Monday, 27 February 2012

VIP treatment at the Super Junior show: Priceless

The multitude has been massing in the rain since early afternoon, though the concert doesn’t start until 6 p.m. It is a homogeneous crowd: young girls in shorts and T-shirts, most of them Singaporean, with contingents from Japan, China, Malaysia, France and Sweden. There is a smattering of boys and older people — people in their 30s, Aaaaaaahhh! — but this is unquestionably a gathering of the most powerful, most sought-after consumer demographic on the planet: Teenage Girls.
In two and a half hours 13,000 tonsils will vibrate in tribute to the object of their frenzied adoration: the K-Pop group Super Junior. For now they must restrain their emotions and hormones and wait under the awnings until the doors of the Singapore Indoor Stadium are opened.
We don’t have to line up. In fact we don’t have to pass the same route as everyone else: we go down the private driveway that leads to our private parking space. And we don’t have to take the stadium access — there is a special entrance for MasterCard guests, and naturally there is a red carpet.
MasterCard is now a sponsor of the Singapore Indoor Stadium, one of Asia’s top venues for sports and live entertainment. This means that MasterCard’s invited guests get to avail of the full benefits of the stadium’s VIP Lounge before and after shows. The VIP lounge, formerly used by Premier Lee Kuan Yew, has been renamed the MasterCard Lounge. After enjoying cocktails and dinner at the well-appointed 140-seat lounge, guests are escorted to their special seats right outside the lounge.
It’s like being a friend of the band or part of the player’s entourage: the insider experience. Outside of the lounge, MasterCard holders can use their cards at all the stadium’s food and beverage outlets, where there is a priority line for them. After making purchases with their MasterCard, they can go to their seats without the risk of getting jostled and spilling food all over themselves. Their orders are delivered to them.
“MasterCard is proud to have formed a strategic alliance with the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the benefit of its invited cardholders and customers,” says Stuart Cameron, vice president, Regional Marketing, Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, MasterCard Worldwide. “With this tie-up, MasterCard customers and cardholders will get an enhanced experience at the heart of the action.”
The Singapore Indoor Stadium joins the list of MasterCard global sponsorship assets including the MasterCard Center in Beijing — the first time an Olympic venue has been commercially rebranded, and the MasterCard Center for Ice Hockey Excellence in Toronto. MasterCard recently renewed its official partnership with UEFA Champions League. Last year it was a sponsor of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in New Zealand.
“These sponsorships are an opportunity to connect with fans in an authentic manner,” Cameron explains. “A fulfilling spectator experience drives affinity to the brand.” At the 2011 RWC the enhanced experience included a MasterCard Club in the fan zone where fans could see every game, meet and greet rugby legends, and for the first time in RWC history, vote for the Man of the Match. “If we are part of an event, the fan has a better experience,” Cameron says.
After a bracing buffet dinner and two glasses of wine we take our seats in the VIP section to the left of the main stage. The main stage branches into a catwalk that bisects the entire ground level, and the whole area is encircled by an elevated ramp. Below the stage and ramps are the mosh pits, or what would be the mosh pits if this were a rock concert. Every available space is crammed with fans holding blue light sticks. (Photography is strictly not allowed during the concert.)
On each of our seats we find two banners printed with Korean words. According to the taped instructions, one banner is to be held up while Super Junior is singing Our Love. Also, instead of saying “Encore,” we are requested to say the Korean word for it. I would oblige if I knew what Our Love sounds like. In truth I am ignorant of Super Junior’s oeuvre, but I am interested in what the audience wants and what it says about our times. I think the massive success of K-Pop groups like Super Junior can no longer be considered a fleeting infatuation.
This is not a novelty act, it’s a category. Essentially they have taken the boy band formula of Take That, N’Sync, etc., dressed it in Korean pop mode (the hair, the skinny suits, the fey/feminine quality), doubled the usual number of performers (there are nine guys in Super Junior at present, but the full membership is 12, apparently), and unleashed it on an Asian audience raised on American pop and flexing its new economic muscle. Critics might call their act imitation; from where we sit it looks like assimilation. The Asian century is upon us.
At 6:40 pm the screen flickers to life and the stadium is rent by a shriek like 13,000 Sharapovas serving an ace. In the video the nine members of Super Junior are underwater, looking pensive/intense. Suddenly giant angel wings sprout out of their backs (skipping several stages of evolution), and the winged singers zoom out of the water in colored arcs and land on the streets of some city. Every eardrum in the place has been liquefied, but the screaming gets even louder as the distinctively-coiffed heads of Super Junior begin to rise from beneath the stage.
One by one their names are announced. Later each member will show off his musical skills in a solo number — someone covers the ubiquitous Moves Like Jagger, someone else does Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely with vocals, piano and harmonica, someone plays the saxophone, and someone puts on a dress and does the full Britney. Later that same guy plays Julie Andrews in an extended parody of The Sound of Music. There are funny videos in which they play high school losers, and a dramatic one in which someone’s girlfriend dies in a car accident (while the audience shrieks its approval).
For now they are singing and executing their famed choreography. I gather Super Junior fans memorize the specific dance moves for each song, but I’m not sure there’s enough space on the floor to perform them. From our section all I see are blue lights swaying.
The front of the stage detaches and moves along the catwalk. It stops in the middle of the floor and rises in a flood of colored lights, whereupon fountains of water shoot out of the floor. Throughout the elaborate three-and-a-half-hour show (and the endless encore) the audience is screaming with love, admiration, happiness, and perhaps earache. At the three-hour mark I start wondering how we’re going to get out of this stadium with 13,000 people heading for the exits. Then I remember that the MasterCard Lounge has its own exit. The speedy getaway while thousands of tired and happy concertgoers make their way out of the stadium: priceless.

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