BTS bring ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ to life and rejuvenate old songs as they kick off first stadium world tour with stunning LA performance

The Korean band got the 'Speak Yourself' tour underway at LA's Rose Bowl stadium

“It’s gonna be stronger,” BTS leader RM promised fans while discussing the Korean history-makers’ new stadium tour in a recent interview. Before tonight’s (May 4) show at LA’s Rose Bowl – the opening date of their first-ever stadium tour – kicks off, it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to top their ‘Love Yourself’ tour. That run of dates only wrapped just under a month ago after dazzling cities the world over with a thrilling mix of pyros and passion. Since then, the band have been so busy breaking records with new album ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ that there doesn’t seem to have been time to cook up any jaw-dropping new action.

If you know BTS, though, you should know not to expect them to be content with repeating themselves or settling for anything that doesn’t continue to push them and what they can do. They haven’t made it to this point in their journey by being lazy or even putting in what most people would consider a good shift. Their hard work means, in hindsight, RM’s aforementioned promise can only ever really be an understatement – the ‘Speak Yourself’ tour is not only stronger but on another level entirely.

That much is clear from the moments before the seven-strong band enter the stage. As the introductory VCR cuts from the big screens either side of the stage, crew members whip white covers from two Grecian-style pedestals and, between them, two metallic panthers inflate and swell. The pair rise up off the ground to form a fierce and menacing guard of honour over the group and their dancers as fireworks shoot up into the orange-pink glow of sunset and ‘Dionysus’, the guitar-fuelled hip-hop closer from ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ shakes the stadium into life. An intense choreography follows, all the while with the big cats looming large above, jaws open, arms raised and ready to strike, as if they’ve been frozen mid-attack.

Unlike those impressive stage props, BTS are unstoppable, both off and on-stage. They continue their energetic start with the re-inclusion of two old songs – the defiant blasts of ‘Not Today’ and the house piano optimism of ‘Outro: Wings’ – constantly building the atmosphere in the 90,000-seater stadium with every bounce, finger heart, and flawlessly delivered note.

Before the latter track, “worldwide handsome” Jin tells the crowd: “It’s all because of you, ARMY. You’re our wings.” The Korean band have an unshakeably strong bond with their fanbase (known as ARMY) and it’s blindingly clear tonight. Every time they pause to talk to the crowd, they offer up sincere and genuine gratitude, always crediting their fans as the reason this mammoth show is happening right now. In return, screams ring out around the venue so often you could forget what it’s like to hear someone talk at a normal venue, while each member’s name is chanted with love and encouragement between tracks and lines.

There’s only one character that crops up in tonight’s show who threatens to steal ARMY’s adoration – Yeontan, the dog owned by V and beloved from his appearances on the group’s Twitter and video content. A clip introducing J-Hope and Jungkook’s solo sections features the fluffy Teacup Pomeranian, who is met by a level of fervent noise to rival the reaction for BTS themselves.

That video and others that usher in each new segment of the set might be largely recycled from the ‘Love Yourself’ tour, but the performances sandwiched between them always try and add something fresh to the mix. Sometimes that’s a simple production level-up, like the white bar J-Hope dances on in ‘Just Dance’ being replaced by neon-lit moving blocks, or something more breathtaking entirely, like Jungkook’s aerial voyage during ‘Euphoria’.

As the first chorus to that rippling and sparkling beauty ends, a black pole appears behind the youngest member and he’s strapped in before being sent flying high over the audience, like Mary Poppins with a safety harness instead of an umbrella. As he sails above the fans below, he momentarily takes one foot off the tiny step he has to stand on, continuing to sing as if zip-lining around football stadiums is something he does all day long. “So beautiful!” he exclaims as he gets two feet back on the ground and he’s not wrong.

There are other fancy new flexes in the other members’ solo tracks too. Jimin begins ‘Serendipity’ from within his very own snow globe bubble – which bursts when he raises a finger to it – and RM’s remixed ‘Trivia: Love’ sees him surrounded by on-screen holograms of hearts and glitter bursts as the diverse crowd is united in singing “sarang”, the Korean word for love. Later, V rises up from the depths of the stage on a suspended bed, pretending to wake up and launch into ‘Singularity’, Suga’s ‘Seesaw’ takes place in front of the kind of nighttime cityscape that J-Hope recently described while talking about new song ‘Mikrokosmos’, and Jin starts ‘Epiphany’ sat behind a retro-futuristic piano that could easily double as a spacecraft in a sci-fi movie.

If the ‘Love Yourself’ tour was a celebration, then the ‘Speak Yourself’ tour is a whole jamboree. It boasts all the hallmarks of a big pop show – fireworks, singalongs, ambitious staging, and that specific kind of euphoria that comes with sharing in a special moment with thousands of like-minded strangers – but, while it’s a slick production, it isn’t without personality. There’s playfulness (the glee on BTS’ faces as they slip down the giant inflatable slide erected at the end of the runway for ‘Anpanman’ or when Jungkook gently pushes V out of his way so he can stand by Suga in ‘Make It Right’), swagger (the always ultra-confident ‘Mic Drop’), sensitivity (the vocal line’s vulnerable ballad ‘The Truth Untold’), and invention (a rave-y coda to ‘Idol’ makes the Rose Bowl feel more like a superclub than a football stadium). Put it all together and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pop act with a better, more enamouring live show.

Of course, these new dates aren’t just an excuse to update BTS’ past output. A handful of new music makes an appearance in the set, with four of ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’’s tracks given their tour debuts. ‘Boy With Luv’ already feels like an old favourite, its bubblegum-bright hook echoed loudly around the stands as the group recreate its video on-stage. The aforementioned ‘Dionysus’ has the effect of leaving you breathless just by watching its complex moves, while the softly fizzing Ed Sheeran co-write ‘Make It Right’ feels more like BTS’ own in this setting than it does on record. “We prepared this song for you because you are the light to our night,” Jungkook says before it begins and the fans justify the comparison, holding up their glowing ARMY bomb lightsticks and turning on the lights on their phones.

“Honestly, I don’t know what to say,” Jimin says afterwards, as each of the seven members shares their feelings on the night as it draws to a close. He clasps his hands at the back of his head and thinks for a second. “This moment when you and I are together is one of the happiest moments of my life,” he says assuredly.

“This is the most important night in my life,” RM adds minutes later, eyes twinkling with the moisture of potential tears. He picks up on Jungkook’s earlier analogy and expands it: “You are the stars of our night and the lighthouse to lead us.” It’s a fitting segue into the final song – new or otherwise – of the night, ‘Mikrokosmos’. “Perhaps the reason this night looks so beautiful/Is not because of these stars or lights, but us,” Jimin and Jin sing in Korean at one point, a disco ball gleaming above them. Tonight might have been made extra special by all the impressive production and the spectacular sight of 90,000 ARMY bombs flashing as one, but, as with all BTS concerts, the most beautiful thing is the connection between band and fan; how they feed off each other and lift each other even higher.

“BTS make history” might be a slightly redundant phrase these days – it seems as natural a daily activity to them as breathing. But, as they kick off their debut world stadium tour and once again make history as the first Korean group to do so, it feels like they’re far from done with their mind-blowing achievements. Strap yourself in like Jungkook and get ready to enjoy a stunning ride.

BTS played:

‘Dionysus’
‘Not Today’
‘Outro: Wings’
‘Trivia: Just Dance’
‘Euphoria’

‘Best Of Me’
‘Serendipity’
‘Trivia: Love’
‘Boy With Luv’
‘Dope’
‘Baepsae’
‘Fire’
‘Idol’
‘Singularity’
‘Fake Love’
‘Trivia: Seesaw’
‘Epiphany’
‘The Truth Untold’
‘Outro: Tear’
‘MIC Drop’
‘Anpanman’
‘So What’
‘Make It Right’
‘Mikrokosmos’