Reimagining the Future of Live Entertainment

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Graphic edited by Laura Renfroe

Artists from all musical branches suffer from the continued concert postponements and cancellations as the previous multicolored stage lights dim to a world of computer screens and questions.

Laura Renfroe, Staff Writer

Swiftly readjusting her platform boots and red beret, the bright-eyed fan stepped out of her car and was immediately engulfed by waves of concert-goers, all sporting similarly lavish outfits and bedazzled lightsticks. 

The summertime energy spilled out to the very streets of the venue, the passion for music bringing together both globally renowned artists and small-town superfans alike. 

Meanwhile, the heartthrob septet warmed up backstage at the sold-out Fort Worth arena, prepping to perform in front of thousands. A makeup artist styled V’s bleach-blonde hair as he quietly hummed a few verses. The echoing chatter of the fans outside brought a smile to his face; soon the group would be on stage, the music breaking barriers and the synchronized synergy of sharp choreography forming an impression the fans would never forget.

This memory quickly faded to dark walls and bright cellular light as the quarantined fan gazed down at her phone, the words “Tour Postponed” headlining everywhere she scrolled. Heart sinking, the reality of the situation became crystal clear: she wouldn’t be attending any concerts any time soon.

It has been more than a year since Covid first impacted US daily life. Quarantine primarily brought time for productivity and personal time with citizens all over the country undergoing thorough house cleanings and taking up new hobbies, but that short-lived relief for time off warped into something much more dire as the growing pandemic concerns enforced physical distancing and global lockdowns. 

With concerts from all musical spectrums still paused or cancelled, the impact is undeniable on both music-lovers and musicians. 

Attending a concert undoubtedly feels like a fever dream: blinding memories of screaming until one’s voice goes out become stories that will stick with concert-goers for a lifetime. Concerts are not only surreal sensations, but they have proven to be both essential and nourishing for fans and artists. 

Connecting with the larger culture is an experience that ensures the bond between creators and lovers of music. This bond suddenly ripped away leaves questions and heartache amongst the entire entertainment community. 

Artists continue to frantically undertake more vigorous online presences as Covid’s ongoing uncertainty prompts further cancellations and postponements. And while online media such as virtual concerts and live streams are temporary satisfactions, concert deprivation is taking a toll on creators’ livelihood and income. Concerts are undoubtedly the most reliable source of income for musicians. 

According to Forbes, the concert industry lost over $30 billion in revenue last year due to the global pandemic. 

The concert revenue not only plummeted due to the cancelled or halted ticket sales, but also general venue accompaniments such as transportation, parking, accommodation, merchandise sales, and concessions all contributed to this massive money loss. 

Some of the largest artists of the decade across all genres faced uncommon ground as concerts were rescheduled or cancelled altogether amongst the pandemic’s ongoing strikes. 

Just to name a few examples, Billie Eilish’s “Where Do We Go?” World Tour dates were cancelled for the upcoming spring season, along with other musical events including the world tours of famous musicians such as Halsey, Taylor Swift, and the grandiose Coachella festival.

As the future of the touring landscape remains unknown, many artists have resorted to virtual tours. BTS, the renowned South-Korean boy group, for example, hosted “Bang Bang Con,” special viewings for fans which streamed previous concert footage, and the live “Map of the Soul ON:E,” both concerts of which proved a colossal success last year.

With over 900k virtual attendees during the “Map of the Soul ON:E” concerts, BTS’s company was estimated to have earned over $43 million USD from the online ticket sales. 

And while these dynamic online super-shows broke social media with fandom excitement, both group and fans are certainly eager to return to the ambiance of live entertainment. 

“At first, we were all lost,” rapper and leader RM told NME. “It was very hard the more time passed.”

“Covid-19 put a halt to many of our activities, but it also gave us a chance to not just work on music, but to think really deeply about music,” he continued.

During the boy group’s record-breaking 2019 “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” world tour, reports stated that BTS raked in over $117 million total gross revenue. The postponed “Map of the Soul” tour would have expected to stack up even more ticket sales alongside the multiplying fandom.

Similarly under the growing K-pop industry, polished girl group TWICE, infamous for their ear-worm choruses and youthful personas, earned over $19.5 million from their five-show Japanese tour “Dreamday” in 2019. 

These statistics bring about new questions for the future of live entertainment. The music community relies on concerts a great deal both economically and emotionally, whether it looks like an underground gig with a guitar case propped open for tips or a towering arena where a cadre of synchronized and quintessential pop stars dance to the beat.

While some reports lift hopes with the promise of concert normalcy by the summer of 2022, these promises are only determined by what the future of the pandemic brings.

Professionals suggest that widespread vaccination may be the key to the return of full-venue outdoor concerts, but this optimism remains tainted by the high threat of such packed event spaces. 

From this threat, questions arise from all dimensions. Will concerts be able to function at full capacity? Will vaccination be a requirement to attend? Will shows ever reopen the way we once knew them?

These questions are met with only muddy answers as the industry attempts to navigate a concert environment that will be both alien and rigorously guidelined.

“I don’t see us filling concert halls or theaters until maybe even early 2022 before people can feel safe indoors,” Stanford infectious disease expert Dr. Dean Winslow told Rolling Stone.

Until then, artists can rely on only virtual means of communication and entertainment. For instance, BTS’s upcoming “Bang Bang Con” concert premieres at 3 PM KST on April 17 in hopes to bring comfort to struggling fans during the prevailing global turmoil. 

For now, as the concert industry warily brainstorms ways to ensure a future that is both safe and regulated, we as fans can anxiously await for the good times to come. 

One thing for sure is that when we return to see our favorite artists in person, whenever that may be, the enlightening experience will serve as a tonic to the months of pandemic blues.