At 7:30 p.m. on Point Sunday, the seven members of BTS appeared on stage at SoFi Stadium, each dressed in white to open the K-pop group’s second sold-out show from four nights in Inglewood with an elaborate prison. pause sequence set to group song “On”.
Whenever a popular boy group grabs the imagery of the prison – and Seoul-based BTS is arguably the most popular on the planet – you have to wonder what young men imagine a breakout from.
The simple reading in this case is that the group was celebrating the end (-ish) of strict pandemic safety measures: “BTS Permission to Dance On Stage – LA”, as Sunday’s show was officially billed, marks its long-awaited return live to the public after more than a year and a half of absence.
In an old-fashioned press conference before the performance, band frontman RM said that seeing the stadium packed with people the day before “made me emotional beyond words.” His bandmate J-Hope added that he hopes the show will allow fans to “release some of the sadness and depressing thoughts” of the COVID-19 era.
Hearing the tens of thousands of people inside SoFi screaming later that night as BTS writhed behind a set of bars, you can safely conclude that their plan worked.
Like any of its boy band predecessors, however – from ‘N Sync to the Beatles – BTS also has the weight of its own success to consider. Already big enough in 2019 to play the Rose Bowl twice, the group went truly global during the pandemic, surpassing Billboard’s Hot 100 six times in 13 months and setting all kinds of records with their digital and live offerings. This month, the group was named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards – a shaky name, but still – and earned their second more respectable Grammy nomination (though some would argue the group deserved more. ‘a nod).
To some extent, BTS exploded by smoothing out (and perhaps westernizing) the unruly edges of its sound, which characterized the rowdy and futuristic mix of EDM’s K-pop, rock and hip-hop early on. ; “Dynamite” and “Butter”, the group’s biggest # 1 hits, are disco-soul jams with echoes of Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson – and lyrics sung in English.
Yet BTS still lives by the customs of the highly regimented K-pop industry, which positions its superstars as ambassadors of South Korean culture; last year, the country’s government even revised a law allowing top K-pop artists to postpone their required military service so they can continue to spread South Korea’s soft power around the world (like BTS l ‘did in September during a visit to the United Nations).
The demand for excellence is intense, and even more so now that additional Korean exports, including Netflix’s “Squid Game” and Oscar-winning “Parasite,” have extended BTS’s cultural gains. Critics were not invited to the SoFi group’s opening on Saturday, presumably to ensure that the members – the others are Jungkook, Jin, Suga, Jimin and V – had a chance to gain a foothold after such a long break.
The group’s guardians didn’t need to worry: to the delight of the young and racially diverse crowd – Asian, Latino, black and white fans – Sunday’s show was polished as if BTS performed every night. since weeks. Tightly choreographed and peppered with costume changes, the 2.5-hour concert unfolded quickly through the band’s best-known songs, oldies like the growling “Dope” and the thrilling Motown-style “Burning Up” ish “Permission to Dance” and “Boy With Luv”, BTS’s exuberant electro-pop collaboration with Halsey.
For the folk “Life Goes On,” whose Korean lyrics meditate on the loneliness of the pandemic era, the band members collapsed onto a giant bed and oversized sofa; for “Telepathy,” they boarded motorized platforms that scoured the perimeter of the stadium floor to get closer to the fans they call Army. Megan Thee Stallion, wearing pink thigh-high boots, made a surprise appearance to make her verse from a remix of “Butter” – one of the Western pop groups (along with Coldplay, Lil Nas X and Jason Derulo) who sought out recently released connections with BTS.
Throughout the show, fans waved expensive Bluetooth glow sticks – the ones designed for BTS are called Army Bombs – which flashed to the beat of the music.
Despite all this characteristic precision, the best parts of the concert were when BTS relaxed slightly, as in “Dynamite”, for which the singers were joined by a live R&B combo that appeared to be playing someone’s wedding, and “Idol,” where they ditched the dance moves and strolled down a floor just to hang out on a smaller secondary stage.
As a reminder, Jin returned with his hair in pigtails like the doll in “Squid Game” – a welcome disruption of idol masculinity – and here he seemed to relish a taste of the freedom that life in a group of. boys did not. always allow.
“You and I are making a movie together,” Jin said through a translator to a crowd of shiny smartphones. It was a pop star intimacy idea that could almost break your heart.