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Concerts in the pandemic:
What’s the setlist?

Written by: Sophia McNaus
From: São Paulo, Brazil
Edited by: Luana Mayer

Around two years ago, in this month, I was frantically trying to type in the details of about 3-4 different credit cards at 7 in the morning, desperately trying to secure a ticket to an upcoming concert in Chicago as the seating options disappeared on-screen. I managed in the end, scoring floor tickets not too far from the main stage, but, needless to say, I have yet to lay eyes on the Soldier Field stadium.

Almost every industry has taken a major hit from the pandemic but, perhaps one of the very last things we will get to see at the end of this period is the return of live shows, amusement parks, and conventions that are absolutely bumbling with people - a sight that even in recollection can cause anxiety and discomfort now that we are more than aware of the dangers of mass gatherings.

With the cancellation and postponement of world tours, festivals, big or small, like Coachella; the talent have turned to online streaming to reach their audience. While there is no replacing the feeling of being part of the crowd, singing along to every word, or attempting a Mexican wave as you watch your musician of choice just beyond your reach, online concerts have something to offer of their own. Take, for example, the use of extended reality technology used in shows like Billie Eilish’s Where Do We Go? The Livestream, or NCT’s Resonance ‘Global Wave’. Clever camera work and special effects that would’ve been hard to see from a distance take the limelight to up the production value in multiple shows, for the appreciation of audiences that are often multiple times larger than the seats filled for a single night of in-person “concerting”.

One of the major pros of having a live stream concert is, undoubtedly, how much cheaper it is to host rather than having to transport huge sets, costumes, equipment, a sizeable team of personnel, from one city to another on a tour. While it may be a shame to see such beautiful sets only used once or twice, this has worked much to the success of artists like BTS that put on a massive virtual concert across 2 days, MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E, last year in October that included at least 9 different, gorgeous sets, and gathered a record-breaking 993,000 paid viewers for an online concert (they have since broken their own record in June with 1.3 million paid viewers for their outdoor concert Muster Soowoozoo).

Artists who do not have such large and dedicated fanbases, and production staff, have struggled. Online shows to raise funds for charity, like Dreamcast, have popped up, featuring the stars of Brazilian musicals who sang to help show personnel that were laid off in the pandemic. Our own Sandy e Junior came together in an unpaid live that gathered 2.5 million viewers and raised funds for people at risk due to the coronavirus in April of last year, only a month after the first wave had hit Brazil.

And while I no longer have to stress about getting those precious concert tickets, everyone wonders - but when will I be able to see a live show again? While they haven’t been entirely absent in the past year and a half (and no, this is not about the 385,000 people at Lollapalooza Chicago) people have indeed been creative when trying to emulate the feeling of a large audience with socially distanced mini-groups of people. Drive-in concerts and cinema have become a thing again. Award shows like the VMAs have included virtual animated crowds and small, in-person gatherings like in Maluma’s performance at the VMAs 2020- which featured groups of about 2-4 people parked around his stage in a calm yet enjoyable environment.

Concert “experiments” also took place. There was a pop-up concert a year ago with 1500 people in Germany. The event was a test to see the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. . More recently, in March, a crowd of 5000 gathered (not distanced) in Barcelona to watch “Love of Lesbian”, using masks and with a negative COVID test on the same day. The event was organized by the staff behind Spain’s largest music festivals and health authorities, said to determine “the future of European live music”. It seems to have been pretty successful, but online concerts are very likely here to stay- even if we might move into an era of simultaneous live and online shows. This benefits fans who may not have been able to attend due to ticket price, time, and many other factors, while still being able to maintain some sort of interaction between the artist and audience. Through chats or video, even recorded (and sometimes live) crowd noises, performers still get to see a glimpse of who they’re singing to, but nothing quite beats the feeling of goosebumps as the lights come on or the sight of an ocean of cell-phone lights as they sway to a melody.

I, for one, will be hanging onto those concert tickets for now and sitting ready to be a part of a screaming crowd once more as the future of live concerts seem to be moving just slightly closer day by day.



Concerts in the pandemic: Feature Story
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