At exactly 7:30 pm on Sunday, seven BTS members took to the stage at SoFi Stadium, each wearing white, to open the sold-out second concert of the K-pop group’s four-day performance in Inglewood with an elaborate prison. The break sequence is set to the group song “On”.
Whenever a popular boy band dabbles in prison imagery – and Seoul-based BTS is without a doubt the most popular on the planet – you have to ask what the young people are fancying escape from.
In this case, the simple interpretation is that the group was celebrating the end (s) of strict security measures in the wake of the pandemic: “BTS’s permission to dance on stage is Los Angeles,” as the Sunday show was officially announced, heralds his long-awaited return to life … viewers after more than one and a half years of absence.
At an old school press conference before the performance, the leader of the group RM said that watching the stadium filled with people the night before “gave me indescribable emotions.” His bandmate J-Hope added that he hopes the show will allow fans to “release some of the sadness and depressing thoughts” of the COVID-19 era.
Hearing tens of thousands of people inside SoFi screeching later that night as BTS writhed behind bars, it was safe to assume that his plan worked.
However, like any of its boy band predecessors – from ‘N Sync to the Beatles – BTS must also consider the weight of their own success. Already big enough in 2019 to play the Rose Bowl twice, the group went global during the pandemic, topping the Billboard Hot 100 six times in 13 months and breaking all kinds of records with their digital and live offerings. This month, the group was named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards – an unreliable name, but still – and received a second nomination for a more respectable Grammy (though some have argued that the group deserved more than one approval).
In a way, BTS exploded, smoothing out (and possibly westernizing) the rough edges of their sound that early on represented K-pop’s noisy and futuristic mix of EDM, rock and hip-hop; “Dynamite” and “Butter”, the biggest hits of the # 1 group, are disco soul jams with echoes of Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson, as well as lyrics in English.
However, BTS still lives up to the customs of a highly regulated K-pop industry that positions its superstars as ambassadors for South Korean culture; Last year, the country’s government even revised legislation allowing top K-pop artists to postpone their compulsory military service so that they can continue to spread South Korea’s soft power around the world (as BTS did in September during a visit to the UN).
Demand for excellence is high, and it is only now that additional Korean exports, including Netflix’s high-profile Squid Game and Oscar-winning Parasite, have expanded BTS’s cultural gains. Reviewers were not invited to the group’s SoFi opening on Saturday, presumably so the members – the other Jungkook, Jin, Suga, Jimin, and V – were able to get back on their feet after such a long hiatus.
The group leaders didn’t have to worry: much to the delight of the young, racial crowd – Asian, Latino, black and white fans – the Sunday show was polished as if BTS were performing every night for weeks. Meticulously choreographed and spiced with a change of costumes, the 2.5-hour concert swiftly ran through the band’s most famous songs, from old songs such as the grumpy “Dope” and the throbbing “Burning Up” to Motown’s “Permission to Dance” and “Permission to Dance. And Boy With Luv, BTS’s energetic electro-pop collaboration with Halsey.
For the folk “Life Goes On,” whose Korean lyrics reflect on the loneliness of the pandemic era, the band members flopped onto a giant bed and large sofa; for Telepathy, they boarded motorized platforms that traveled around the perimeter of the stadium floor to get closer to the fans they call the Army. Megan T Stallion in pink thigh high boots unexpectedly appeared to sing her poems from the remix of “Butter” – just one of the Western pop artists (along with Coldplay, Lil Nas X and Jason Derulo) who have been looking for recently stopped dating with BTS.
Throughout the show, fans waved expensive Bluetooth-enabled light sticks – the ones for BTS called army bombs – that blinked to the beat of the music.
For all this characteristic precision, the best parts of the concert were when BTS relaxed a little, like in “Dynamite”, for which the singers were joined by live R&B combos that looked like they were playing someone else’s wedding, and “Idol,” Where they gave up their dance moves and strolled down the runway just to hang out on a smaller secondary stage.
For an encore, Jin returned with pigtails like the Squid Game doll – a welcome break from the heartthrob’s masculinity – and here he seemed to enjoy a taste of freedom not found in boyband life. always allow.
“You and I are making a movie together,” Jin said through an interpreter to the crowd filled with glowing smartphones. It was the idea of a pop star’s closeness that could almost break your heart.