The anniversary of BTS’ debut – their first collection, ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’, was released on June 12, 2013 – is always a happy occasion. Each year the Korean group hold their own celebrations in the lead up to that date, sharing new songs, videos and other content with their ARMY fans, before the whole thing culminates in a concert.
This year, though, is a little different. The last two weeks may still have been filled with the joy of those daily gifts, but life as we once knew it is on hold. Even so much as touching someone you don’t live with feels like an alien act, let alone gathering in an enclosed space to watch your favourite band with thousands of your fellow fans.
This year’s Muster should be even more celebratory than most – it’s BTS’ seventh-anniversary, a significant milestone in the Korean music industry, as most idol contracts expire after that period of time. BTS have already signed a seven-year extension, showing no signs of having peaked yet despite their ever-growing list of achievements and consistently inventive releases. Not being able to gather in person isn’t going to stop them from trying to give their fans something special to mark the occasion. They didn’t become one of the biggest bands in the world with a defeatist attitude.
This show, ‘Bang Bang Con: The Live’ – an abbreviated portmanteau of the band’s name in Korean (Bangtan Sonyeondan), the Korean word for room (bang), and concert – is a much-needed antidote to all the chaos and fire going on the world right now. It’s a moment of brief escape that allows band and fans to reconnect, even if just through the power of technology.
BTS might not be able to see the audience waving their ARMY bomb lightsticks at home, but a glowing map on one of the studio’s walls glimmers whenever those watching click on the virtual lightstick on the stream. They can read and react to comments in real-time, which leads to a jokey interlude where Jin’s bandmates accuse him of making things up when he reads out a torrent of compliments he’s received.
The band might be limited in the scale of production they can put on right now, but they still manage to elevate the show far above a regular live-streamed gig. Their studio is filled with sets of different rooms, opening in a purple hallway in which members pop out from doors one-by-one as they move to a more traditional performance space. There’s a lounge area where they intermittently gather to chat casually, perform and not-so-subtly uphold their title of promo kings and drop mentions to the various brands they have endorsement deals with.
The setlist is short compared to normal BTS gigs, but weaves a line through much of their last seven years. They throwback to ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’ with a rendition of the track ‘Like’, which they film on seven individual phones. The song’s theme of longing for love feels even more intimate than usual, as if it’s being delivered through FaceTime rather than a global live-stream. ‘Boyz With Fun’ is accompanied by indoor pyrotechnics and the kind of goofy spirit that makes BTS so endearing, while ‘Just One Day’’s chair choreography is the kind of thing that would get lost in a big venue, but works perfectly here.
The group have been working on their postponed ‘Map Of The Soul’ stadium tour and although most of the details are kept under wraps, they do share some performances of their latest songs for the first time. Jin, J-Hope and Jungkook circle a black-and-white room for ‘Jamais Vu’, which appears on this year’s album ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’. They ascend and descend a staircase as the slow, emotional song’s melodies soar up and down.
RM and Suga take things back in time for ‘Respect’, rapping in old-school three-piece suits in front of a disco ball-embellished wall of flashing squares. V and Jimin’s soul mate anthem ‘Friends’, meanwhile, is delivered from a mocked up Seoul bus stop, visual cues to the lyrics – with references to dumplings and finger sizes – nodding to a world of in-jokes.
Later, we get bursts of the fiery ‘UGH!’ (featuring members clad in boxing gloves and rapline enthusiast V adding himself into the song) and the soothing ’00:00 (Zero O’Clock)’, as well as an update on one of the band’s best songs. BTS share a disco-tinged version of ‘Boy With Luv’, performed with LED-lined umbrellas like a technicolour take on ‘Singing In The Rain’. It’s yet another vibrant reminder that this is not a band that rests on their laurels or settles for the expected.
It must be a strange experience for any artist to perform without a crowd in front of them and even though they make frequent reference to missing the ARMY, BTS do their best to keep things light and positive. There’s rarely a time during the show when their faces aren’t painted with broad grinsm and their relaxed attitude makes everything feel warmer and more comforting than you might think a live-stream in isolation could be. It’s more like a hang out with friends than a super-slick show.
It isn’t until the very end that they let their smiles slip momentarily and open up about the day. “It was hard for me to perform,” admits RM. “It’s scary to think that maybe this could be the future of concerts.”
This makes tonight’s closing song, ‘Spring Day’ – with its crystal melodies and repeated refrain of “I miss you” – hit that much harder. “We’ll come up with something like this again,” promises Jungkook earlier in the night. As the band depart back down the hallway they emerged from, those become words to cling to until we can meet again IRL.
‘Boyz With Fun’
‘Just One Day’
’00:00 (Zero O’Clock)’
‘Boy With Luv’