Just seven months after playing a pair of sell-out shows at London’s most famous arena, The O2, BTS are stepping up again with a pair of sell-out shows at the capital’s most iconic stadium. The seven-member boyband are already the first K-pop group to score a UK Top 40 single (with last year’s ‘Idol’) and Number One album (with April’s Map of the Soul: Persona); now they’re also the first Korean band to headline Wembley Stadium, welcoming 120,000 fans to the world-famous venue over two consecutive nights. This first gig is being live-streamed as a treat for fans and, perhaps, a bit of a victory lap.
The inexorable global rise of the Bangtan Boys, as they’re also known, hasn’t happened by thinking “will this do?”. So it’s to be expected that their new stadium pop show is super-sized and slickly produced. When the stage is flooded by a battalion of backing dancers during ‘Idol’, it makes the song’s bolshy, New Kids-ish stomp even more thrilling. They toss off confetti drops, enormous water jets and spectacular pyrotechnics mid-set rather than feeling the need to save them for the encore. A giant bouncy castle is inflated on stage during ‘Anpanman’ just for the sake it – well, if you had the opportunity to whoosh down a giant slide in the middle of Wembley Stadium, wouldn’t you take it? But there’s no video footage of Halsey when they perform their recent collaboration ‘Boy with Luv’, presumably because BTS’s fans aren’t here to see anyone but band members Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook.
Endearingly lo-fi moments also delight a super-enthusiastic crowd who shriek like scream queens, seem to know the words to songs sung mostly in Korean, and wave BTS glow sticks like adoring disciples. Some have even brought binoculars to the show so they can get a closer glimpse of their idols. When the group instigates a stadium-sized Mexican wave, it’s good, old-fashioned, slightly naff fun, and you can’t fault several band members for showing off their best British accents. “Easy-peesy-lemon-squeezey,” Jungkook offers to a roar of approval.
Each band member also gets his own solo showcase, but some of these are showier than others. RM proves himself a committed rapper on ‘Trivia 承: Love’, and Jin does his best to enliven the beige ballad ‘Epiphany’, but honours tonight go to Jungkook, who flies into the crowd on a zip-wire while performing ‘Euphoria’, a lovely guitar-flecked pop tune that’s one of BTS’s very best.
It almost goes without saying that BTS make no pretence at traditional musical authenticity here. There’s no live band in sight and unless the band members are verging on superhuman, some of the high-octane song-and-dance numbers must be at least partly lip-synced. But when the worst thing you can say about a stadium pop show is that the band kind of drag out their goodbyes, you know it’s been a success. No one could have predicted that BTS would become the world’s biggest pop group, but on this evidence they’ve definitely earned it.