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Taylor Swift, in a spangly silver jacket and matching boots, leans back in a seat onstage and side-eyes the camera, with the wall of a packed stadium dimly visible behind her in a shot from her concert film The Eras Tour Image: AMC/YouTube

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Concert movies are the future of pop music fandom

It isn’t just Taylor Swift, BTS, and Beyoncé — concert movies level the field for any act with a far-flung fan base

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Concert tickets are more expensive than ever. Inflation, Ticketmaster’s monopolistic practices, and increased demand after COVID-related touring delays have coincided to create a perfect storm of ticket-buying agony. Tours were never accessible to everyone: Geography, economics, health and safety concerns, and physical or mental ability make stadium and arena concerts — held only in major metropolitan areas, and only in certain countries — infeasible and/or unaffordable for large swaths of global pop music fandom. As fandom’s role as a source of identity and community becomes more precious, and more people than ever want to see certain concerts, the barriers to attending live shows are rising — so it’s no wonder that concert films are finding expansive new footing.

Take Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, an almost three-hour filmed version of the pop star’s ongoing concert tour. The movie is now the highest-grossing concert film of all time. That isn’t just because of Taylor Swift’s expansive fandom — it’s a direct response to the difficulty of getting tickets to her shows. For fans, The Eras Tour offered up-close, intimate access to a show they never would have been able to attend otherwise.

In July, Pitchfork reported that the average cost of a ticket for the North American leg of Swift’s Eras Tour was $3,801 — a 2,321% increase from her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour, where the average resale price for North American shows was $157. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour tickets are $19.89 for adults. And people buying those tickets don’t even have to wait in the Ticketmaster queue of terror.

Taylor Swift, holding a mic to her mouth and standing in front of a bright yellow-orange scrim, sings in Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour Image: AMC Theaters/YouTube

In February, one of the other biggest musical artists in the world, K-pop septet BTS, released a filmed version of their “Yet to Come” concert, which had been a one-night-only performance for 50,000 lucky fans in Busan, South Korea. The concert film made more than $50 million worldwide, even though the show had previously been streamed via Korean platform Weverse, allowing a reported 49 million fans to watch at home.

Seeing a concert film in a movie theater isn’t the same as attending a live concert, but it isn’t an inherently lesser experience, either. At least, it isn’t for me, and I attended the Yet to Come concert both in person and in cinemas.

The concert film experience has value past its re-creation of a specific intersection of place, time, and performance. I went to theaters to relive the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the show live, but the film version was also its own unique collective fan experience. While I don’t think I need to expound on the glories of in-person shows — concerts are awesome, and BTS is very good at them — some aspects of the filmed version gave me new insight into my own live experience.

It also let me revisit it without any of the anxiety that often comes with a stadium concert experience. The logistics of getting 50,000 people into a 20-year-old stadium for the Yet to Come show weren’t simple. By the time the members of BTS took the stage in Busan, most of us had been in line for hours with limited access to bathrooms, water, or information about what was going on.

The members of BTS onstage at the Yet to Come concert, mixed in with dancers in grey hoodies holding up signs that read “j-hope,” “j-nope,” and “SUGA” Image: Trafalgar Releasing

Once the concert started, conditions in the 3,000-strong standing areas got intense, as fans pushed toward the stage, crowding people at the front and prompting BTS to alter plans to come down into the audience for their performance of their 2018 hit “IDOL.” This wasn’t my first chaotic, stressful in-person stadium concert experience, and I doubt it will be my last. I’m able and willing to make this trade for the chance to see my favorite musical group perform, but not everyone is, even if they could get tickets.

Watching the movie version of Yet to Come, I was able to show up at the theater just 20 minutes before showtime. My BTS fan friends and I were all able to go together this time. And we watched the film in a theater full of fellow fans, BTS lightsticks in hand and BT21 Tata headband on head, giving us the same sense of fandom camaraderie as the in-person concert.

I missed some of the freedom of the in-person concert experience, like being able to choose where to direct my attention across the expansive stage, bedecked with intricate sets calling back to different eras in BTS history. But the clarity and focus of the detail in the concert film helped even the score. At the film, I got a much closer view of the choreography and the BTS members’ interaction, with a close-up camera intimacy I hadn’t gotten in person. I was sharing those fandom moments not only with the other people in my cinema, but with the millions of other fans viewing the same concert film around the world. Yet to Come will stream on Amazon Prime Video starting Nov. 9, further expanding the number of fans who will be able to see it.

Fans usually assume the live experience is superior to the filmed version, but in a time when in-person community is harder to come by than ever and can sometimes mean pushing people’s financial and/or physical limits, a filmed concert can feel like a gift. BTS, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé — whose concert film Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé hits theaters in December — all have massive fandoms. But we’re geographically scattered, and often stigmatized by a mainstream culture that belittles female-driven fan culture. I go to a BTS concert to see BTS perform, but also to be among other BTS fans, who already understand why I care so much about a Korean boy band. We trade freebies and photocards, help each other set up our lightsticks, and share our favorite songs or members. Whether in a stadium in Korea or a cinema at my local mall, I go to these events to feel that sense of belonging.

The members of BTS, onstage during the Yet to Come concert, behind a row of kneeling male dancers in black pants and white T-shirts, waving white cloth Image: Trafalgar Releasing

Attending a concert in person is sometimes used as a way to enforce a kind of fandom hierarchy, as if attending a concert in person makes you a bigger fan. It doesn’t. Fans who are able to attend the stadium and arena concerts for the biggest musical artists in the world aren’t necessarily more passionate. They just have a combination of luck and privilege that others lack. But concert films are leveling the field, dropping some of the barriers of price, location, and accessibility. They may not be the future of pop music for everyone, but they are increasingly looking like the future of pop music fandom. And that’s a good thing. Pop music fandom is a way for us to find collective joy and connection in art, and I want anyone who wants in to be able to join the party.