K-pop boy group NCT 127 performed a virtual concert, "Beyond the Origin," as part of SM Entertainment and Naver's Beyond LIVE concert series.
The event managed to bring all of the magic of an in-person concert, allowing the performers and fans to connect with each other.
The event makes a strong case for virtual entertainment and fandom's willingness to embrace it.
NCT 127 spoke with Insider about their most recent concert and album.
On Saturday night, I was getting ready for a K-pop concert. Usually, that involves determining my concert 'fit well in advance, playing purse Tetris to get my essential belongings (phone, portable charger, lipstick) in a bag small enough to get into a stadium, and taking pictures with my friends before we hop into a car to deal with time-consuming event parking. This time, however, I was sitting on my couch alone in sweatpants at 1 a.m., drinking tea, and watching YouTube videos to pass the time until K-pop group NCT 127's virtual "Beyond the Origin" concert began at 2 a.m. ET.
"Beyond the Origin" was livestreamed virtually on South Korean live streaming platform V Live on May 17 at 3 p.m. KST. The result of a partnership between SM Entertainment and Korean search engine Naver, Beyond LIVE has pulled in artists ranging from K-pop supergroup SuperM to legends like TVXQ and Super Junior. NCT 127's concert drew in 104,000 paid viewers from 129 different countries, and #NCT127_BeyondLIVE trended at number one worldwide on Twitter.
The immersive experience shows what successful live concerts could look like going forward in the new pandemic age.
"Beyond the Origin" was a technology forward virtual concert that helped fans connect with NCT 127
"Beyond the Origin" featured performances from NCT 127 group members Taeyong, Taeil, Johnny, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan, accompanied by spectacular AR elements like a giant golden dragon that flew around the screen during the group's recent single "Kick It" or a stunning virtual highway setting during the performance of "Highway to Heaven." At the same time, the concert was "unexpectedly intimate," as The Korea Herald's Kwon Yae-rim noted. Video feeds of fans — called NCTzens, or sometimes Tizennies (pronounced "seasonies" in English) — from around the world filled the screens both in front of and behind NCT 127 at points throughout the show. The group occasionally read comments from the live chat, even taking a few fan questions at one point during the show.
That virtual intimacy was the concert's greatest achievement. "Beyond the Origin" affected me — a formerly casual NCT 127 listener — in the same way that seeing a group live for the first time typically has in the past: it sent me spiraling deep into a fandom rabbit hole, determined to prolong the concert high and learn as much about the group as possible in the days after. After two hours of watching NCT 127 perform, interact with fans, and have what looked like a total blast on the virtual stage, I've spent the past week consuming as much of NCT 127's discography as humanly possible.
For NCT 127, performing virtually allowed the group to connect with fans during a difficult time
"Beyond the Origin" was an internationally focused effort from the get-go, with the concert kicking off with "Cherry Bomb" (performed in Korean), "Chain" (performed in Japanese), and "Regular" (performed in English). The group then proceeded to introduce themselves in seven different languages — Doyoung in Chinese, Taeil in Thai, Yuta in Japanese, Jungwoo and Taeyong in Korean, Jaehyun and Mark in English, Haechan in Indonesian, and Johnny in Spanish.
"I was really excited that we could connect with our fans all over the world at the exact same time," Jungwoo told Insider. "It was exciting knowing that there were going to be a lot of people tuning in from all over."
The group debuted its new single, "Punch," during the concert, two days ahead of its official release on May 19 as part of repackaged album "NCT #127 Neo Zone: The Final Round." An energetic single that comes out of the gate with a strong synth hook, "Punch" is about "overcoming loneliness and achieving an impressive victory," said Jaehyun.
As much as the Beyond LIVE concert was rooted in the group's performances of familiar songs like "Wake Up" or "Baby Don't Like It," it was also about connecting with fans and having a plain good time. The group read feedback from NCTzens in real time as they reacted to new songs like "Make Your Day," a vocal ballad, and "Punch;" they later took questions from three different fans from South Korea, the United States, and Japan.
"Before the show, I was honestly a bit worried about us putting on a full, fun, and enjoyable show for our fans," Yuta said. "But seeing all the faces of our fans across the many screens, hearing their cheers and screams was pretty great. I actually felt a huge wave of energy from it all, and I hope everyone who tuned into the show felt the same."
"The fact that we had the chance to meet and interact with our fans all across the globe at the same time was awesome," Taeil also said.
The group also noted, however, that performing in a virtual concert presented unique challenges. Paying careful attention to the camera was twice as important given that it was the sole medium between the performers and fans. "We didn't get to see our fans in-person, but we tried our best to work with the cameras and make it seem like our fans were there — as if we were making direct eye contact with them," Haechan said.
For certain members of the group, this wasn't their first Beyond LIVE concert: Mark and Taeyong are both members of SuperM, SM Entertainment's hybrid supergroup that performed on April 24, and Haechan performed with NCT Dream on May 10. "Because I had done it once before, the second time around I felt much more natural on stage," Taeyong said.
"Each stage felt very different for me," said Mark, who raps in both NCT 127 and SuperM. "I think that participating in both teams brings out the versatility within me, and makes me want to perform harder for every stage."
NCT 127 has already been connecting with fans online, both before and during the pandemic, with livestreams and original content
The group's members have been regularly interacting with fans on social media, whether it's on Twitter or via casual livestreams on their V Live channel. Leading up to NCT 127's most recent comeback with "Punch," the group put out two episodes of "The Late Punch Punch Show" on YouTube, a late night-esque skit that saw members of the group playing children's' instruments while Doyoung and Jungwoo hosted interview subjects (also members of the group). In mid-April, Johnny and Mark released a short body-swap skit titled, "Freaky Handshake."
"The content we put out, a lot of the time starts off as jokes," Johnny said. "When we're together we like to have a lot of fun, but sometimes we think, 'Wow this is actually really funny, we should make this into something…' We pitch the concept to the [content] team, and talk through how we're going to shoot it. I think that is the reason a lot of the things we put out are very natural and we have fun filming them as well."
That kind of process allows the group's personality to shine through — in an episode of "Johnny's Communication Center," Johnny's recurring vlog series, he and Mark go behind-the-scenes of making "Freaky Handshake," revealing an off-the-cuff process filled with plenty of laughs along the way.
"Beyond the Origin" proved that virtual concerts can affect fans in similar ways as live events
While live events are incredibly compelling, NCT 127's "Beyond the Origin" concert made a strong case for the power of virtual entertainment. A large part of that was due to the technology that allowed for near-constant feedback from the audience, ranging from chat boxes to live cheers. At one point during the concert, fans connected to the system were cheering so loudly that the group asked for the volume to be turned down. During another, Mark asked a fan from Kansas if she was calling in from her kitchen. It was that kind of organic interaction that made "Beyond the Origin" feel like a two-way street, mimicking the in-person concert atmosphere.
Watching the concert (and following along with the fandom on Twitter throughout), I still felt like I was part of a collective experience. Other artists have also leveraged that fandom sentiment: aside from the other SM Entertainment artists performing as part of the Beyond LIVE series, Korean group BTS also hosted Bang Bang Con, a two-day event during which fans were able to collectively experience the group's pre-recorded concerts through a free YouTube livestream that drew over 50 million viewers. The group also will host a livestreamed concert titled "Bang Bang Con: The Live Concert" on June 14.
On a personal level, "Beyond the Origin" managed to deliver on all of my favorite parts of the concert experience, particularly in the small, in-the-moment interactions between artists and fans. While I went in as someone with an average knowledge of NCT 127's discography, I came out enamored with the group and more than ready to fully stan.
Ultimately, the power of these events is testament to the connections between artists and fans. "Even though we're sad that we cannot meet in person, I've always been thinking that we're still together, close in our hearts — I had the same mindset during our Beyond LIVE show as well," Doyoung said.
"Nothing can beat the magic that appears when we are together, right?" Mark said.
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