Almost exactly two years ago, BTS held the last of their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself [The Final] dates at Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium. “This concert is final but it’s also another start,” rapper Suga told the crowd that night (October 29, 2019), alluding to the beginning of the next era after the seven-piece group’s phenomenal ‘Love Yourself’ chapter.
At the time, it seemed like whatever came next could only be bigger, better and reinforce the legendary status around the band even more. In many ways, it has been – the 24 months since that show certainly haven’t been void of record-breaking, headline-grabbing, chart-topping moves. But it has also been lacking a big part of what makes BTS’ world complete – the ability to show off their finely finessed performance skills to sold-out stadiums at home and thousands of miles from it.
BTS’ return to Jamsil Stadium on Sunday (October 24) for Permission To Dance On Stage might not be the big IRL reunion they’d hoped for but – as with all their virtual performances in our pandemic era – they put their hearts and souls into trying to recreate the energy that would have filled the empty venue in the past. There are traditional introductions that would usually elicit stand-shaking cheers – J-Hope’s “I’m your hope” slogan, Jin theatrically blowing kisses to the camera, Suga asking the crowd to “make some noise” with a hand cupped to his ear.
V, meanwhile, doesn’t let the last-minute injury that’s sidelined him to a black armchair at the side of stage hamper his impact, joining in the choreography for the likes of ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ in small motions or bringing even more emotional grace to ‘Blue & Grey’ by matching his lines with sombre, sincere facial expressions that paint you a window into his soul.
The setlist also showcases the rich emotional spectrum that is BTS’ discography. It draws on songs from every era since the 2015 ‘HYYH’ series – with which BTS really began to break through worldwide – to create segments that build varying moods. It begins with the marching band rhythms of ‘ON’, from last year’s ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’, before segueing into 2016’s ‘Burning Up (Fire)’. Like many of the tracks featured tonight, the latter is remixed from the original version ARMY are familiar with, but its trap makeover is no less of an inferno of brilliance.
If the opening segment – completed by ‘Dope’ and ‘DNA’ – is a blood-pumping party-starter, its next part is far more introspective and solemn. During ‘Blue & Grey’, each of the seven members (except V) stand in front of screens that show near reflections of themselves. As the song – about getting stuck in a rut of sadness and burnout, and losing touch with your happier self – progresses, the people looking back at BTS don’t mirror their every move, making it feel more like they’re gazing on past versions of themselves than seeing their present selves bounced back at them.
With the image of a full moon beaming above them, the final gentle fingerpicked guitar melodies lead seamlessly into the opening string notes of ‘Black Swan’, which in turn build into a dramatic new intro that feels like it should be soundtracking a million dollar movie scene or celebrated ballet. The song continues the theme of searching for something, RM questioning, “This may be how I die my first death / But what if that moment’s right now?” as black feathers flutter down around him.
Set three brings optimism and joy. ’Life Goes On’ is performed first from a giant bed and then from an equally oversized sofa, while ‘Boy With Luv’ (given a funky rework complete with live band) and the confetti explosions of ‘Dynamite’ (now with bright new layers of brass) colourfully spread infectious cheer. Set four, meanwhile, offers a bumper helping of anthems, from the cutting social commentary of the hard-hitting hip-hop of ‘Baepsae’ to a golden three-song run of ‘BE’’s ‘Dis-ease’, ‘Telepathy’ and ‘Stay’. For the latter, Jin and Jungkook at least get a reminder of what it’s like to perform to an audience, their bandmates descending from the upper deck of the moving cart they’ve previously been dancing on top of to cheer them on from down below.
“The show is coming to an end,” Jimin says after a ferociously fun ‘So What’, making his voice small and shaky as if he can’t bear for it to be true. It is, of course, a piece of perfect showmanship – one that makes you keep your eyes glued on the screen for every last second of the encore.
The end of BTS concerts might usually come with a poignant crescendo, this evening’s is even more heart-wrenching than normal. As the band take a much-deserved extended breather backstage, clips from their recent return to the UN fill the screen. When they return to the stadium stage, they perform two songs that capture the longing and determination to make it through this time that both artists and fans have felt as a result of the pandemic’s enforced separation. “Even when I fall and hurt myself / I keep running toward my dream,” Jin sings on a crystalline ‘Epilogue: Young Forever’, while on a stirring ‘Spring Day’, V yearns: “How much longer should I wait? / And how many sleepless nights should I spend / Before I get to see you?”
It might not be spring yet, but BTS’ metaphorical spring day is on the horizon. Next month they will finally get to perform in front of ARMY again at four shows at LA’s SoFi Stadium and the joy you imagine will be rippling through the stands once again is injected into today’s final song, an exuberant ‘Permission To Dance’. “Let’s break our plans / And live just like we’re golden / And roll in like we’re dancing fools,” Jin sings over its vibrant pop flourishes, both predicting the giddy euphoria that is bound to sweep through those US dates and offering an invitation for right now in celebration of the light at the end of the tunnel drawing nearer. Whether or not this is the last fully online concert BTS hold remains to be seen, but Permission To Dance On Stage is yet another flawless example of the group’s ability to adapt, excel and conquer, even when life’s path is anything but smooth.
‘Burning Up (Fire)’
‘Blue & Grey’
‘Blood Sweat & Tears’
‘Life Goes On’
‘Boy With Luv’
‘Airplane Pt 2’
‘I Need U’
‘Epilogue: Young Forever’
‘Permission To Dance’