By: Emmi Liu
moonROK Guest Editorialist
The first time I saw BTS live, I watched their entire performance from behind.
It was at KCON 2014, with the boys performing on the round stage at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. At the time, BTS was a relatively minor name alongside headliners like G-Dragon, IU, and Girls’ Generation, but even then, their powerful choreography and stage presence held flashes of the group’s success to come in the future – KCON 2016 headliners, two world tours, and beyond.
I had the fortune of seeing BTS perform in L.A. for the BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet tour in 2015, as well as in Anaheim for their follow-up Live Trilogy Episode III: The Wings Tour a little over a month ago. As the years have gone by, BTS has upgraded from a 2,300 venue capacity to nearly 18,400 people; from single stops in 4 cities to two-night stops in 3 cities across the continental U.S., all sold out; and their popularity on the international stage only continues to grow. Beyond the United States, The Wings Tour includes stops in Santiago, Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
Tonight, they’re in attendance for the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, as one of the nominees and top contenders for the Top Social Artist category. Despite facing off against top stars such as Justin Bieber (past winner) and Ariana Grande, BTS and their fans have had a strong showing thus far in terms of fan voting, on Twitter and the official Billboard website.
For many keeping up with the BBMAs, BTS is a brand new name, possibly even their first introduction to Kpop. No worries – with strong tracks such as “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” and “Dope,” 7-member group BTS has risen to the challenge without hesitation, earning their place alongside big names such as Super Junior and Big Bang. They’ve attracted the attention of The Chainsmokers, Charlie Puth, and Tinashe, all of which who follow them back on Twitter, and Rap Monster recently collaborated with Wale on the rap-heavy track “Change.” Even PSY recently acknowledged the group’s achievements, citing BTS as an example of “unique overseas advancement” like himself during a press event for his latest album, 4×2=8. With almost 6 million Twitter followers and 3 million Youtube subscribers, BTS has set itself apart from their fellow idol groups not only with their music and choreography, but their ability to connect with their dedicated fanbase.
BTS are a key example of a K-pop group highly invested in their celebrity-fan relationship, often mentioning in interviews that they hope their music and the stories they tell can prove as a source of strength and comfort for their listeners. They’re active on Twitter, posting selcas and videos multiple times a week, and livestream frequently via Naver V App to converse with fans in their own unique ways. They also upload staff-filmed short videos called “Bangtan Bombs” to give fans a rare backstage glimpse into the boys’ daily schedules. For example, Jin is widely known for enjoying food (as well as his ability to fit large amounts of meat in his mouth at once); he’s shared recipes that he cooked in BTS’s dorm and even hosted his own meok-bang, or “eating show,” called Eat Jin across restaurants and hotel rooms during the group’s multiple world tours.
It is by sharing mundane details about the members’ lives, that BTS enables their fans (also known as ARMYs) to feel closer to them. Recently, the two youngest members, V and Jungkook, have revealed themselves to be avid Overwatch players; Jungkook has tweeted videos of himself playing the game, and has been mentioned by other idols such as VIXX’s Hongbin as a good player.
While waiting outside before The Wings Tour, I even met a girl with a fansign of “Jeong-McCree,” with Jungkook dressed in McCree’s outfit saying, “Chong! Jojun! Balsa!” (“Point, aim, shoot!”), a line from their latest banger, “Not Today.” The fansign made me laugh so hard I asked her if I could take a photo of it!
“Not Today” was the opener for BTS’s The Wings Tour show in New York City, Chicago, and Anaheim, kicking off a night of high-energy performances and gorgeous videography – definitely a step up in production quality since they last graced American soil for The Red Bullet. “Not Today” undoubtedly followed up BTS’s showing with “Fire” in terms of dance difficulty, with choreography created by Keone Madrid, a high profile choreographer who has also worked with Justin Bieber and Big Bang’s Taeyang.
As it was The Wings Tour, a major portion of the night’s setlist centered around their recent full album, titled Wings, featuring one solo song per member. Not an easy feat, especially since each of the 7 songs conveyed a personal story and unique visual and dance concept. In “Begin,” Jungkook sang about leaving his hometown to come to Seoul at a young age to train under Big Hit Entertainment, while J-Hope dedicated his song to his mother in “MAMA,” performing in a dazzling, sequined jacket while his baby pictures played out on the screens behind. Suga rapped passionately about his “First Love,” bringing many a fan to tears as he sat at a piano while recounting how he fell in love with music. A truly memorable, chilling moment for me was during Rap Monster’s performance of “Reflection,” when he repeated the final stanza, “I wish I could love myself,” only for an entire stadium of ARMYs to shout back, “We love you!” each time.
After the solos, the group returned to the stage to perform “Lost” and “Cypher Pt. 4” in informal sub-units, vocal-line and rap-line respectively. Of course, it wouldn’t be a BTS concert without Suga spitting fire and spraying the fans in the pit with water, the greatness of which I can vouch for first-hand. BTS also pleasantly surprised fans by performing a medley of their previous title songs, from “N.O,” to “No More Dream,” to “Boy in Luv,” to “Danger,” to “Run” (having performed “I Need U” earlier in the night). I hadn’t been expecting to see performances of older songs, and made sure to scream extra loud for “N.O” and “Danger,” some of my favorite songs despite their relative lack of popularity in Korea.
BTS’s final performance of the night was a “Boy Meets Evil” dance solo by J-Hope that segued into “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” the boys disappearing backstage after their final powerful dance move. Fans immediately began chanting for an encore, lighting up the Honda Center with an ocean of rainbow lights as organized by a massive fan event. Waving my blue light, I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of a whole, something greater than myself, part of the cheer that began when the boys returned to perform four final songs: “Wings,” “2, 3! (Still Hoping There Will Be Better Days),” “Spring Day,” and “You Never Walk Alone.” These tracks from the Wings album and its repackage, You Never Walk Alone, closed the concert with a hopeful, buoyant note. Like balloons rising into the sunny sky, like coasting down the highway with the windows down, hair whipping around your face, music blasting from your speakers.
As I left the concert venue, ears ringing, I couldn’t help but sing “You Never Walk Alone” to myself. Even listening to the song now brings back the exhilaration of seeing my favorite group perform. It’s hard to believe that the group who once had their “N.O” performances cut short during music shows sold out an entire world tour (again) – yet it’s not hard at all. It’s BTS, telling their personal stories of growth, maturity, and hope, in a way that millions of fans can relate to. Regardless of whether they take home the award tonight at the Billboard Music Awards, that feeling will stay with me for a long time, as I know it will for every other ARMY in attendance.