Music shows are nothing short of a huge deal in Korea, for most groups it’s their main source of promotion for each comeback, and special anniversary or holiday themed episodes of music shows can be the perfect opportunity to stand out. Fans are a true driving force that keeps these music shows thriving, the shows get fans involved and interested by encouraging them to vote for their favorite group to gain them a coveted music show win. And the utmost successful fans are able to actually attend these music shows by either attending the live show or subjecting themselves to hours of waiting in line for a chance at seeing the pre-recording. NCT 127 have just kicked off their promotions for their new title track “Superhuman,” myself along with 299 other lucky fans were able to witness their first performance of the song in Korea at the KBS Music Bank pre-recording on May 24th. As exciting as this was for me and a few of my friends, it was not without some struggle.
Before entering a music show there is usually an application process, and frustratingly, it differs for each company and group. NCT 127 being a group under SM, they follow the “SM Method” which entails a scavenger hunt of sorts for fans determined enough to enter. Anywhere from noon to 3:00 p.m. the day before a recording, a fan staff member, also known as a “list girl,” will put up a paper notice somewhere around the studio (sometimes on a nearby tree and sometimes on the side of the building itself). Fans then take a photo with the notice from the eyes up and text it to the phone number on the notice, the fan staff responds with the fan’s number in line based on what time the text was sent.
Yes, it is just as complicated and tedious as it sounds, but magically, it works and it typically angers no one in the end. However, what’s even more frustrating is how very last minute the application method was changed to an online application through the Lysn app, leaving a group of very furious NCTzens to shuffle home and wait until 4:00 p.m. to sign up through the app.
It isn’t clear if SM will implement this new method for all of their artist’s comebacks, but considering the history of how SM operates it is very likely they plan to do so. Although simply logging on at a set time and applying in one click is a lot easier than running around to an in-person notice, there is much less autonomy now over whether or not one gets into the pre-recording. Depending on the music show, the venue can allocate anywhere from 100 to 500 fans, and the fans chosen through the Lysn app seems to be somewhat based on the application time but also slightly randomized.
However, I did manage to get in. Music Bank’s pre-recording only allocated for 300 fans and only 29 of those fans were foreigners. I was the only American on the list. After an already-confusing and stressful process made more frustrating by a sudden turn of events, it was well worth the effort in the end.
The pre-recording was set to begin at 10:40 a.m. at KBS Hall, although the call time for lucky fans was at 9:00 a.m. Call time is the time all fans granted entrance must be at the venue to line up outside, we were lucky because this call time wasn’t too early and the weather was warm and pleasant that morning. Typically, this is the time where you line up by number, but all fans and even the fan staff were confused with the new Lysn method, so we ended up lining up in arrival order (which was a bummer for me because I was excited about my 112th place in line.)
I arrived about an hour early to avoid the stress of getting there on time, and I waited for two other, more experienced NCTzen friends that would be essentially babysitting me through my first pre-recording experience. At around 9:15, fan staff finally came around with markers and began to place fans into what is known as “tiers.” Your tier is usually labeled with the letter “N” and then your tier number (ex. N1-, N2-, N3-, etc)., your tier is determined by what materials you bring. For each company and group, the requirements will be different. In my case, to be tier one (N1-) you would have to bring your government-issued ID or passport, NCT lightstick, ACE fanclub membership, and printed out streaming proof. I had all of the aforementioned except for streaming proof, which bumped me down to tier two (N2-).
Tiers do affect your chances of getting in in some cases; usually if one is N1- or N2-, you’ll still be allowed entry, and anyone N3- or below will usually join the “extras” category to be let in only if there’s extra room from N1-, N2- tier fans failing to show up.
After getting your tier, you are given a number that goes after the hyphen, for example my number was 15, by the end of the line up process my wrist began to look like an equation of sorts (N2-15). After your final number and tier was given to you, you usually have to wait a little longer before the second call time to line up to enter the venue. For us, it was about 30 minutes. Luckily, KBS has a cafe located right outside KBS Hall so we were able to kill time for a bit in an air conditioned space.
At 10:10, we lined up again in front of the doors to the venue; in seperate lines according to tier and in pairs according to number. The second line up process was fairly simple, fans checked each others wrists, shuffled each other around, and there was minimal talking involved. From then, we waited another 20 minutes for them to finally open the doors, and at long last, we were let in.
Music Bank is notorious for their strict staff. Fans were told from the get-go to be silent when the members were not on stage, and although this should be common knowledge considering it’s a TV show recording, filming is strictly prohibited and you are instructed to keep your phone off and in your bag at all times. No, you can’t take it out to even text or tweet. Another important, strictly-enforced rule is to not shout the names of individual members. A fan in the row in front of us was asked to leave before NCT even performed because she shouted Yuta’s name, she tried to argue her case with staff but they were very firm in enforcing this rule and had to walk her out of the venue.
We felt as if we were on thin ice with the staff, but regardless we were still ecstatic to finally be in the studio and see the live performance of “Superhuman.” We were sat in the second row on the right side, and had a great view of the stage and the backstage area as well! When NCT came out, Doyoung greeted us asking if we missed them, and they seemed excited to see us, but slightly worn out after just returning from their weeks long world tour. “Our hearts were ready to perform for you all but our bodies weren’t,” Taeyong said.
They ran through the song three times. The choreo is powerful and catchy, and Taeyong particularly stood out to me; he really seemed to pour all of his energy into his dancing regardless of how nervous or tired he appeared to be. Haechan’s vocals stood out to me the most in the song; his voice came out smooth and stable during all his parts regardless of how hard he was dancing. During their individual parts in the song, Taeyong, Jaehyun, Johnny, and Haechan received the loudest screams from the audience. In between takes, we could see the members getting their makeup touched up backstage (my new dream job is to be the staff member that blow-dried the sweat off of Mark’s forehead.) Taeyong spent a lot of time talking to the technical staff in between takes. After their third recording they were sad to leave, Johnny told us to anticipate the music video release and they said their goodbyes. The KBS staff were hasty about rushing us out of the venue, and insisted they were short on time, but regardless, NCT took their time leaving the stage, making sure to wave goodbye to all the fans and told us to meet again soon.
Regardless of the stress of the application process, if possible I would encourage all K-pop fans to attempt a music show pre-recording or live show for their favorite group at least once. It’s totally worth the effort, and recording studios are small theater style venues so the whole experience is very intimate between the fans and the artists.
You can check out the aired version of the music show I attended here!
Cover Image: NCT 127 (SM Entertainment)
Written by Justine Shaffer