Like many others, my pre-lockdown summer plans revolved around a concert. I was supposed to be making a trip to Florida in May to see BTS, the K-pop superstars with an international name. Like most artists, their entire tour got canceled. As an apology, and in order to stay connected with their fans, BTS did what many others have done in the age of COVID-19: they held an online concert.
Contemporary R&B artist H.E.R. started up a weekly Instagram live performance series entitled “Girls With Guitars” where she performed original songs as well as covers while taking fan requests. She also invited other female guitarists to perform and engage in conversation about music and life. H.E.R.’s series is a perfect encapsulation of some of the perks of virtual performances. The artist has more leeway with the ability to invite others to their shows and have a constant stream of interaction with their fans – something that isn’t always possible at an in-person concert.
While the performance aspect of these virtual shows is still important, they have become much more than that. Several artists have tackled the conversation of mental health in a time of isolation with their virtual audiences.
Verizon began its weekly PayItForward LIVE livestream where big names such as Chance the Rapper and Billie Eilish have performed with audiences tuning in live on platforms including Twitter and Twitch. For each mention on Twitter during the livestream, Verizon donated money with a grand total of up to $2.5 million to support small businesses.
Some large-scale productions have brought together multiple artists from across the globe, one of which being YouTube’s tribute to 2020 graduates, “Dear Class of 2020.” The livestream was an attempt to celebrate the efforts and achievements of the class of 2020 after their year was suddenly interrupted.
With Lizzo as the first musical guest, the livestream was packed full of musical performances and also speeches and special presentations. Barack and Michelle Obama made an appearance as did John Mulaney, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. The show was rounded out with a virtual graduation party attended by Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO and BTS.
These performances – whether for audience connection, charity or celebration – have become a new normal with more still being scheduled. But how permanent of a fixture should they be and how enjoyable are they? Are these virtual performances the future of concerts even when we can safely be closer than 6 feet?
During lockdown, I have attended several virtual performances and events. After the cancellation of their tour, BTS had a free two-day event replaying high-quality video of their previous tours, eight concerts in total. I attended and thoroughly enjoyed them all despite the fact that they began at 10 p.m. both days and ended at 11 a.m. due to time differences.
On the second weekend of June, BTS continued their event with Bang Bang Con The Live, a live virtual concert that brought in just under $20 million in ticket sales. It was fun to be able to watch them on a high-quality screen in the comfort of my home, knowing that I was cheering along with almost a million other people. However, I did catch myself missing the feeling of the real concert and reminiscing on my past concert experiences.
I also attended the virtual Lollapalooza, the four-day festival beginning July 30. Lollapalooza was a mix of recorded performances from years past at the festival and new performances straight from the artists’ homes. I watched all four nights and was able to see some of my favorite artists that I am not sure I will ever be able to see in person. It was a great way to watch previously live performances without having to sift through videos on YouTube to find the high-quality ones.
In my opinion, virtual concerts are a fantastic alternative to the normal concert. Every seat is a good seat, there is less travel time involved – especially if your area isn’t one that features many big names – and you are almost guaranteed a place in the venue. Virtual concerts also give the artists a chance to focus on more than just stage presence and allow them to explore more avenues with talk segments and cover songs while also allowing for charity efforts. However, there is still nothing quite like the feeling of an in-person concert.
So while yes, I have attended several virtual performances and enjoyed being able to sit at home while being serenaded by some of my favorite artists, I do wish I had been on my feet in the venue. While it’s a valiant attempt and one that brought much comfort in the time of COVID-19, I hope that eventually we are able to buy tickets for seats in an arena rather than the couch.