to look at the Yoon-iverse they built together—it also raised questions about whether the event could be the group’s final on-stage bow, and what the future holds for them following the 16 June announcement of their temporary hiatus to focus on solo projects.

Less than 48 hours after the concert, on Monday 17 October, BTS’ label and management company BIGHIT Music broke the news that all seven boys of the supergroup will be serving in the South Korean military—starting with the oldest member Kim Seokjin (Jin) in late October. “Both the company and the members of BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment,” the HYBE-owned agency further detailed in its Twitter statement.

Military service is mandatory in South Korea, where almost all able-bodied men are required to serve in the army for a minimum of 18 months by the time they are 28 years old as part of the country’s efforts to defend itself against its nuclear-armed neighbour, North Korea. Some citizens, however, have won exemptions or served shorter terms, including Olympics and Asian Games medal winners and classical musicians and dancers. To date, over 170 athletes and 280 performers have qualified for the exemption.

On these terms, when Jin turned 28 back in 2020, the South Korean government offered the member a two-year delay for enlistment in recognition of BTS’ efforts in “enhancing Korea’s international image.” He was one of the first Kpop stars to be offered such a reprieve. According to BIGHIT Music, the agency has long been looking to time the boy group’s military service “to respect the needs of the country and for these healthy young men,” and said that the time was “now.”

“Group member Jin will initiate the process as soon as his schedule for his solo release is concluded at the end of October. He will then follow the enlistment procedure of the Korean government,” the label said, adding that “other members of the group plan to carry out their military service based on their own individual plans.”

While the announcement tumbled ARMYs into a heartbreaking spiral, certain moments from the band’s recent ‘Yet to Come’ concert felt even more poignant upon rewatching. A part of the fandom took to Twitter and highlighted how the term isn’t that long when compared to western artists who take whopping seven year breaks from the limelight. Meanwhile, others quickly dubbed themselves “military wives” and started churning memes about each member serving in the army. A parallel trend also witnessed fans manifesting a monetary chance at grabbing their coveted concert tickets in 2025.

I swear, ARMYs are so unserious that it’s hard to stay in the uncertain rabbit hole of spending the next few years minus OT7 (One True 7, referring to all seven members of the group) without letting out a breathy chuckle along the way.

At the other end of the discourse, however, some fans have publicised their views on “boycotting South Korea” until the boys return home from their mandatory military enlistment in 2025. These claims majorly stem from the projections that, according to analysts, between 2014 to 2023, BTS would have contributed a staggering total of $29.1 trillion to the South Korean economy in a bid to build its soft power.

According to the Hyundai Research Institute, the supergroup brought 800,000 tourists, over seven per cent of foreign visitors, into the country in 2018 and generated an estimated $1.1 billion from consumer goods exports like merchandise and cosmetics in a single year. Mind you, these numbers are before they hit global success with their chart-topping hits. As of today, in light of the band members’ military conscription, HYBE shares fell 2.5 per cent, as noted by Fortune.

“To be honest, I don’t want international ARMY to buy Korean products and consume Kpop until our boys finish their military service. I am Korean but I am not a fan of Kpop, I am a fan of BTS and I am not a fan of the Korean government. They must realise what they have done,” a Twitter user initially wrote, highlighting how the revenue from the boy band’s previous album cannot be taken by the Ministry of National Defence given that it was announced when they were civilians. “You can keep buying the album,” the user added.

Several ARMYs gathered in support under the Twitter thread. “I wanted to study in Korea but not anymore. I’ll go anywhere else. South Korea ain’t getting any of my money until BTS comes back. If we can wait for BTS, so can they,” a user wrote. “I will definitely not plan my travel to Korea until the boys are out of enlistment… but I need my Innisfree and The Face Shop or I will break out nasty,” another commented.

It should be noted that the debate has garnered some (arguably, rightful) backlash from other members of the fandom itself, who have highlighted the fact that South Korea is more than its government. “I am an ARMY, not a Kpop stan,” one admitted. “But: I will buy Korean products if I think they would benefit me, I will continue watching Kdrama as they are entertaining, eat Korean food cause 🤤, learn the language and culture because it’s interesting.”

Meanwhile, others pointed out that the boycott essentially fetishises the entire country based on one single boy band. “Imagine all these people getting mad at an entire country because of a choice BTS made,” an ARMY replied. “I don’t think it’s right to make such a blanket statement about ‘Korean products’. The Korean economy is made up of millions of people who have nothing to do with Kpop OR the government, and their livelihoods should not be adversely affected by all of this,” wrote a second.

At the same time, a parallel debate discussed the repercussions of a hypothetical timeline, where BTS is given a military exemption “with too many strings attached and milking them for a long time.” Here, ARMYs highlighted the fact that the ‘Dynamite’ hitmakers chose the path because they know what’s best for themselves. “I’m relieved they won’t be under the government’s thumb for an extended period of time, being sent to do events and whatnot when we know they’re not allowed to earn anything [while in] mandatory service,” a tweet read.

Being the torchbearers of the Hallyu Wave (the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas, and movies), the latter tweet links to the August 2022 debate when Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup spoke up about a special allowance during a parliamentary session “for BTS to be given time to practice and perform overseas after they enlist.”

“Even if they join the military, there would be a way to give them a chance to practice and perform together if there are scheduled concerts abroad,” he said. “As many people highly value [artists serving] in the military, that may help boost their popularity even more.” A report by Allkpop further noted that in the case all seven members enlist, there is a separate proposal that will allow them “temporary overseas travel and permit them to stay outside of their unit for about 120 days per year.”

Simply put, the band can still make passive income from their works that have been filmed before their enlistment (for example, any tracks they’ve pre-recorded and is set to go live while they’re serving in the army). However, they are not allowed to make money off the content filmed during their military duty. This makes the entire proposal that also suggests that the members be “allowed to hold online and offline promotion activities, including concerts in Korea and overseas, award ceremony attendance, and broadcast appearances” appear rather sketchy.

On these terms, several publications have noted the lack of details as to whether the government would be the sole beneficiary of the income earned during the time.

Back to the hypothetical situation of alternate exemptions, the possibility of the group being dragged for their exemption later on in their careers can’t be denied either. “This way nobody can ride on their tailcoats,” one summed up. As many fans continue to slam the ARMYs rallying behind the boycott for projecting a false image of the fandom, remember that 2025 is just over the horizon and the best things in the BTS universe are yet to come…