If BTS showed us anything beyond raw talent during their recent virtual concerts, it's that, for now, these online events have the power to connect people at a global scale not seen prior to the pandemic.
Over the weekend, BTS held two online concerts titled “Map of the Soul On:e,” and it was the first time fans got to see the full performances of some of the songs on their latest album, Map of the Soul: 7.
By last month, their worldwide tour that was postponed until further notice due to COVID-19 would have been finished. I had been planning to visit several stops across the world with friends I'd met and bonded with through being an ARMY. Our entire year was structured around the tour, which took a lot of planning and saving for us to make happen, so our COVID-regulation-safe gathering was a small re-creation of what could have been.
To offset the fact that there wasn't a huge crowd of fans at the physical venue, the BTS crew experimented with XR, a sort of virtual mixed-reality environment that made everything look surreal.
At the start of the concert, a large gate appeared that opened to reveal the dancers and BTS, similar to the music video for the song "On." Offline, we would have never been able to see BTS do that — essentially re-creating their older music videos on stage — as XR made it possible for a specific part of the stage to be made to look like whatever they wanted. For example, when performing "Dope," they used XR to make it appear as if the singers were on an elevator going up and stopping at different levels.
BTS have had tour after tour for the past few years, and with there not being a traditional one this year, not only did it make fans emotional, it also was clear that the band was heartbroken with not being able to connect with their fans in person.
Jimin cried and told fans that all he wanted to do was perform happily with the members and have fun and share that happiness with fans.
"This is what I wanted to do for so long so I really don't know why I had to go through all this," he said, "but during the encore as I heard your voices, ARMY, I got emotional."
The seats at the venue had ARMY bombs, the light sticks BTS fans use at shows, secured to each of them to represent where people would have been seated. The concert did have some fans who won the “ARMY on Air” raffle shown in the stadium to try to create an intimate experience.
RM spoke about how grateful he was for all the technological capabilities that led to the concert being able to take place.
“I have no religion,” RM said, “but I thank God that we live in 2020. I’m so glad we have this technology."
The tickets for the Map of the Soul On:e shows were being sold for about $45 for a one-day pass and around $90 for the two-day pass, and according to Big Hit, BTS’s record label, 993,000 viewers tuned in from across 191 countries. That figure obviously doesn’t include the people who watched the concert in groups, like me and my friends.
We cleared our schedules for that weekend to watch the concert together in person. That meant a two-night sleepover and making sure we were logged in and ready at 11 a.m. BST on Saturday and 8 a.m. BST on Sunday.
We weren’t the only ARMY’s gathered in one house — others did the same around the world, and one group of fans in Australia even had the police called on them for being so loud. While we didn’t have the police called on us, we were probably as loud.
Those who weren’t chosen could talk in the fast-moving live chat, where you could connect ARMY bombs and light it up like you’re at a concert but in your own home.
The setlist for the concert had a mix of new and old songs, so we literally got to see the music that a younger, fresher version of BTS performed redone by their older, more experienced selves. For newer fans, or those who had never seen BTS in concert, it was a chance to experience their older music live while connecting with the fandom.
Nostalgia has been having a big moment during lockdown for everyone, and seeing BTS perform songs from the beginning of their discography such as "N.O" and "We Are Bulletproof Pt.2" made me cry with joy, especially "We Are Bulletproof Pt.2." It's hard to describe to pinpoint exactly why I have such an emotional attachment to hearing "click click, bang bang," but the simplest explanation I can think of is that it seems to remind me not only of their earlier music but also just how far the seven-member band has come.
So hearing older songs, particularly their debut song, "No More Dream," performed in 2020, when they have achieved the dreams and goals they are singing and rapping about, meant so much more. Especially as they didn't include their iconic line "to all the youngsters without dreams," which is part of the end of "No More Dream."
Obviously, it wasn't all tears during the concert. The rap line (RM, Suga, and J-Hope) performed the very energetic "Ugh" set inside a boxing ring. RM took center stage as the first solo performer with his song "Persona," where he comes face to face with a massive XR version of himself in a robe. Suga rapped the powerful song "Shadow," which had a part in the staging that allowed BTS to disguise themselves as part of the dance crew and drop their robes to appear ready for the next song "Black Swan." Jimin performed his very sexy song "Filter" and had the sexy choreography to go along with it.
Jungkook showed that it was his time with the aptly titled "My Time." J-Hope had cars on stage to perform the summer bop "Ego." V's performance of "Inner Child," which featured a child dressed just like him on a carousel, made use of the LED screen of fans and had them singing along at the end. Jin's song "Moon" had him singing adorably and kissing the Earth at the end to let us know he will always watch over his fans.
During the concert, it was hard to look away from the production, but it was so much fun getting to discuss and be with my friends in person and not keyboard smashing in the group chat.
At the end of the two nights, we all joked about feeling really exhausted, as if we'd actually been at a concert in person. I guess, for now, online concerts can feel like offline ones, especially when, like this event, they have a level of production that we would have never seen in person. I also don't think I have ever seen my social media timeline move so fast on the brief occasions I looked at my phone.
And when you really think about the scale of 993,000 fans watching the concerts, that's roughly the attendance of 40 stops from BTS's Love Yourself tour.
By the end of both concerts, I realized I had cried so much throughout the weekend that I somehow hurt my lower eyelids. So despite getting front-row privilege through the online experience, we all long for the day we have to battle it out for concert tickets to go to a venue.
On Sunday, V joked about walking from Seoul to Busan if it meant meeting ARMYs. “I think I am going to count until the day that I will meet ARMYs for real," V said, “until then, I will prepare more and make myself ready.”