#Logistics in the time of COVID

Singing in South Korea during Covid-19

In South Korea, singing and concerts have been viewed as a risk due to their potential for spreading Covid through sound-and-droplet transfer. The pandemic has further highlighted how cultural ideologies about specific kinds of music and artists are articulated through state regulation.
Jonghyun Park

Audio: Singing Room in South Korea | Production, Recording, Narration: Jonghyun Park | Video Editor: Philana Woo

The audio was recorded at a Noraebang in Seoul. Jonghyun reads the warnings on the door of the noraebang (see video), which are roughly translated as follows: 

No Mask No Entry
Masks are Sold at the Counter: 500 KRW / 1 Piece
‘Coughing/Fever/Sore Throat/etc.’
Patients are Not Allowed to Enter
In Accordance with <INFECTIOUS DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION ACT> Article 80(7), violators may be punished (Fine up to 3 million KRW.)
100,000 KRW Fine Imposed on Non-mask-wearer
You should wear a mask even while singing.
For 30 Minutes

Singers, whether professionals or amateurs, emit sound-and-droplets through their mouths. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, singing and singers in South Korea have been treated as potential threats to public health, and are meticulously monitored and supervised by governmental authorities. But what kinds of singing, places for singing, and types of singers are deemed specifically dangerous? 

Noraebang (lit. singing room), where many South Koreans visit with their friends and family in their leisure time, is a public space where strict regulations on hygiene and contacts have been implemented. Each person should “QR check-in” with their smartphone, registering their presence at a given time and space in the governmental database. One can buy a new microphone (and take it home later) before entering their room. Disposable microphone covers are provided at the counter. Noraebang users should wear masks even while singing. After each use, the room is disinfected and vacated for thirty minutes. Strict regulations have been designed to prevent all the theoretical possibilities of droplet transfer between people.

In March 2021, Yi Sora, a South Korean pop singer, announced that her concert was canceled due to the legal restrictions on “meetings/events.” While musical plays and classical performances are categorized as “concerts” and allowed with limited audience capacities, Yi Sora’s concert at a small venue failed to be recognized as such. Government officials busted several live clubs at Hongdae (the indie-pop center of Seoul) and ordered bands to stop their performances for the same reason. An officer reportedly said as he stopped an indie band’s concert: “A concert is supposed to be held at a place like Sejong Cultural Center (one of the biggest city-owned halls in Seoul where classical music performances are performed)…given the Covid-19 situation, performances for someone’s 70th birthday parties cannot be allowed.” Thus, the pandemic has also highlighted the deep-rooted cultural ideologies on sound, singing, and singers. 


Jonghyun Park is a Seoul-based Singer-songwriter under the project title "Summer of Thoughts (생각의 여름)." Jonghyun is interested in how linguistically organized poetic images can be musicalized.