Yesterday- October 24th– Korean boyband BTS held an online concert- the Permission to Dance On Stage concert- in Seoul, the first of several dates which will include their first performances to a live audience in two years. Their 2020 Map of The Soul World Tour was cancelled due to coronavirus, with the world being thrown into a state of tremendous uncertainty. The Covid-19 pandemic that swept the globe at the beginning of 2020 changed the lives of every single person on this planet and even now- with vaccinations rolling out and our understanding of the virus significantly increasing- it continues to have long lasting effects to millions upon millions of people every day. It has been a terrifying time for everyone as well as a depressing one. With events cancelled, families being separated and the world being instructed to go in and shut its doors, depression, anxiety and isolation spread like wildfire. The things that we would often use to console ourselves when feeling down- like having a holiday or an event to look forward to or going to visit friends and family- was taken away from us. We were all- and some of us still are- very much alone. Even global superstars such as BTS found themselves without the thing that kept them going: performing to their beloved ARMY fan base. That is why this concert is so important, as it is the prelude to their reunion with the ARMY after two whole years. This concert felt more poignant than their Muster Sowoozoo seeing as the idea of an in person concert was still up in the air back in June when that was performed. The first performance of their Permission to Dance On Stage concert felt like a glimpse of a positive future, teasing what is to come with their live performance of the concert in Los Angeles at the end of November and beginning of December. There was certainly a level of optimism in the performances too, signalling the start of a return to normality of some sort (so long as everyone involved is sensible). The concert was not only a technical marvel with excellent performances, it was also a beacon of hope for both their fans and BTS themselves, whose words during the concerts suggested that they have been struggling to cope with the separation just as much as their fans have.
The Technical Aspects
The first thing that has to be discussed here is the behind the scenes elements of the concerts. This might seem like a bit of an odd way to start off a review for one of the biggest bands in the world right now but their team is such a vital part of every single aspect of the bands success and so it seems apt to discuss their role in the concert first. It must be rather difficult to prepare for a concert that will completely online. Even if you know there are going to be millions of viewers, the empty stadium must not only be somewhat disheartening for the band but also for the crew. Their hard work and effort certainly did not fall on deaf ears though, with the high production values being prevalent throughout. From the set pieces to the different choices of themes for each song, there was nothing that didn’t work excellently during the whole two and a half hour show. The giant furniture set pieces for the performance of “Life Goes On” were a standout, as was the flaming backdrop for the performance of “Fire (Burning Up)”. The technical aspects of a concert can sometimes be overlooked but they are crucial when it comes to setting the scene, providing the atmosphere and giving the main stars a proper platform to showcase their talents. There was clearly a lot of thought put into the background of the stage as the group were performing and whilst the physical parts of this were great- such as that aforementioned oversized furniture- the digital parts were great too. Large screens adorned the back of the stage behind the group as they performed and they were used creatively to give the audience some interesting visuals. One of the coolest uses for these screens was with a performance of “IDOL”, with some cool graphics that were made to look like they were being created in Photoshop on the screen then and there. The most striking technical moment came during the performance of “Blue & Grey”, a sombre ballad that was written by Kim Taehyung a.k.a BTS member V. The group performed most of the song facing away from the audience and looking into full length screens with pre-recorded, black and white performances of themselves depicted on them. This gives the illusion that the screen is actually a mirror as the members sing to themselves (their pre-recorded selves are wearing the same outfit to emphasise this notion), which is very clever and incredibly well executed. The members eventually turned around during the performance and walked forward whilst their pre-recorded selves reach out towards the screen. The performance is incredibly artistic but it would not have been possible to do this without the skill of the tech team behind the scenes.
Other behind the scenes elements were also absolutely top notch, such as the wardrobe team whose outfit choices not only corresponded perfectly for each member but also suited the vibe of each performance. The enticing black ensembles worn for “Black Swan”- for example- are very different then the eccentric and colourful clothing that the band wore for “Dynamite” and “Butter” to match the different natures of the song. Each member also has their own style which the stylists and wardrobe department clearly work to maintain, such as Jungkook’s grunge aesthetics, Jimin’s delicate yet sultry vibes and RM’s rugged, masculinity. All seven members have their own look that corresponds with their stage persona and every single person working on the wardrobe, hair and make-up of the boys perfectly matches these looks to their personalities as well as the songs during the concert. These are all incredibly tricky things to get absolutely perfect but the team behind the scenes categorically nailed it, creating a more immersive concert experience and elevating BTS to allow them to perform to their absolute best. Their crew should be applauded for their brilliant work, just as the group themselves should be.
The Music/The Set List
An essential element of any concert to get right is the set list and the Permission to Dance On Stage concert had an excellent one that perfectly showcased the talents of the group as a whole whilst also offering a wide variety of their musical material from throughout their eight year career. The show opened with a short film referencing their “Butter” music video before they performed “ON” from their 2020 album Map of the Soul: 7 as their opening number. They then went into a medley of some of their older songs such as “Fire” from 2017 and “Dope” from 2015. The set list takes songs from various albums, including their latest from November 2020, BE. The medleys are also excellently arranged and perfectly chosen, such as the combination of “I Need U” and “Save Me”, which blends so effortlessly that it was almost impossible to tell where “I Need U” ended and “Save Me” began. The set list ended with the songs that the group believed would mean most to their ARMY fans- “Epilogue: Young Forever” and “Spring Day”, both of which have significance as songs in regards to BTS and their relationship with their fans- before concluding the entire show with “Permission to Dance.” This was a well a thought out set list that not only demonstrated the strengths of the members; it also suggested a thought process that included considering the wants of their fans rather than their own desires. Not only that, but the arrangements of all the songs were fantastic thanks to the live band that played alongside the group (and even got in on the performance for “Dynamite.”) These remixes were fantastic and really helped to bring the show to life whilst also adding a new twist to both their new and their classic songs. If only these remixes and arrangements could be released for us to download! There were no solo songs this time around- which is unusual for a BTS concert- but this was explained by the group at the end, saying that they wanted to perform as one this time around rather than branching off to do their own songs too. This is understandable and the decision did not impact negatively on the concert in anyway. Hopefully we will get to see both solo performances alongside the group ones in the next concert.
As well as the music being fantastic, the performances from BTS, their band and their dancers were also incredible. As discussed above when talking about the music, the band performed live to create brand new takes on well-known BTS songs. The dancers and performers danced alongside the group too and are easily able to hold their own amongst the boys thanks to their talent in both dance and general performance. There is such talent to be had with the backup dancers and they deserve all of the same love and praise that BTS themselves get. One unfortunate part of the performances themselves was that Taehyung was unable to perform in the dances due to an unforeseen, last minute calf injury. This is not the first time one of the members has been out of action during a concert (Jungkook was unable to dance at their concert two years ago due to a sudden foot injury that required stitches) but it is always a difficult situation when it does happen. BTS are very much a group of seven and their performances rely on all of them working together as a unit. Something always feels like it is missing if one of them is unable to perform and whilst Taehyung was still able to sing, his presence during the performances felt like a piece of the puzzle that was missing. That isn’t to say that the performances were not good- quite the opposite in fact- but Taehyung’s lack of participation was certainly felt. Despite this, the performances were still stellar as always thanks to the collaborative efforts of all involved.
The Interval Films
BTS have always had small interval films that go in between the performances and these are usually interesting little standalone segments that are directed excellently. Whilst the production values for the films during the Permission to Dance On Stage intervals were excellent, the actual narrative between them was a little peculiar. Jungkook, V and RM are the stars of one whilst Suga, jhope, Jin and Jimin star in the other with both groups coming together in the third film. Without going into detail (the event was a paid for experience), the themes were odd and somewhat jarring in comparison to some of the groups other films. That isn’t to say that the short films weren’t enjoyable and that the boys and the actors involved didn’t perform well. It was just all kind of weird, confusing and bordering on pretentious at times.
Another aspect of the concerts that BTS hold that makes them stand out somewhat is the small speeches that they will give at the end of the show alongside their introductory words. Whilst their introductions were inspiring- encouraging the audience to enjoy ourselves and forget all of their problems during the event- it was the closing words from each member that were surprisingly poignant. Each member took a few minutes to talk about their personal feelings in regards to their performance and they were unsurprisingly humble. What was surprising was how sad some of the members seemed to be. Jimin seemed to think that he had not performed his best, saying he was suffering with a sore throat. V also expressed disappointment in himself because-as mentioned above- he could not dance during the show due to an injury. He seemed upset with himself and his injury and promised to “work harder.” All of the members spoke of the difficulties that they had been having in some way- such as Jin who mentioned how tired and sore he felt as he is getting older now (he is 28- almost 29- but is actually 30 in Korean age which is different from universal age) and RM who mentioned who hard it is to maintain a high energy performance when in an empty stadium. It was Jungkook whose words were somewhat heart-breaking though, as he discusses the difficulties of looking out into the stadium and not being able to see ARMY looking back. He says that his motto has always been, “I’d rather die than live without passion” but then notes that his passion for performing has been starting to fade due to not being able to do so in person for so long. The emotions throughout the speeches are palpable and it’s easy to see that the seven of them are being entirely authentic. They seem to be battling with their emotions when it comes to the topic of the ARMY and it is clear that they have a special connection with their fans. This rapport is what separates BTS from a lot of other artists, especially the earnest nature of said connection. Their willingness to be completely honest and open allows for a deeper relationship with their fan base and this comes across strongly in these closing speeches. Despite having just performed an excellent concert for millions of fans online, they seem saddened that they weren’t able to see ARMY directly and share that personal connection whilst performing. Their closing words were not only earnest and genuine in regards to their own feelings, they also showed the strength of the relationship that BTS have with their fans. It is not merely a one sided fan base. There is very much the feeling that they miss us as much as we miss them. Their upcoming live performance in the United States will give them the chance to reunite with their fans and hopefully they will be able to expand their international visits soon too (as I said at the beginning, this will only be as long as people are serious about staying safe and maintaining a sensible attitude in regards to coronavirus).
The Permission to Dance On Stage online concert was a fantastic experience that proves once again that BTS are some of the strongest performers out there at the moment. Although it was unfortunate that Taehyung could not perform, the other six members excellently danced their way through their brilliantly chosen set list. The entire team involved- the backstage crew, the musicians, the dancers and the band themselves- clearly worked very hard to put the concert together and the result was a thoroughly entertaining show that was not only performed superbly, but also acted as another demonstration of just how much the fans mean to BTS.