Pulling up to the theater, with McDonalds tucked under our winter coats, and a barely-secured parking spot (the lot was completely full), we were hyped for the 8:30 PM show. The live simulcast was not actually live, due to time zones. (Though admittedly, I would have readily shown up to the real thing at 4 AM; international fans are used to such release times – something about having to set an alarm for ass-o’clock in the morning makes the whole thing more exciting.) This weekend held BTS’ first concert of 2022, a 3-day show, and Saturday was the only day it would be streamed in theaters all around the world. In the throng of the theater lobby, we kept exchanging glances with other ticket holders, and it was like we could somehow tell who was also there for BTS. Despite all this, our cinema wasn’t a packed one: less than half capacity, a comfortable audience.
What’s different about this concert, is that the entire show included all seven members – no solo songs or subunits – because the band wanted to see ARMY (the moniker for BTS fans) for as long as they could. This, I really enjoyed; their stage presence and energy is best all together, as a group. Existing as seven also allows them to joke with one another. They especially had fun teasing the audience, by trying to trick or provoke them into shouting and cheering past the no yelling/chanting policy, due to South Korea’s COVID restrictions.
My favorite performances were that of Black Swan, a breath-taking bird-like dance intro, followed by contemporary trap-beat choreography. The all-black ensemble is highlighted by the background dancers’ feathered sleeves, which create flowing transitions and haunting waves. During Telepathy, an upbeat retro song the band wrote to “melt down the feeling of not being able to meet with fans” (Genius), the boys rode moving platforms that circle the stadium’s first floor, allowing them to get closer to the second and third floor audiences.
BTS during Black Swan
It started raining halfway through, but they sang, danced, slipped, and smiled through it all.
The whole performance was as expected: rigorously well-rehearsed, show-stopping, grand-scaled. I was, however, surprised that there were no English subtitles, since during most of their live broadcasts, there’s usually real-time translations uploaded to the bottom of the screen, letter by letter. My Korean isn’t perfect, but I can understand for the most part. For this, I was grateful. Although most non-speakers can sing BTS’s lyrics thanks to romanization and translation guides, during the speeches, I think most people were lost. When the members asked the audience to clap three times in succession, or for other call-and-responses, my row’s were the only ones ringing through the theater.
During their closing speech, the leader of the group, RM said, “Honestly, I think there are lots of people who find these middle concerts (2nd day concerts) a bit of a shame. The 1st concert is the first, so they feel excited; the last concert is the last, so they cry and it’s touching. So there are people who might think that the middle concerts are a little iffy/ambiguous. But what’s very special about today is, because there is no online streaming, only you all who are here and the ones in the movie theaters are the ones seeing us. And above all, the rain, they said it’s not coming tomorrow. Isn’t this a rare stage effect that you all can enjoy only today? And like the cherry blossoms flying/falling, I think it was even more special, because we got to be together.”
BTS taking a group photo with ARMY
With twenty-two songs, five ments – “the time when those onstage introduce themselves, speak to fans, and give speeches” (Morin) – plus five pre-recorded VCRs (videos they play between sets), the performance amounted to around 3 hours and 15 minutes. Yet, as people started to file out, I couldn’t help feeling like it all went by so quickly. I’m seeing BTS in person at their Las Vegas show in April; how much faster would that fly by? The girls I went to the theater with would also be my concert buddies that weekend. This was our first time hanging out together outside of church, where we met. The fact that our love for this band brought us together and helped me, an introvert, sidestep the dreaded small talk stage of a new friendship, is so cool. I think that’s what I love most about BTS: their social impact– both breaking the barriers of the mostly white, American music scene, and helping to unify diverse communities of people through their music.