How BTS made a night last forever

For 20 months, I have been haunted by two fears: that some things (the pandemic, isolation, anxiety) will last forever, and that others (dreams, loved ones, entire years) will be lost. for ever. Time has warped around me, as it has for so many people. Some days it moved like molasses. On others, like when I saw my family and friends, it seemed to flow like a river that I couldn’t stop or pass.

Then, for two weeks at the end of 2021, I tried to control the weather for myself.

In September, with live music making a comeback for good, South Korean pop group BTS announced their first in-person concerts in two years. They would play four nights at the outdoor SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, where the Super Bowl would be held in 2022. (Wearing the mask and proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test would be required.) Knowing that demand had to be fierce, I hoped to attend it once; after a lot of planning, stress and luck, I had tickets for all four dates. For a week, I shared hotel rooms with dear friends, attended shows, and blasted BTS’s vast discography while carpooling in LA traffic. And for the first time in months, I smiled at the thought of time standing still.

Obviously, the weather had been good for the seven members of BTS. Already global superstars before the pandemic, RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook had only grown up since 2020. They had released three albums and scored six. Billboard Hot 100 songs # 1, in English and Korean. They gained millions of new fans and became the first K-pop group to receive a Grammy nomination last year for their single “Dynamite” (followed by another nomination this year for “Butter”). This fall, they addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the third time, accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in as special envoys. So when the band finally took the stage in Los Angeles in late November and early December, the shows might have looked like a simple victory lap. In truth, they also served as a sort of vindication of BTS – for their talent, authenticity, reach, and emotional connection to fans. All of these things had been called into question by critics, or sometimes by the artists themselves, in 2021. The Four Nights were noisy, ecstatic and poignant proof that they were all wrong.

BTS shows are legendary affairs, known for an elaborate production design, combining demanding choreography with live vocals, goofy jokes, heartfelt speeches, inside jokes and a high level of participation from their fan crowd, known as the ‘ARMY. I had experienced it all as a brand new (and somewhat intimidated) ARMY attending my first BTS concert in May 2019, but still didn’t feel prepared for the LA shows, which were nominated for the latest single from the group, “Permission to Dance”. “In the previous weeks, I couldn’t conceive of performances of sound, movement and community after spending much of the past two years in silence, stillness and solitude.

Imagine some 50,000 people gathered in the dark as lights flash around them like stars. They dance as one body, sing with one voice in a language that may not be theirs. Many people in this small universe understand how their happiness at seeing a “boy band” or a “K-pop sensation” can be ridiculed as insignificant or childish. But this condescension has no place here. As the night progresses, thoughts of what they have suffered or lost recently fade away, and the strangers around them begin to resemble family.

This is the spell that a BTS concert can cast. When the group opened the first show in Los Angeles with their inaugural in-person performance of the adrenaline-pumping “ON”, the air crackled. When the moody gem “Black Swan” opening notes began, the stage seemed to be holding its breath. The band members staged a beautifully choreographed sequence, alongside white-feathered dancers, which seemed to belong to a Baroque theater rather than a pop concert. The back-to-back live renditions of their singles “Dynamite” and “Butter” sounded like aural serotonin, especially on day two, when effervescent Megan Thee Stallion strutted to rap her verse in the remix of ” Butter “. .

Looking at those two performances in particular, I thought of the critics who accused BTS of giving up their identity as Korean artists, all for releasing three songs in English. As the show continued, I watched BTS perform Korean tracks from their largely self-written 2020 record. TO BE, including their single “Life Goes On”. The set list reaffirmed the band’s roots as they performed many Korean songs (“DNA”, “Blood Sweat & Tears”, “I Need U”, “Idol”) that had helped them thrive. And when BTS stopped between songs, many members gave up on the English remarks they had practiced and instead shared their feelings in their native language. The broadcasts, especially weeks after the group’s official appearances as South Korea’s cultural ambassadors, seemed to avoid any lingering questions about their authenticity.

Along with complaints about their so-called Korean in decline, BTS has faced new criticism over its real popularity. Some American critics admit the group’s enormous appeal, while trying to undermine it. “If you look at the graphics… you will have a completely distorted idea of ​​how popular BTS really is,” one said. Stereo eraser play that accused fans of “playing with the system” for organizing streaming and buying campaigns to support the band’s music. The piece also lamented the death of “organic popularity” in pop music, even though BTS came from a small label and slowly gained followers through social media and word of mouth. A June cover story by Billboard asked if the efforts of BTS fans were secretly coordinated by their own label; BTS and their record label parent company Hybe have denied this. “It just feels like we’re easy targets because we’re a boy group, a K-pop group, and we have this great fan loyalty,” band frontman RM told the ‘era.

In interviews ahead of SoFi’s shows, RM went to great lengths to attempt to cloud BTS success and fans, subtly poking fun at the idea that ARMYs were bots or just 15 year old girls. During the concerts, I was amazed and encouraged by the diversity of the attendees: older women with purple highlights and tattoos, couples wearing matching BTS headbands, young people enthusiastically conversing in French or Japanese, men. middle aged in T-shirts emblazoned Jungkook Where Jimin, and friends wearing pride flags. While waiting in the long lines to enter, people played BTS songs on their phones and danced to BTS routines. I heard participants tell new friends how they got into music – through a friend, a child, a colleague’s YouTube link, a TV performance by late evening taken by chance. It all sounded like organic fandom to me.

Tthe impermanence of beauty, the beauty of impermanence – these are things BTS understands well. Their words are full of conscious references to the fleetingness of glory and contentment. Take the 2016 song “Epilogue: Young Forever”: “Huge applause can’t be mine forever… even if there isn’t an eternal audience, I will sing. As artists who debuted in 2013 with little support from the industry, BTS were surprised enough with their rise to forever, on some level, imagine the moment when all might evaporate.

At a press conference with BTS the day after their first concert, I asked how their performances at the American Music Awards a week earlier – where they had won three awards, including Artist of the Year – by compared to the SoFi show. Via a translator, Jungkook explained how the cheers of the ARMYs at the AMAs gave them energy which they then took to concerts – as if the pandemic had trained them to have a state of mind. of rarity when it came to absorbing the voices of their fans. This energy radiated from every limb under the searing lights of the stadium: the fierce and authoritative presence of RM, the bottomless vocal virtuosity of Jin, the effortlessly charismatic composure of Suga, the incomparable dance mastery of J-Hope, Jimin’s intoxicating mastery of movement, V’s singular voice and aura, and Jungkook’s relentless domination on the stage. When they moved in together, you couldn’t look away.

Yet on the final night, BTS once again offered a window into the looming sense of exhaling they are experiencing. During closing speeches, an emotional V said in Korean that they “had doubts whether ARMYs would remain” after two years. Through tears, RM said in English that he had spent much of the pandemic fearful for their future, wondering, “What if I get too old to do this, to dance like I’m 23? or 25 years old when we were so new and fresh? “He spoke of training for the past two years just to prepare for those four gigs, and admitted that while they had no idea when they might perform again, he now had less scared. “I promise … I’ll be even better when I’m 30, 35 or 40,” he said.

By the end of it all, I had come to a similar realization. Neither of us could stop time, but we didn’t need to. The performances BTS delivered and the community I shared those experiences with made me less afraid to have sweet moments of joy and then let them go. They reminded me that the future will bring joy again. That night, BTS sang fan favorite “Home,” whose lyrics are about feeling brave enough to step out into the world, because you know you’ve got somewhere, and someone, safe to go back to. .

After the shows ended, I learned that BTS had grossed $ 33.3 million and sold over 200,000 tickets; their SoFi race is one of the best-selling single venue concert tours in history. But these numbers don’t capture everything. The image that remains with me is that of the hands of the people reaching out in unison, through the floating confetti, towards the sky. Wide-eyed, as if in disbelief. As if no one had told them that going to a concert was like coming home.

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