When a big artist comes to town, the buzz usually follows them – from the airport to their hotel to the venue. But in Tokyo, the excitement about SEVENTEEN began two weeks before the PLEDIS boyband’s arrival, and permeated vast regions of the city. The group were finally getting their chance to headline the Tokyo Dome after their 2020 concert there was cancelled due to the pandemic. Some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions were lit up orange, plastered with photos of the group and soundtracked by their music. It was a similar story in Osaka, where even trains have been wrapped in graphics featuring the band, and Nagoya – the other two stops on their 2022 Japanese tour.
The city-wide hype for SEVENTEEN meant HYBE’s plan was working: The City, a project by the parent label of SEVENTEEN, BTS, Tomorrow X Together and more groups, aims to extend and elevate the concert experience far beyond the four walls of a venue. Years in the making, The City was first tested on a smaller scale at BTS’ Love Yourself: Speak Yourself [The Final] shows in Seoul in 2019. At those concerts, a wide-ranging fan zone was created outside the city’s Olympic Stadium, broader food options were offered and improvements to the merchandise-buying experience were made. Plans to expand the idea with BTS’ world tour in 2020 were scuppered by COVID-19, but The City made a grand comeback with the seven-piece’s Las Vegas shows earlier this year. There, fans could visit restaurants offering the members’ favourite dishes, book hotel rooms themed around the group, and more.
After another successful run at BTS’ Busan show in October, The City made an ambitious leap forward with SEVENTEEN’s Japanese tour, as it rolled out in multiple cities on one tour leg for the first time. Growing the venture has come with its challenges. “Collaboration with attractions and businesses that are local to the city is what lies at the core of every The City project,” HYBE Japan’s CEO Hyunrock Han tells NME, “and as it requires building a network of activities, the preparation for each instalment is an arduous process and varies every time.” Taking SEVENTEEN’s version of The City across three locations became increasingly complex as more and more partners and different experiences were introduced to the plan.
The itinerary for this stint of the project certainly didn’t lack range or creativity. In Osaka, there were express trains decorated with SEVENTEEN graphics. Fans could relive the band’s 2019 ‘Ode to You’ concerts in Japan through a metaverse experience displaying a digital version of the Umeda district. You could go on a stamp rally – a popular activity in Japan that sets a course with different locations, where you can collect stamps – across 18 landmarks, including the Hep Five Ferris wheel – also covered in SEVENTEEN graphics, of course. Carats, the group’s fanbase, could snap up limited-edition The City train tickets and at Nankai Namba Station see SEVENTEEN ads covering staircases and the 70-metre media street. In Nagoya this past weekend a light display brightened up the Sakae district.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, you could fill every moment of the day with SEVENTEEN-related activities. In Shibuya, a pop-up shop boasted racks of special merchandise and a “museum” at HMV showed photos, videos and more, while a “winter illumination” at Tokyo Dome City lit up every night of the concert weekend, playing the group’s songs like the seasonally appropriate ‘Darl+ing (Holiday Version)’. Three locations of the BOX cafe&space were dedicated to the group: their photos were plastered on the walls, a video message from the band played in the background, and dishes were curated by the band, from tan tan miso soup chosen by Mingyu to seafood curry soup picked by Woozi.
Over at the Tokyo Skytree, an audiovisual experience allowed visitors to listen to SEVENTEEN’s music as they gazed across the city’s views, or stop and take photos in dedicated photo zones (including one where a digital version of your chosen member stands by your side). At night, the Skytree was illuminated in the tour’s official colour orange and the band’s representative colours, while after the concerts the landmark became the location for fan parties where the group’s music videos played on the glass windows of the observation deck, intertwining SEVENTEEN with the scenes below.
Finally, hotel packages like at the Royal Park Canvas in Ginza let fans wind down with free gifts themed around the band, SEVENTEEN photo panels decorating their rooms and a copy of their 2021 SEVENTEEN in Carat Land DVD on loan to watch on big pulldown projector screens.
“A dome tour in Japan is something SEVENTEEN themselves and their fans, Carats, have long considered a ‘dream’ of theirs,” Han says. “So we wanted The City to add a sense of ‘togetherness’ to the experience of a dream becoming a reality. In order to do so, the programmes were built in a way that does not lie too far from our everyday life. The City brought their favourite artist into the local transportation, the local cafes, the most iconic landmarks, allowing the fans to really feel like they are a part of this one big celebration, this moment of a dream come true.”
Outside Tokyo Dome, as fans thronged outside before the concert started, student Hina told NME that having SEVENTEEN events stretching from Shibuya to the Skytree made the excitement of the concert feel stronger than ever. “Seeing them [everywhere] and being able to take part in lots of [activities] makes it feel more alive,” she smiled. “Tokyo is SEVENTEEN-land right now.”
The City isn’t just an opportunity for fans to immerse themselves in the world of their favourite artists, according to Han: it also provides them with a new space to connect with their fellow fans. Seeing SEVENTEEN enthusiasts “finally getting to interact with one another, in person, at The City attractions” was one of “the most rewarding moments” of the project, he says.
For SEVENTEEN themselves, seeing their fans coming together and experiencing new parts of the cities they’re touring has been nothing but positive. “It’s our pleasure to be able to see all our Carats enjoy The City,” the group tells NME over email. “We hope all our fans are able to take away some of their best memories from our ongoing tour, from all the festivities and experiences laid out before and after the show as a part of The City, and from the show SEVENTEEN and Carats complete together, as ‘Team SVT’.”
Over the last two years, local and national economies have taken a big hit from the pandemic, with businesses large and small rocked by sudden and ongoing closures and cancellations. Japan’s economy shrank by 4.5 percent in 2020 and, although it has rebounded a little since then, it’s hoped that events like The City can provide a financial boost – BTS’ Vegas outing reportedly had an estimated economic impact of $162million, according to Arirang TV.
Although data isn’t yet available for the impact of the ‘Be The Sun’ and The City stint in Japan, SEVENTEEN’s weeks of activity in Osaka weren’t just focused on big tourist attractions that have stronger financial safety nets than, say, mom-and-pop stores. “We also implemented localised events like the SEVENTEEN-themed stamp rally in Osaka tied to 18 different landmarks and popular areas in the city, working closely with and driving people to local businesses,” Han notes.
With a total of 270,000 people attending the six shows across the tour, a boost to each city’s economy and tourism seems inevitable as fans attend restaurants, stores and hotels not included in The City programmes. Future versions of the project in Japan will likely contribute even more – this edition was focused on domestic fans thanks to the country’s ongoing programme of reopening and recovering from the pandemic (at the concerts themselves, fans are still not permitted to cheer and scream because of COVID restrictions, making noise with clappers instead).
Han also notes that non-SEVENTEEN fans could still be drawn in by The City – another potential positive impact on tourism. “We noticed that the crowd gathering around The City spots were drawing the eyes of many passing by, so we hope the project also helped with the efforts being put into revitalising the local attractions,” he says.
SEVENTEEN and BTS aren’t the only groups that will be involved with The City as it continues to progress and grow. HYBE plans for the project to evolve in different locations and with more artists under its banner, with Han saying each result will be “different each time”. “In essence, though, the goal of The City will always be to provide an extensive and immersive fan experience,” he says.
While this innovative and ambitious project is, so far, solely the work of HYBE, its success means it probably won’t be long before other labels – in K-pop and beyond, especially due to the company’s ties to Geffen Records in the US – try to replicate the idea. Although The City isn’t something smaller artists could pull off, some arena and stadium-headlining acts could find creating whole immersive worlds around tour stops a smart and compelling way to boost revenue and offer fans something new.
For HYBE, the project is ultimately a testament to the thrill of the concert experience. “The project augments and diversifies the experiences before and after the show, from the moment of ticket purchase, the weeks of anticipation leading up to the show, making it to the concert venue and to the lingering excitement post-concert,” Han explains. Each time The City runs, regardless of artist or location, the label hopes to learn and understand more about “how all these moments add up to complete the concert experience”.
As that knowledge grows, Han is positive the rest of the industry will make “greater efforts to improve each of these moments”. As they do so, city-wide takeovers could one day become the new normal for the world’s biggest artists.