Singing for National Glory? Meet S Korea’s Noisy Concertgoers

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I went to see Coldplay last Sunday. It was the band’s first ever visit to South Korea, so competition for tickets was insane. The venue, a massive stadium that holds up to 100,000 people, had sold out in just five minutes. The audience contained some serious Coldplay fans. The woman sitting next to me, for example, was wearing a “Head Full of Dreams” T-shirt and holding a sign reading “CHRIS MARTIN.” Shortly before the concert started, she kindly told me how to prepare for it. “They’re going to play “Yellow” after the first song, and we’ll hum along together. You know the melody. Right?”

When Coldplay sang “Yellow,” yellow lights simultaneously lit up on the wrists of tens of thousands of people wearing xylobands. The lady next to me began to sing along fervently. She articulated every single word in the song, shouting and screaming throughout the entire concert. At one point I started to wonder if I was ever going to be able to hear Chris Martin’s voice.

“Netizen A, who claimed to have gone to the Coldplay concert, said, ‘It was the worst concert of my entire life…. People should really draw the line when they’re singing along.'”

There’s a special word designating the act of singing together: ddaechang. When Eminem held his first-ever South Korean concert in 2012, he was met with a deafening ddaechang from the audience, who rapped to every word of “Lose Yourself.” God damn it, Korea,” an overwhelmed and impressed Eminem said during the song.

Eminem in South Korea. (Source: Man2ride)

 

 

The YouTube video above compiled instances of South Korean ddaechang, interestingly providing audience reaction at concerts by only foreign artists: Pharrell Williams, Metallica, MIKA, what have you. Often, after such concerts, the internet is flooded with reactions and articles praising how amazing the South Korean fans’ ddaechang was, and how impressed the foreign stars were.

“Koreans had to shout louder, play harder to impress the foreign stars, and to be complimented for it,” said culture critic Ha Jae-geun on online news Dailian. “They memorized lyrics looking at the set-list, and devised an event that went along with the song. Then they marched into the concert hall with a burning fighting spirit, vowing to show the Korean spirit, Korean passion…” 

Of course, ddaechang isn’t a culture unique South Korea. Neither is it reserved for foreign artists within the country. Psy’s concerts are legendary; I remember one in 2012, when I was passing by the venue. Tens of thousands of people were doing the “Gangnam Style” dance and singing in unison. It felt like an earthquake.

But this ddaechang culture is particularly highlighted by the South Korean media when the artists are foreigners, mostly big-namers from the West. Why? “There’s a contradictory desire to find our own uniqueness and also be acknowledged by outsiders,” said Lee Taek-gwang, a culture professor at Kyunghee University. Perhaps this ties in with the gukppong mentality: the desire to showcase the strength of South Korean nationalism, particularly to foreigners from the West, as part of a pervasive ideal of progress and prestige in South Korean society.

“Watching a gig is not an international competition,” said critic Ha. “It’s true that Korean audiences show remarkable levels of passion, but sometimes it’s too much. Performers could feel pressured when it goes overboard, and it’s often a nuisance to other audiences members. We should let go of our obsession with ‘showing off’ the Korean fervor.” 

Of course, maybe we can all lighten up with the analysis. Over-the-top ddaechang may be a symptom of gukppong nationalism. But to be fair, I did have the time of my life at the Coldplay concert, singing and dancing madly, aided by the kind lady next to me who had printed out all the lyrics.

 

Cover Image: (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Seohoi is a former intern at Korea Exposé and currently an undergrad at Yonsei Underwood International College, where she studies political science and international relations.