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    I Got A Front-Row Seat To A Sold-Out Blackpink Concert Using Virtual Reality. Here’s What The Experience Was Really Like

    As the countdown hit zero, the Gocheok Sky Dome materialized before me, and "Pink Venom" began blaring through my headset.

    Back when I was in college, a friend of mine invited me to attend the Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was 2015 and my first time stepping into virtual reality. Despite VR being in its early stages, the festival showcased short VR films from filmmakers around the world. After popping on a headset, I soon found myself immersed in demos like Butts, one of the first animated shorts in VR, and The Nepal Quake Project, which transported viewers to the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

    In fact, I still vividly remember exploring the Korean Demilitarized Zone through the memories of a former South Korean solider in D.M.Z: Memories of No Man’s Land while being hyperaware that I’d never be able to do so in person (logistics aside, the ground is covered in more than a million mines). By the time we left, I was fascinated by the potential of VR in media.

    D.M.Z poster

    Needless to say, when Meta invited me to Blackpink: A VR Encore, I was excited to attend my first VR concert. The K-pop girl group is one of the more recent acts in Meta Quest’s larger Music Valley Concert Series, created to give fans “immersive and unparalleled stage views” of their favorite artists without having to leave their homes. So far, its lineup has included The Kid Laroi, Doja Cat, Victoria Monét, and more.

    Blackpink: A VR Encore

    While Meta Quest filmed Blackpink’s sold-out finale of the Born Pink World Tour at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, all virtual shows for the Music Valley Concert Series take place in Horizon Worlds. The virtual reality platform, developed by Meta (formerly Facebook), can be accessed using a Meta Quest series VR headset. Since I don’t own one, I visited Meta’s Manhattan office to use a Quest 3 — the third generation of the Meta Quest series, released in October 2023 — and experience the concert before it premiered.

    If you’re new to the Quest 3, it comes in three pieces: the headset and two controllers (one for each hand). The headset boasts a plush, padded facial cushion, ensuring a snug fit while blocking out most peripheral light. Though I noticed a slight gap around my nose (allowing me to peek at my Samsung Watch6 when needed), it didn’t detract from the VR experience. The headset also features a dial underneath the visor to adjust inter-pupillary distance (the space between your eyes) without taking it off — an upgrade from the Quest 2.

    A MetaQuest 3 is seen on display during the Meta Connect Developer Conference at Meta's headquarters

    When it comes to head straps, the Quest 3 offers various options. I used the Elite strap, which has a dial on the back to fit the strap to your head. While the headset felt somewhat heavy on my face, with pressure particularly noticeable on my cheeks, the facial cushion and Elite strap helped distribute its weight. However, it felt more unfamiliar than uncomfortable, and I eventually got used to it.

    The Quest 3 headset

    Once I had my headset and controllers ready, I entered Horizon Worlds. As soon as the Quest 3 powered on, the conference room I stood in fell away and was replaced by a vibrant virtual world. Before venturing to Music Valley, one of the worlds on the virtual reality platform, I customized my avatar. Now, I’m not one to spend much time on avatar customization. But in a virtual environment like Horizon Worlds, having a personalized digital self adds to the immersion, especially in social interactions. Fortunately, Horizon Worlds offers a variety of options for avatar customization, allowing you to adjust everything from physical features to clothing.

    The VR concert world

    With my avatar concert-ready, I finally entered Music Valley. Officially described as a “desert oasis,” it was lined with desert rocks and cacti with a healthy littering of bean bags. The world actually reminded me of Coachella, a classic for music festivals. Navigating the valley was straightforward. I easily found the main stage at the end of the U-shaped valley, which doubled as a pit. Fans could either dance in the pit or climb the surrounding rocks for a different view of the performance.

    Music Valley

    Since I had some time before the concert, I decided to explore the world. A giant countdown in the sky kept me on schedule as I climbed fluffy pink clouds, played a game on a giant DJ controller, and even roasted marshmallows over a campfire (which, true to life, means I just set them on fire). By this point, the virtual landscape and its interactive features made me feel completely immersed in Music Valley; my stomach even dropped slightly when I accidentally fell off a cloud.

    View from Music Valley

    Minutes before the concert kicked off, I headed to the main stage. As the countdown hit zero, the stage from the Gocheok Sky Dome materialized before me, and "Pink Venom" began blaring through my headset. Suddenly, I found myself at the bottom of the stage with Blackpink entering from the top. It dawned on me then that I was watching the concert through cameras Meta had set up at the venue. Throughout the show, my viewpoint switched between various stage corners and an overhead shot above the lighting technicians.

    "my first viewpoint"

    As a result, the concert felt more like watching a live stream on a giant screen than being part of a virtual world. I could freely move around Music Valley, but the screen stayed fixed. To give you a better idea, below are screenshots of Music Valley from its launch trailer. I didn’t see the rainbow border and speakers around the main stage during the concert, but if you imagine ground-to-sky (floor-to-ceiling?) footage of Blackpink in its place, you’d get the gist of it.

    Views of Music Valley

    Between the flat footage, fixed screen, and predetermined camera angles, the experience wasn’t as interactive or immersive as I imagined. I felt like I could’ve just projected the concert on my wall for a similar front-row experience without needing the headset.

    "Met's cameras"

    However, despite the VR experience not feeling particularly unique, I was impressed by the footage quality. I could clearly see every detail. Lisa was always smiling and looked like she genuinely enjoyed performing. Jisoo accidentally kicked a crate holding water bottles off the edge of the stage. Stage crew members held clipboards as they diligently waited in the wings during each set. Even though I didn't feel physically present on stage, the camera placements and size of the virtual screen gave me a sense of closeness and presence with Blackpink that surpassed watching on a 60-inch TV.

    Blackpink onstage

    Like in live concerts, spatial audio — or how you perceive sound in a three-dimensional space — is essential in virtual reality. It’s what lets you tell where sounds are coming from and how far away they are. It’s also what makes you feel like you’re in the middle of things when using headphones or speakers. The Quest 3 tackles spatial audio with speakers embedded on the side of the headset. And I have to say, it delivered an impressively realistic spatial audio experience.

    A MetaQuest 3 is seen on display during the Meta Connect Developer Conference at Meta's headquarters

    Sounds accurately followed my movements within the virtual environment. When I turned around, it sounded as if the concert was behind me. My conversations with Meta representatives also felt surprisingly natural; their voices seemed to come from the direction of their avatars. All in all, the Quest 3 created a dynamic audio experience, adding a layer of realism and immersion to the experience.

    Blackpink on a platform onstage

    Once the concert was over, I took off the headset and found myself back in the conference room. If I had watched the concert with my own Quest 3, I’d have been back in the comfort of my own room — a huge step up from the hustle of leaving a stadium after a traditional concert. Overall, the concert was a fun and unique experience, and it highlighted VR’s potential to transform how fans engage with live performances. While the format of Blackpink’s concert felt more like watching a live stream than fully immersing myself in a virtual world, its crystal-clear footage and spatial audio tech made it surprisingly engaging.

    Blackpink onstage

    In the end, the appeal of VR concerts comes down to personal preferences, as they undeniably offer a unique and convenient alternative to traditional concerts. Some see them as a supplement to live performances they can't attend in person, while others view them as an opportunity for fresh experiences with broader creative possibilities. Ultimately, the main barrier to entry is the cost of a headset, with the Quest 3 starting at $499.99 (though it also enables you to play games and attend events beyond the Music Valley Concert Series).

    With virtual reality continuing to advance and standalone headsets becoming more accessible, it will be cool to witness the evolution of VR concerts and how they leverage the innovative potential of virtual experiences. As Meta Quest’s Music Valley Concert Series and the overwhelming interest in events like Blackpink: A VR Encore prove, the (virtual) stage is set for a revolution in how we experience music and engage with performance art.

    You can check out the Music Valley Concert Series upcoming lineup here. Learn more about the Meta Quest series here.

    Have you ever attended a VR concert or tried a VR headset? Would you consider trying it in the future? Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!