Having recently broken the YouTube record for most video views in 24 hours (101.1 million, to be exact), South Korean group Bangtan Sonyeondan (방탄소년단), widely known as BTS, have been taking the world by storm. Arguably one of the largest music acts in the world, their song, “Dynamite,” has reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 three times since its release in August of this year. Clearly, the band has had no shortage of successes in 2020.
But just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has halted some of their plans, including their upcoming world tour. However, BTS did not let this stop them, and on October 10 and 11, the band held two online concerts: Map of the Soul ON:E
Airing at the wonderful hour of 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on October 11, Map of the Soul ON:E was a masterclass of performance and artistry. With its beautiful sets, amazing choreography and that energy that makes BTS BTS, the band was able to provide top tier entertainment despite not performing in person.
Tickets for both Map of the Soul ON:E shows went on sale in late September, with standard ticket packages coming with six potential camera views to watch the concert and other premium packages allowing fans to appear on screen in the concert venue in a Zoom-like format. As BTS tickets normally sell out within minutes, the online format of the concert allowed many more fans to attend. There was no limit to the number of tickets sold, and Big Hit Entertainment, the label behind BTS, has reported that the concert was watched by a total of 993,000 people across 191 countries.
The band performed 23 songs over the two and a half hour concert with a setlist featuring both songs from their latest album, Map of the Soul: 7 (MOTS), as well as songs from their previous seven studio albums. After opening the show with “On” from MOTS, they immediately jumped into “N.O” and “We are Bulletproof pt. 2,” two songs released in 2013 shortly after their debut. While some artists might not put as much effort into the performance of such old material, the members remained dedicated, moving through the choreography with ease and confidence.
One thing non-BTS fans might not be aware of is the fact that each BTS album typically features songs sung solely by one member, serving to highlight their individual talents as songwriters, producers, singers and their general musicality. All seven of the seven members’ solo tracks were performed during the online concert. “Interlude: Shadow,” performed by band member Suga was particularly notable; the transition from the songs more somber beginning to its angry, in-your-face second half was executed perfectly by the rapper and backup dancers, outfit change and all. Similarly, Jimin’s performance of “Filter” also displayed artful transitions, with Jimin appearing to change outfits several times, all while singing steadily and performing complex choreography.
For a band that has broken record after record and is used to performing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, having a concert in an empty arena is certainly a drastic shift. Many elements from their stadium tours remained the same, like their elaborate stage decorations; J-Hope’s performance of “Ego” featured multiple full-sized cars on stage, while Jin’s solo stage of “Moon” was complete with “The Little Prince” themed decorations, asteroid B 612 and all.
Also, in a manner unique to BTS concerts, between every three songs or so, pre-filmed videos of the members were played, entertaining audiences while dancers and stagehands prepared for the next song. On top of this, BTS made a clear effort to engage with the fans in the venue virtually during the two talking portions of the show, asking questions and sharing personal anecdotes as they would if they were performing in person.
One aspect of live performances that was unable to be replicated through the virtual format was the sheer enthusiasm that comes with a crowd of BTS fans. The atmosphere created by thousands of fans singing along to songs, ARMY bombs (the name of the light sticks that fans bring to BTS concerts) changing color synchronously as they move through the air, just isn’t the same on-screen.
The group finished the show with a four-song encore without sets or choreography, giving the members time to walk around the various screens displaying fans and interact with them. Their obvious happiness at seeing their fans was evident in their wide smiles and silly gestures, seeming to make the most of a non-ideal situation.
Above everything else, BTS was grateful for the experience and for the fact that their fans could be present, in a sense, with Suga thanking fans for “always walking with us,” and the other members reiterating the idea that BTS is not only made up of the seven members, but the of fans as well, with RM saying “BTS is not a story of seven, but of me, you and everyone.”