SEOUL — On two underground floors of the new HYBE headquarters in the Yongsan district, a new museum dedicated to K-pop opened to the public last month. The 50,000-square-foot space is a visual exhibition of the musical successes that built HYBE, formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, the company synonymous with superstar boy band BTS.
This was not the first attempt at representation of K-pop in a form of exhibition. In 2018, SM Town opened its own SM Town Museum at Coex Artium in the heart of Gangnam to showcase the history of its artists from their debut to current successes in addition to the exhibition of costumes and props used in their performances. Fans could also participate in VR experiences to virtually meet their favorite artists, which all contributed to the growing popularity of the museum among international fans visiting Korea.
Two weeks after its opening, I decided to let myself explore the new HYBE establishment. My first impression was that a tremendous amount of effort was put in to truly embrace its identity as a museum while still maintaining the traditional spirit of K-pop museums, which focused on offering a variety of experiences to K-pop fans. Basically, you can tell that HYBE has put a lot of thought into turning their acts, including BTS and ENHYPEN, into something that could be exhibited for visitors to engage in and experience.
As soon as you walk in, the first thing you’ll notice is music. It’s obvious they are trying to convey the message that music is where they started and it will continue to be their main focus despite their recent transformation to a platform company by eliminating the word “entertainment” from the original corporate name. The museum is sectioned into three key spaces: Sound, Movement and Story. “Sound Layer” is the most popular space, as fans can listen to a particular song in different layers of sounds here. At any time of the day, you will see long lines of fans waiting to listen to BTS’ “Fake Love.”
In the middle of the second floor underground, you walk into a captivating space called “Dynamic Movement” where dance movements are portrayed as a way of expressing music and communicating with the public. Choreographies of HYBE’s BTS, NU’EST and GFRIEND are reconstructed to the music of unique artists such as DJ Dguru. Standing in the middle, surrounded by huge screens on which the dance videos are played, was an overwhelming experience, and I saw many others just as mesmerized as me and watching the fascinating dance videos repeatedly.
“Inspiring Story” is where many interesting exhibitions can be enjoyed in one space — interviews with artists on their thoughts about the lyrics of their songs and visualized pieces created by various artists groups such as Sunny Studio. There are also a three-dimensional map and pop-up books that have been transformed from HYBE’s “A Flower for Love” and “The Queen’s Knight,” which have been loved for their unique world views. Despite the diverse attempts at visualizing stories, they fell short of the overwhelming sense of energy that the artists directly convey through their movements.
The two separate sections of the museum are connected by a dramatic display of the history of HYBE and all the trophies their artists have won. The long path HYBE has walked on is integrated with the corporate philosophy and made into a video, and the best part is when a spotlight is turned on the wall display full of trophies. The impressive array of 180 trophies won at some of the most prestigious music shows, including Billboard Music Awards, MAMA and Korean Music Awards, were enough to wow the visitors.
Leaving visitors’ cheers behind, I move on to continue the exploration on the first floor underground, where the exhibition begins with “SEVEN PHASES,” an art piece by Taiwanese-American artist James Jean. After passing through BTS-inspired character drawings portraying members as the spirits of flowers and another unique piece named “Garden” inspired by the “Universal Truth” lyrics “A flower resembling you that bloomed in the garden of loneliness,” a complete hands-on experience awaits the visitors where they can extensively engage in HYBE music with all five senses. Visitors can also enjoy the display of HYBE artists’ costumes, accessories and souvenirs, as well as an augmented-reality game where they are divided into two teams and participate in the game. This can be a love it or hate it activity depending on the person, but it definitely adds fun elements to the whole experience at the museum. Even so, the most popular photo spot out of all these unique spaces is by the picture in a frame designed to celebrate BTS’ “Dynamite” hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A two-hour tour seems too short when the exhibition ends with videos playing the artists’ interviews and “Resonance,” a completely sound-proof space where you can completely immerse yourself into the surrounding music and sound. The interview videos are edited with style and show the artists’ genuine characters, but the most memorable moment out of the entire tour has to be in “Resonance” where you can explore the complete silence and tranquility, which is a rare experience that can resonate for days to come. It’s the moment where people who meet through music get to be genuinely serious with music in a space that’s filled with silence. “What if there was no music in the world?” is written on the wall and it suddenly seemed like a very different question after the exhibition.
The music in us has grown and brought all of us here.