The international K-pop fandom, and BTS fandom in particular, has been in an uproar due to the recently concluded BTS Highlight Tour in North America. Presented by street wear label Community 54 and TGM Events, this tour was designed to inaugurate BTS’ new gig as brand ambassadors for Community 54. However, the 2015 Highlight Tour is now known for poor planning and management, which has led to a number of bad experiences for K-pop fans.
For those unaware, or wanting a clearer picture, of events, here is a rundown of events:
Community 54 wrote has seen keen interest in its clothing from South Korea. The brand has been featured in Korean magazine editorials and worn by idols aiming for a street look. Artists from Jay Park‘s label, AOMG, even visited Community 54’s Toronto store during their North America tour in late 2014.
TGM Events is the event management arm of TGM Entertainment, founded in 2014. The company operates in the US and Malaysia; it was involved in the now-cancelled Kim Tae-woo Spring Romance Tour, the indefinitely postponed Eric Nam US Tour 2015 (organised with WME Radio).
TGM was also the organiser of B1A4 fanmeet in Malaysia in January this year; the controversy of the members hugging hijab-wearing fans led to the company being blacklisted from the country. Before this, though, TGM’s founder and CEO Nadia Leong had worked with BTS during the filming of their Go! BTS show for Mnet, and TGM Entertainment is included in the credits for BTS Summer package 2015, which was made during the group’s trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Nadia was also an employee of Kpop United, which has distanced itself from its former editor-in-chief.
In late May this year, Community 54 announced the 2015 Highlight Tour via K-pop via concert organiser TGM Events:
Community54 will be embarking on a four-city promo tour in North America entitled ‘Highlight’ to launch their collaboration line featuring their brand ambassador. The promo tour will be jointly organized by TGM Entertainment and their event partners, Ktown Night Market, Wired Rebels, and DFT Productions.
After announcing the four stops of the tour — San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and Toronto, in that order — and dates, sales commenced on the 24th of May, US time. In place of tickets, T-shirts commemorating the tour were sold on Tictail, an online retail site similar to Etsy. According to TGM’s instructions, buying the event T-shirt would be followed by an email invitation from TGM to the concert; the buyer would then RSVP via a link emailed to them, which would grant them entry to the event — as well as a high touch session — in their nominated city. The fashion-based nature of the event is used to explain why T-shirts were used in place of tickets by TGM on its website.
K-pop fan Sam was one of the first people to buy a T-shirt-cum-ticket for the Atlanta show, purchasing on the first day of sales. When I asked why she would buy a ticket when the artist had not yet been confirmed, she cited her wish to support K-pop acts. ” … [K-pop] groups so rarely come to Atlanta (almost never). Since the shirts were only $70 and there was plenty of time to plan for the concert, it seemed like the perfect chance to see a [K-pop] concert.” Others who bought their tickets early on said that they felt BTS was the performer, due to hints given out previously by Nadia and the company’s existing relatonship with the group.
In addition to the $70 option, there were also a limited number VIP upgrades on sale. Megan, a VIP attendee at the San Francisco show, was promised “early entry into the venue, autograph session with a poster (we weren’t allowed to bring anything else for them to sign) and a photo (the number of people was never officially announced before hand although there was some conversation on Twitter about it).” The VIP pass, which cost $150, was available for purchase after buying the $70 T-shirt. Those who didn’t buy VIP could still buy separate passes to the group photo session and autograph session.
Prior to the concert, refunds were available to buyers before August 31st. But, the request for refunds increased as more fans became aware of TGM’s history. Unfortunately, some buyers who applied for a refund before the concert were unable to obtain one.
Successfully refunded tickets were resold for $50, which did not include entry to the high touch. This also included Atlanta, though a TGM staff member had allegedly tweeted (from a now-deleted account) that tickets/T-shirts for this stop were oversold. Of course, there is also the possibility that the situation had changed between the time of these tweets (August 23rd) and when the refund sales of Atlanta ticket-shirts were announced (September 20th).
— Dawnyy ;D (@DarkendDawn) September 27, 2015
The actual dates for each stop of the tour were announced on the 3rd of June. A month later, on the 8th of July, TGM revealed the K-pop performer to be popular rookie BTS, who had recently concluded the US leg of their Episode II: The Red Bullet tour. More details about the nature of the Highlight Tour were revealed by TGM and its staff:
It’s an event with performances and fashion vendors. BTS will be performing and doing fan interaction like hi-touch, autograph session and group photos.
However, not all fans were clear on this aspect of the tour. Says Sam: “I thought it was a regular concert (1.5 to 2 hours). It wasn’t until I was in line that the girls behind me (who had gone to the [San Francisco] show) told me that they only performed [four] songs.”
Following this, venue announcements for Houston and Atlanta were made on August 22nd, followed by San Francisco on August 27th and Toronto on August 28th. There were issues when fans contacted Houston venue House of Blues, only to be told that the venue was not aware of the Tour. This revelation, combined with customer frustration with the ticketing system and slow release of information, led to many calls on social media saying that the Highlight Tour and TGM Events was a sham. However, after House of Blues corrected themselves — and fans posted photos of the credits page in BTS Summer Package — fears were allayed.
Opening act ConSio was announced on the 6th of September. A greeting video from the BTS members themselves was uploaded to TGM’s YouTube account on September 7:
Community 54 appeared to have made a post announcing their collaboration with BTS on the 20th of August, but the page no longer exists. The next post, which is still viewable, was made on September 13th; Community 54 made its official announcement about the tour, under the heading BTS HIGHTLIGHT TOUR ANNOUNCED! GET YOUR TICKETS TO SOLD OUT SHOW WITH COMMUNITY 54. For this promotion, tickets — or T-shirts — as well as fan engagement passes could be gained by making a $250 online purchase. Some fans felt this value was too high, however, commenting that $150 would have been a more reasonable price point.
Finally, it was late September, and the Highlight Tour kicked off. It was thenthat all everything came to a head, and the proverbial hit the fan. The planned schedule appeared to start with the checking in with TGM staff before the event, to receive their T-shirt and appropriate wristbands. Then, the autograph session would take place with those who paid for it, followed by the performances at 7:00 PM. After this, the high touch session and photo session would happen, at which point the event would end.
While this structure was maintained throughout the tour, there were issues in their execution. All shows were shorter than the advertised time; and eventually, TGM had to issue official apologies for the San Francisco and Atlanta concerts.
Queueing and Check-in
At first stop San Francisco. there was a lot of confusion about the queuing system for check-in. San Francisco VIP Megan noted that lines were made based on surname, while fellow VIP Suki was told by security that the lines were split into VIP and non-VIP. On top of that, issues with assigning group seating led to slow progress for attendees checking in.
In Atlanta, the lines were split into a check-in line and an entry line for general admission (GA) T-shirt holders. As fan Elyssa recounts, “there was NO staff present outside to help us”; they had instead left it to the fans who arrived first to pass the message on to everyone else. Houston also experienced a similar level of confusion, with fans sometimes finding themselves in the wrong line.
In Toronto, the alleged non-appearance of TGM staff left venue staff and fans carrying out tasks themselves. However, a person involved with the tour — who wishes to remain anonymous — says that TGM staff members were present, and carried out their duties despite allegedly receiving death threats. Regardless, attendees were left waiting outside the venue for most of the day, after they were instructed to arrive at 10 AM for check-in.
Amanda spoke about the issue with seating at San Francisco:
They told us prior to the event that there was a mandatory seating chart… I asked the staff members for my seating assignment, since it was not emailed to me. On Facebook, they even guaranteed that all of us would have a seating assignment. We waited for twenty minutes as the staff members ran around confused asking each other about the seating arrangement… I specifically heard Nadia say to the venue staff “Our first priority now is to get the seats filled before the concert starts.” Then all of a sudden, the seating [became] general admission. This was NOT fair, because I paid $220 for a VIP pass, which guaranteed front seats. However, because of TGM’s poor organization, non-VIPs were able to sit up front.
Megan witnessed the same thing that night:
They had let in VIP for about 20 minutes and then apparently security told everyone from here on its GA and you can sit where ever you want regardless of ticket type. They hadn’t finished letting in VIP ticket holders at that point. So at the time I was confused as to why I saw some girls going up to TGM staff crying because they couldn’t sit in their seat because someone else was there and refused to leave.
VIP attendees were frustrated by this. As Suki says “Like congrats but I fucking paid money to be treated like a VIP.” Houston did not experience this problem, as it was standing room only.
A continued lack of regulating the treatment of VIPs and non-VIPs, and pass holders and non-pass holders became increasingly apparent during the fan engagement sessions. The autograph session, or fan-signing, before the concert was rushed, with many attendees moved along by staff before they could say much, if anything, to the members of BTS. Some fans also did not receive the same TGM-provided poster they started with, like Suki: “Since Hoseok (J-Hope) was still signing my poster they told me to take another one. Bastards.” “They held us outside for maybe 40 minutes or so because they’d gone through everyone so quickly there was still plenty of time left over” says Megan; “… time we could’ve actually enjoyed saying more than “hi” to the members. ”
Toronto attendee Jessie echoed this sentiment. She remembered having only a few seconds to speak with the idols; and while she conceded that the price of $100 Canadian ($75 US) was too steep, she also admitted that she “would pay any price to see them face to face.” There was also an issue with the number of posters available. The Houston stop, for instance, did not have enough posters, leading to blank A4 paper being used instead.
The concert part of the evening also failed to impress many attendees. Although the members themselves were said to have performed well, the short time length, compounded by a lack of on-stage engagement with the audience, upset many. “… I knew they were going to sing 4 songs but where’s the fan interaction?” asks Suki. “I thought it was going to be like GOT7 fan meet ..! Fans actually got up to go on stage and play with them and everything.” Many fans also stated that opening act ConSio performed for longer than BTS.
High Touch and Photo Session
After the concert, San Francisco VIPs were the last to experience the high touch and photo sessions, waiting outside in the car park until then — Suki and Amanda reported catching colds as a result of standing outside in the chilly weather. Meanwhile, non-VIPs and those who bought $50 tickets (which didn’t include a high touch pass, and marked by a black wristband) got to take part in the fan engagement activities, before VIPs.
There may be a rationale to this decision — there are less VIPs, therefore making it easier for staff to move and hold them
in around the venue than the larger group of non-VIPs — but that wouldn’t necessarily be of much comfort to those who had to stand out in the cold and fall sick as a result.
According to attendee Alina, her high touch experience was only a few seconds long.
It was a big surprise, as I also went to the high touch for The Red Bullet: LA and it was so different compared to Highlight. It was well maintained and at a steady pace. Each and every person had time to at least say something to the members, and hold their hands. The members also had time to say something back to you. No security guards/staff were pushing you to go faster, but were just behind you to keep the pace going. There were only 1-2 staff members/guards. At this high touch, you didn’t have to worry if you skipped a member or not.
Furthermore, it was announced at the San Francisco stop that $50 ticket holders/T-shirt owners would be admitted to the high touch session. While this was great news for those attendees, others were less impressed. ” I was enraged,” says Bella “because that meant I had paid an extra $20 for nothing.” After receiving complaints, TGM appeared to make changes for the other stops of the tour, and stuck to the original plan of not allowing high touch for those who paid $50. The way in which they policed this policy, though, was described by one Atlanta attendee as “obnoxious” (from 7:36):
The photo session drew criticism due to the number of fans per photo. Though reportedly advised as being between eight and ten, the San Francisco stop saw 25 fans join BTS for each photo. As Suki puts it, “This isn’t a fucking field trip.”
[W]hile [we’re] outside the venue staff though it would a wonderful idea to split this line of almost 300 people [into] … groups of 25, rather than just count 25 people as they walk in[.] [A]fter an hour of waiting after they tried and failed the first idea they went with the thing that should’ve been common sense. So they have us go inside one by one QUICKLY. I barely can remember anything because I was once again nudged throughout the line to keep moving.
The other stops on the Highlight tour also saw a similar number of fans per photo. The official photos for San Francisco and Houston were recently uploaded to TGM’s Facebook page, but fans are not happy with the product. “The pictures were absolutely NOT worth the $50 we paid for” says Amanda. Some members also seem to be wearing the same Community 54-branded clothing at multiple stops. According to our anonymous source, Community 54 was meant to provide multiple looks for the fan engagement sessions in each city; but they did not fulfil this commitment.
San Francisco attendees also reported instances of fans and BTS members being manhandled by TGM staff. Megan was pushed by staff during the autograph session: ” I’ve been to numerous events with fan engagements and I’ve NEVER had a staff member put their hands on me.” It has been claimed that Big Hit staff members also got handsy with fans, particularly in Houston.
Fans weren’t only the victims of unwanted physical contact, though, with one San Francisco attendee said to have hugged BTS member V (presumably without consent), during the photo session.
Fans at Houston airport on the 23rd also saw an alleged TGM staffer give them the one-fingered salute as BTS was led away to their accomodation.
— daniella marmol (@jaejoongluver) September 27, 2015
While these incidents are not necessarily indicative of the behaviour of these parties, they do not reflect well on any of them, either.
The most sensational of all, however, was that of 100 to 150 Atlanta attendees being locked out of the venue. It was this incident which really blew up within the English-speaking K-pop fandom, eventually leading to the widespread discovery of the rest of the incidents relating to the Highlight Tour.
Minutes before the 7 PM start time of the performances, the venue’s doors were closed on the last 100 to 150 attendees in line. They were then ushered out into the rain and, eventually, informed that the venue had been overbooked; the fire marshal would not allow any more attendees beyond maximum capacity. This message was relayed by venue staff on behalf of TGM; no TGM staff were to be seen at that time, according to all the fans who spoke with me.
Elyssa says that venue management also issued those outside the venue with red wristbands, repeating TGM’s alleged promise to give them ” a compensatory hi-touch session with all the members AND a group photo with them.” Slips of paper, serving as refund applications, were also handed out.
— Cortney Anna (@ontaekey_) September 27, 2015
Elyssa continues, saying that she and everyone else locked out of the show were ushered into the venue after the performances, ostensibly for the fan engagement sessions. However, despite being promised first priority for these sessions, the red wristband-wearers had to wait while other attendees went ahead of them. Sam adds that, after everyone else had finished their fan engagement sessions and left, those locked out had lined up to see BTS. But, they were stopped by a woman who Sam would later recognise as Nadia. The group was sent back to the stage area, where they were instructed to wait after getting into groups of 25; at around 10 PM, they discovered that BTS had left without seeing them.
Eventually, Nadia and other staff arrived to apologise in person. When pressed about the compensatory fan engagement sessions, according to Elyssa, “they evaded the question and after some yelling from very frustrated fans, they finally admitted that they didn’t tell the members or their management.” A video of this incident was also posted online:
With the tour now concluded, BTS returns to Seoul to prepare for its comeback, and North American fans figure out where to go from here.
Like many others, Amanda has tried to get a refund from TGM via PayPal; however, she has discovered that TGM’s PayPal account has been frozen. It has even been reported that TGM is asking for posters to be sent to Malaysia to receive a refund:
TGM wants you to send your posters back to 99 Lot 117, Lorong Ceriamas 3, Taman Ceriamas, Putatan, Sabah, 88200, Malaysia AKA Sutera Harbour
— TGM Events Justice (@tgm_events_scam) October 4, 2015
According to a fan’s Facebook post, though, frozen accounts may not affect the possibility of getting a refund via PayPal. More information is available at said post (in the link).
Fans aren’t the only one looking for reimbursement, though. Aura Systems, which leased the microphone equipment used at the Houston show, recently tweeted to Big Hit Entertainment looking for payment, as they had apparently not yet been reimbursed by TGM:
@bts_bighit @tgm_nadia Did not pay for the microphone rental in Houston Highlight. Could you please contact me?
— AURA Systems (@AURASYSTEMS) October 1, 2015
Houston venue House of Blues is also allegedly still seeking full payment from TGM, as well as other stakeholders involved in the tour.
The TGM staff were allegedly working as volunteers and were never paid, according to the anonymous source. Some staff were even apparently left stranded in Toronto by Nadia, and had to reach out to investors to fund their trips home.
Whether all parties will be able to receive the money they seek is unclear, though, as TGM still owes money for earlier ventures. Refunds were promised but have not been issued for the Kim Tae-woo and Eric Nam concerts. Nor have there been any refunds from a failed Indiegogo campaign earlier this year, launched by Nadia under the name ‘Aidan Gneol,’ an anagram of her first and last name.
There is now a Change.org petition demanding that TGM issue refunds for the Highlight Tour and the other concerts and campaigns, which has now gained over 10,000 signatures. A number of Korean fans, having learnt about the aforementioned events, have also signed this petition in support. Many fans have also mentioned their desire to sue TGM, leading to mentions of class action.
And possibly as a reaction to the above tweet from Aura Systems, which directly mentions BTS’ official Twitter account, some fans have begun mentioning the possibility of raising money to pay off TGM’s debts, ostensibly to shield Big Hit, and thus BTS, from bad publicity and (perceived) financial harm. Other fans, though, have pointed out that Big Hit would not be owing companies like Aura Systems anything themselves; their dealings were with TGM, and so TGM is the entity which owes the money.
These events have likely increased wariness of K-pop event organisers from fans, idol agencies, venue management and other vendors. To what extent this overall experience will affect future K-pop concerts and events in North America, like whether TGM will be held accountable for its actions, and if all related parties get their money, remains to be seen.
Seoulbeats reached out to TGM Events and Community54 for a comment on these events, but neither could be reached before deadline. However, many fans did with their Highlight Tour experience: our sincere thanks to all who reached out to us.
Readers, what are your thoughts on how the BTS Highlight Tour went down? If you attended the event, what was your experience like?
Update: on the 5th of October, TGM CEO Nadia issued a “Statement of Clarification” regarding the BTS Highlight Tour on TGM’s official Facebook page. You can read it here.
(Business Catalyst, Center Stage, Change.org, Community 54, Facebook, Indiegogo, LinkedIn, Live Nation, Pann, The Rakyat post, Tictail, TGM Events Official Site, Twitter, Wayback Machine via Reddit, YouTube)