“So this must be what success feels like,” says rapper J-Hope, strolling into a plush rooftop apartment in Paris that comes complete with a view of the Eiffel Tower. One by one, BTS file in ready to reflect on the last two months of their lives. It’s October 2018 and the band have just wrapped up the first lot of dates on their ‘Love Yourself’ tour, taking in stops in Seoul, North America, and Europe. The trek has coincided with their popularity reaching meteoric new heights but, as their second tour documentary Bring The Soul shows, not everything is rosy on the road.
The film invites fans along for the rollercoaster ride as the seven-piece transcend bars that have been set by both themselves and others. You’re whisked up and put right in the faces of the band, cameras following them as they perform, eat, sleep, and slog through injuries. Much like 2018’s Burn The Stage – which followed them on the 2017 ‘Wings’ tour – it’s as up-close-and-personal as you could get without actually being on the tour with them.
That might sound invasive, but there are only hints of that feeling of intrusion throughout what is otherwise a beautiful document of the high pressures of the touring lifestyle of superstars. Where director Park Jun Soo and label BigHit could have glossed over the bleaker moments, they show them raw and unfiltered. Jungkook breaks down in tears after making a small mistake in his solo song ‘Euphoria’ and later is on the verge of doing so again when he cuts his foot open two hours before the London show is due to start. At the end of the tour, V is overcome by emotion after he loses his voice and can’t sing some of his parts, barely able to stop crying for a post-show photo. The fly-on-the-wall filming makes these scenes hit even harder and makes you feel their pain in soul-stirring ways.
Cynics may scoff at these scenes and call them an overreaction on the stars’ part, but they’re an illustration of how much BTS care about their performance, their work, their fans. They explain, at least in part, how the group have become one of the biggest in the world. Their passion is palpable throughout, whether you’re watching them intently scrutinising recent performances like a champion football team analysing its matches or when, over dinner in Paris, Jimin comments on how excited he was when he woke up and thought it was a show day, only to realise they just had to do an interview.
There are plenty of highs to enjoy among the lows, too – mostly low-key flashes that build a feeling of closeness and endearment. Euphoric live cuts are interspersed between behind-the-scenes footage, with neat effects added to make everything feel even more like you’re right in the thick of it, like the boom of the fireworks that light up the Seoul sky at the start, cutting through and drowning out ‘Idol’ with juddering force. The film is also littered with the appearances of some of BTS’ catchphrases, like J-Hope’s polite “important business” shutdown when a fan stops him for a selfie, Jin’s yelled “Do you know BTS?” from the Paris rooftop, or their comical insistence on singing ‘Burning Up (Fire)’ whenever they see the slightest flame (this time at a K-BBQ restaurant in LA). For hardened ARMYs, these might be predictable utterances but they never feel worn-out. Instead, they’re like beloved in-jokes between friends, refusing to die or lose any of their ability to make you laugh.
Bring The Soul was sold as the band “sharing their stories as never heard before”, although there are no big revelations or surprises here. That’s no bad thing, though. What we’re given instead is an intimate portrait of seven young men grappling with the price of fame, finding strength in each other when times get tough, and always striving to be better – sometimes to a fault. It’s an emotional journey that has the power to touch everyone, proud ARMY or not, and speaks to some of what makes BTS so special – their vulnerability, their ambition, their bond, and their talent.