K-Pop's BTS back on stage for first Seoul gig since pandemic
Tens of thousands of BTS fans were gathering in Seoul on Thursday for the K-Pop superstars' first live concert in South Korea since the pandemic -- although Covid regulations will prevent them from dancing or singing along.
The chart-topping septet's three-concert series -- dubbed "Permission to Dance on Stage - Seoul" -- kicks off at the capital's Olympic Stadium Thursday evening.
Since BTS' last performance for homegrown fans in 2019, the band have gone from strength to strength, with three Billboard-topping singles and two Grammy nominations.
Tickets for the three-night stand -- some 45,000 seats in all -- sold out within minutes, despite stringent social-distancing requirements for BTS fans, known as ARMY.
Chanting, singing, screaming or even standing up are all banned, as South Korea battles an Omicron spike, with more than 300,000 cases reported Thursday.
"Instead, we ask for warm applause to show support for the artists," Big Hit Music, the group's agency, said on its Weverse social media platform.
Ahead of the concert, BTS members expressed concern over the rules but asked for the fans' understanding.
"There is a certain energy that can be felt from a person's voice, and I wonder if clapping can be enough," said J-Hope, whose real name is Jung Ho-seok.
His bandmate Kim Tae-hyung, whose stage name is V, added: "We also want to really hear the voices of our ARMY fans, but we are grateful and thankful for the fact that we can meet and see your faces."
A handful of social media posts showed some fans were trying to sell their hard-won tickets after testing positive for the virus.
The floppy-haired musicians, all in their 20s and often sporting earrings and lipstick, appeal to a generation comfortable with gender fluidity.
They are credited with generating billions for the South Korean economy, and their label enjoyed a surge in profits despite holding fewer concerts during the pandemic.
In 2020, BTS were forced to call off what was supposed to be their largest international tour, with almost 40 gigs, though they held some concerts online.
The group's first in-person show since the pandemic was at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in November, with the four-night run grossing $33.3 million, according to Billboard.
The first and last shows of "Permission to Dance" will be streamed live online, while Saturday's concert can be enjoyed in real-time at movie theatres around the world.
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