BTS to perform at Busan concert as South Korea vies to host World Expo
The concert – in front of some 50,000 delirious followers of the boy supergroup – is no ordinary performance. It’s the heart of a 5 million dollar marketing push in pursuit of a near-obsession with Busan and the national government: hosting the World Expo in 2030.
South Korea is pulling out all the stops. Busan, its second largest city, has even asked the government to spare the seven BTS members from mandatory military service so they can be the face of the Expo bid. Huge business conglomerates fund massive advertising campaigns to promote it.
The country’s leaders have been pushing for years for South Korea to become the seventh country in the world to host all three global mega-events, which they say is key to raising its global profile and bolstering its soft power. They won the FIFA World Cup in 2002 and the 1988 Summer and 2018 Winter Olympics. The World Expo, to be held for six months every five years, would be the final prize.
Yet their sales pitch ran into trouble. The gig has caused logistical nightmares for the city, and polls show its 3.4 million residents lukewarm about the effort.
So why does Busan want the exhibition so badly?
The event began in 1851 as a celebration of cultures and innovations from around the world. For emerging societies, it symbolizes their coming to the forefront of nations, said Nicholas J. Cull, a public diplomacy expert at the University of Southern California. For those with a more established reputation, it can serve as a reminder of their stature.
South Korea is closer to this second category. It is the 10th largest economy in the world, and Busan is a popular convention city and hosts the Busan International Film Festival, a premier gathering in Asia.
In many ways, Cull said, the country no longer needs to put itself on the map with the Busan World Expo. And image, he added, is not just about selling positive attributes, but also eliminating negative elements that can undermine global reputation. One of them is South Korea’s growing income inequality, which has inspired internationally acclaimed movies and TV shows such as “Parasite” and “Squid Game.”
“I think South Korea is beyond the need for a coming-out party. The Seoul Olympics played that role. It is increasingly in the category of a country that is expected great things,” Cull said. “Many South Koreans are concerned about the country’s problems and want to mitigate those negatives first, even though they are splendid themes for blockbuster movies and TV shows. televised.”
Still, city and national leaders say Expo 2030 would be a financial and reputational boon. Its bid committee estimates total expenditures at $3.4 billion, while economic benefits generated directly and indirectly from the event are projected at $42.7 billion, according to analysis by an affiliate think tank. to the government.
The tourism industry is key in Busan, where service jobs account for about three-quarters of all industries, said Lee Sang-ho, a professor of tourism policy and cultural tourism at Pusan National University in the city.
“I’m sure that the charm of Busan – and the value of its tourism resources – will attract a lot of attention. Above all, I think it will be an opportunity for the citizens of Busan, who tend to be conservative, to interact with tourists from all over the world, which is difficult to quantify in economic value,” Lee said.
The city’s competitors for the venue: Rome, Riyadh and the Ukrainian city of Odessa.
An undercurrent of concern stems from the mixed record of these exposures. The 2020 event in Dubai led to public debt of around $38 billion, according to forecasts by London-based research firm Capital Economics. James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa economist at the firm, noted many factors, including the Government of Dubai’s ambitious tourist arrivals targets and the number of expo visitors who would end up to reside there.
And in Osaka, Japan, which will host in 2025, there are worries about soaring construction costs caused by global supply chain shortages, a weakened yen and inflation. Fewer countries plan to participate than originally planned. The companies wonder if they will recoup their investments, according to Japanese media Jiji Press.
In South Korea, the main controversy surrounding the Expo push is the Mayor of Busan’s proposal for BTS members to “serve the nation in their unique capacity” and waive their compulsory enlistment – a highly controversial privilege that until now was largely reserved for the best athletes and classical artists who contribute to “elevate the national prestige”.
Under a conscription system established to counter threats from North Korea, the country requires all able-bodied men to serve at least 18 months in the armed forces at age 28, although parliament has revised a law in 2020 to allow K-pop stars to defer service until age 30. (The two Koreas are technically still at war given the lack of a formal peace treaty following their 1950-1953 conflict.)
Culture Minister Park Bo-gyoon, whose predecessor told reporters it would be “a cultural loss to humanity” if BTS stopped performing because of military conscription, said last week that the ministry ” will confirm our position as soon as possible”. Singer Kim Seok-jin, who poses as Jin, faces a December enlistment deadline. The 29-year-old is the oldest member of the squad.
The proposal divided public opinion and sparked a wider debate on social justice. Political analysts and legal experts say it would set a harmful precedent.
“Exemptions are exceptions, and exceptions should be kept minimal,” said Shin Hee-Seok, a law researcher at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Creating a precedent for BTS could open up an avalanche of applications from the K-pop industry. I don’t think the government wants to deal with this.
The Grammy-nominated band, which has sold tens of millions of albums since its 2013 debut, went on hiatus in June as some members awaited enlistment and others pursued solo projects. Saturday’s concert will be their first performance since the hiatus, and so it has drawn even more attention from the massive fanbase known as BTS Army.
Because Busan does not pay the show, the group’s parent company, and other South Korean companies fund it. Companies such as cellular service providers, Korean conglomerate Lotte and others raffled concert tickets for customers who purchased their items, including cellphones, chewing gum, burgers and donuts Krispy Kreme. All the tickets have been torn out.
Lee reported from Tokyo, Kim and Li from Seoul. Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo contributed reporting.