SEOUL — Elated fans of BTS gathered on Thursday for the K-pop group’s first live concert in South Korea in over two years, an event that was expected to draw as many as 15,000 people — despite Covid restrictions that barred cheering, screaming or singing.
“It still feels like a dream,” said Park Hyunjun, 40, a freelance video producer from the city of Incheon, west of Seoul. Outside Seoul Olympic Stadium on Thursday, she held a poster bearing 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 band’s last concert in their home country, in October 2019. The multibillion-dollar act performed live in Los Angeles in November, but for most of the pandemic it has been livestreaming instead.
In 2020, the group set a Guinness world record for attracting the most viewers for a livestreamed music concert. The pandemic did not only pause the band’s live concerts: Five of BTS’s seven members have been infected with the coronavirus. They have since recovered from Covid-19.
The concert Thursday, the largest approved by the South Korean government since the pandemic began, was taking place amid an Omicron wave that has driven caseloads in the country to unprecedented highs. On Thursday, the health authorities reported 327,549 new daily cases. But the government, which says the country must learn to live with the virus, has been loosening some restrictions.
In and around the stadium on Thursday, 750 safety personnel were enforcing virus protocols, muting the festivities somewhat.
“Please get moving once you’re done taking pictures,” fans taking group photos in front of the stadium’s entrance were told. “Please keep your distance to prevent the spread of Covid.”
Fans’ temperatures were being taken before they entered the stadium. Rapid antigen kits were being made available for people with high temperatures, said the band’s agency, Hybe. And concertgoers had to enter through designated entrances, and during specific time slots, so they would not flow in all at once.
Fans were also prohibited from cheering, screaming or singing along during the concert, and they had to keep their masks on, except to drink water. And attendance at the stadium, which can seat about 70,000 people, was being limited to 15,000.
“I’m curious what kind of atmosphere there will be with everyone masked and no one screaming,” said Yu Haram, 17, who has followed the band for four years and was about to see them live for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic, Ms. Yu said, she had followed the band online, sometimes gathering with her classmates to watch livestreams together. “I’m finally seeing them,” she said, “and I’m nervous.”
The concert was the first of a three-day series, with more scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. It was being livestreamed for people who couldn’t attend in person.
Yang Ji-woong, 15, said he had listened to the BTS 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 I can.”