Or, “Why General Admission Seating At A K-pop Concert Is The Dumbest Idea Ever.”

Tomorrow morning, at precisely 1000 hours, Eastern Standard Time, ticket sales for SMTown‘s first concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden will commence. The Internet will explode, the phone lines at Ticketmaster will be backed up for hours, and middle school bathrooms will be filled with frantic 14-year old fangirls sneaking out of class to call home and ensure that their mothers bought the tickets correctly on their behalf.

SMTown Live is the first concert of its kind to hit the American east coast, so as expected, tensions are high in anticipation for the ticket sales tomorrow. But buying the tickets isn’t really the hard part – the process usually entails no more than sitting in front of one’s computer and clicking around like a madman right when the clock strikes 10. Once you’ve got your hands on a ticket (which, for a 20,000 person venue like Madison Square Garden, shouldn’t be as difficult a task as one might think), you’re all set. You can get into the venue, you can attend the concert, you can see your favorite K-pop idols whilst screaming your head off. If you only want to see the concert, then buying tickets shouldn’t be an excruciatingly stressful process.

That is, if you only want to see the concert. If you’re gunning for something more, well – you’re in for an entirely different game.

Like I stated previously in my SHINee World Concert in Taipei recap, K-pop concerts aren’t just concerts; they’re a rare opportunity for fans to finally see their favorite idols up close and in person. And for many fans, ‘up close and personal’ only counts if you’re in the moshpit area. The floor seats at SMTown NYC are general admission, which means that the seats in the pit are not assigned and the area is standing room only. One look at the seating chart reflects this logic:

The two-pronged stage extension formation is an SM concert trademark – the same setup has been used in the concerts of some SM artists and was also used at SMTown Tokyo this past weekend. However, I’m guessing that the irregular shape of the stage doesn’t allow for rows of seats to be bolted into the floor; hence, the pit area will be standing room, and therefore, general admission. Which means one thing: first come, first serve.

In regards to K-pop, there has never been a deadlier phrase.

Tons of floor-seat-hopefuls are already planning out their early morning trips to Madison Square Garden to stake out a good place in line. Of course, camping outside the venue at 4am seems to be a natural phenomenon when you’re talking about K-pop fans and general admission seating. But outside the context of K-pop insanity, everything about this just reeks of bad ideas. Let’s set aside the early-morning factor and think about the crowd control, the traffic obstructions, the possible police interference, the fact that there will be middle school girls waiting in line for hours without parental supervision. If anyone was at the JYJ showcase concert last November and remembers the push-and-shove fest during the last few hours before the concert, you’ll know full well that this is dangerous stuff we’re talking about. All in all, general admission seating for an idol-centric, ‘once in a lifetime’ event that attracts preteen fans who are willing to do anything to get up close and personal with their idols…it’s a recipe for chaos and bad decisions.

Fans outside Hammerstein Ballroom - JYJ Showcase, November 2010

In situations where fans are able to see their favorite stars in person, the root of the resulting craziness lies in the fact that fans are willing to outdo each other in order to get what they want. If there’s another fan that’s planning on being in line at 5am, then there’ll be another fan right behind her that’s willing to be there at 4am. And there’ll be another fan behind her that’ll be there at 3am. And so on. Perhaps it’s a blessing that K-pop isn’t a huge phenomenon in America – there are less people to compete with, and less craziness to be had. But the idea of ‘craziness’ is relative, and the fact that there are middle schoolers already willing to line up outside Madison Square Garden at 4am tells me that there’s got to be a way out of this.

And there is! In Taiwan, where K-pop concert fanaticism runs even wilder than in the States, floor tickets are sold by number – that is, the first person to buy a floor ticket is assigned #1, the second person is assigned #2, and so on. Two hours before the concert, the floor ticket holders line up by number order outside the venue, and are allowed into their respective standing room areas in groups of 10. This process reduces stress for both the fans and the concert staff alike and makes the concert experience a lot more enjoyable. Everybody wins!

But it’s unlikely that America would be quick to adopt this new system of ticketing – and, admittedly, 4am concert venue queueing has become a part of concert-going culture. I’d also be willing to bet that it tickles SM pink to see fans camped outside of the venue 15 hours before the start of the concert so they can use it as proof that Hallyu is still a ‘global phenomenon,’ and what self-respecting corporation would cheat themselves out of such a great PR opportunity? With international fans willing to do crazy things for a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to see their idols in concert and corporations that are unwilling or unable to curb the craziness, we’ve produced a situation where K-pop concerts can’t occur overseas without a disproportionate amount of unnecessary stress.

So to those buying tickets tomorrow, best of luck. To those planning on buying a seat in a numbered section, I praise you for your good sense. And to those planning on camping outside the venue, I’ll say a prayer for you. Maybe two.