Friday, July 05, 2019

BTS in Paris, June 2019


By now, I don’t think I have to introduce BTS to my readers anymore. I think it’ll be sufficient to say that they are a South Korean music group who have been nicknamed “The Beatles of the 21st Century” because BTS-mania is as huge internationally as Beatle-mania was and because BTS is the only group apart from the Beatles that has had three consecutive albums top the Billboard charts within a year. Mind you, where the Beatles’ three albums were compilation albums (“Anthology 1”, “Anthology 2” and “Anthology 3” released 15-16 years after the band had disbanded, the BTS albums were all new releases (“Love Yourself: Tear”; “Love Yourself:” Answer” and “Map of the Soul: Persona”) that charted upon their release.

BTS have managed to gain a huge, international audience that includes people of all ages, nationalities, races, religions and gender identities, through their talented and diverse musicality, their on-point choreography, their lovable personalities and chemistry and last but not least, their deep and sincere lyrics and social messages that even let them to give a speech in the UN last year. On top of that they have been GRAMMY nominated and won hundreds of national and international awards, including the Top Social Artist in three consecutive years at the Billboard Music Awards along with Billboard’s Top Duo/Group Award this year.
BTS debuted on June 13th, 2013, and although they have toured internationally since their debut, they didn’t start touring in Europe until last year. Here I was lucky to see them in Berlin, Germany, in October, 2018 on their “Love Yourself”-tour, but when they announced a new tour, the “Love Yourself – Speak Yourself” tour that would take them to Europe in June 2019, I didn’t expect to go. mainly because I didn’t have the money.

Besides, it is always almost impossible to get tickets to BTS concerts, especially to this short visit in Europe, as originally, BTS were only to give two concerts here, one in Wembley Stadium in London and one in Stade de France in Paris, whereas last year they gave seven concerts in four European countries, although in smaller arenas.

As BTS have 130+ million fans who are willing to travel all over the world to see them in concert, two more concerts were added, one to each of the venues, and all of my BTS-friends were able to get tickets to Wembley whereas my daughter and her boyfriend got tickets for Stade de France. Ticket prices were quite reasonable this year, so when I got a tax return on the exact amount of money I needed for a ticket and as my friend Milla who runs the BTS Danish ARMY fan base on Twitter had a spare ticket to Paris, day 1, I was suddenly set to see BTS in concert for the second time.
My trip to Paris was anything but smooth, though. Already in April, my left leg started to hurt immensely due to my arthritis and I had to see my doctor to get a blockade. And a second elbow stick. Normally I use a single elbow stick to walk as I was diagnosed with a disabling spine disease thirteen years ago and on top of that I’ve had surgery in my left knee three times due to torn tendons and arthritis as well. Although I’ve travelled on my own a couple of times with one elbow stick, it was quite a challenge to travel with two AND a suitcase, but I had to manage, as my daughter and her boyfriend were going to the concert on a different date and wouldn’t get to Paris until a day after me and my friend Milla travelled from London instead of Copenhagen.

In any case I managed, and I arrived in France on June 5th, where a very cloudy, cold and wet Paris greeted me. Coming from Denmark where we had 27° Celsius and sunny weather, it was quite a change. Oh well, I soon settled in my lovely little hotel in Aulnay-sous-Bois in the outskirts of Paris and then went to the center of the city to visit the BTS pop-up shop in Rue de Luxembourg.

As I had expected, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, but for once my elbow sticks worked their magic and a security guard let me in straight away, so I didn’t have to wait in line. I was so happy as otherwise I wouldn’t have seen the shop as I can’t stand up for hours, which would have been necessary to get in.

Inside I got a BTS snap-on bracelet like everyone else and I had a look around the crowded shop where ARMY (the official BTS fanbase name) gathered around a screen to watch BTS music videos and dance and sing along. It was like one giant party!

Of course, there was different BTS merchandise that you could buy and a preview of coming merch like the BTS dolls that Mattel, the Barbie company, is making. There were also several photo option installations like the BTS wall, but I didn’t have anyone with me to snap my pic and the line to have a staff member do it was too long for me. I did buy some BTS pins, though, and met with another BTS mommy my age whom I’ve only known from Twitter. That was really nice.
When I left the pop-up shop, it started raining again, so I went home to relax at my hotel.
Thursday, I went to Stade de France to buy an ARMY bomb, which is the official BTS light stick. The stadium isn’t that far away from the metro station, so I managed to walk there and after having my handbag inspected, I was let into the merchandise line. It wasn’t that long, and I ended up next to a Parisian ARMY who was very nice to talk to, so time went by quickly.

Before we knew it, we were at the end of the line and let to the merchandise booths were the real waiting began. In front of us were two Korean ladies and the first one bought premium photos of all seven BTS members and then started to inspect them for the tiniest cracks or other blemishes. Whenever she found something, she demanded to have the product replaced. Seven times she returned most of the photos although they looked perfectly okay and we ended up waiting much longer here than in the line to the booths. After the seventh time, the seller said that he couldn’t replace them anymore and when the next lady started to demand to have her photos replaced as well, he said that he could only do it once. When finally it was our turn, we got what we wanted straight away, and I even bought a small ARMY bomb ring along with the ARMY bomb itself. My new Parisian friend helped me get the ARMY bomb synchronized and then we said goodbye, but of course not without following each other on Twitter. I love how easy it is to stay in touch these days!
Then finally it was June 7th, the day of the concert. Already at the hotel I saw a glimpse of BTS as they were on the news on the television set in the hotel restaurant where I had breakfast. I was really looking forward to seeing “our boys”, but unfortunately the weather was really, really bad. It was cold and rainy and so windy that it was a regular storm.

The doors at Stade de France were supposed to open at 4.30 p.m. so I got there a little later as I had been told by the stadium that because I use elbow sticks I shouldn’t use the usual entrance gates but go to the staff members left of my gate and show them my medical certificate stating that I was ill and needed the sticks. I had purchased this certificate at my doctor’s, and it wasn’t cheap, I assure you!

When I arrived it was past five, but the doors had only just opened as apparently the sound check had been chaotic and ended way too late. Already on the way to the stadium from the metro, our bags had been inspected, and now people were gathering in long lines outside their gates, hoping to get in soon as the rain was pouring down, but the lines only moved slowly. I had to cut through several lines to reach my gate X, only to see that there was no staff to the left of the gate. After some searching, I found a staff member on the ground who directed me to the right of the gate, but when I got there, I wasn’t let in as the staff at the gate said they knew nothing about letting disabled people in despite their medical certificates.

I had to go all the way back, search the ground again until I found the staff member from before, and then he took me to the right side of the gate, where the other staff member who had just rejected me, let me in straight away! Why couldn’t he just have done that the first time!

Anyway, my ticket was scanned, and I was let inside to a new line, where people had to be frisked. With only two staff members to frisk the over 6,000 people who entered each entrance, it took forever. Eventually, it was my turn and after that I received the BTS banner of the day, a very lovely one made thanks to donations from ARMY, with the text “We love you more than yesterday but less than tomorrow” in Korean, French and English, a quote that BTS member V (real name Taehyung Kim) had used the last time BTS performed in Paris.
When you are disabled, you must buy “normal” concert tickets unless you are in a wheelchair, so even if you walk as badly as me, you are confronted with a lot of stairs. Sure, there were elevators to the different tiers, but on the tier, there were steps both to my seat and to the toilets. This is not just in Stade de France, but in most concert facilities, so I think it would be nice, if tickets for disabled were for all people with a walking disability and not just for those in wheelchairs.

The toilets were a disgrace, by the way, as there were only five women’s toilets for about five hundred women in the section where I was seated. Furthermore, even before the concert, there was no toilet paper in any of the cubicles and no light at all, so all the women had to light up the room with their ARMY bombs! If someone tried to use the empty men’s room, they were kicked out by the staff. In Berlin last year, the staff had converted most of the men’s room into ladies’ rooms as there are probably 80% women and 20% men at BTS concerts, but the staff at Stade de France obviously didn’t care.

That said, my seat in the stadium was great with nothing in front of me except for a small platform that you had to cross to get from one section on the tier to another. Later, it turned out to be a problem, as many ARMYs left their seats to stand on the platform, thereby totally blocking the view, but then I or my friend asked them politely to move, which they did, except for one girl. She refused to move, even when people sitting on the other side of the platform asked her to as well, so in the end we had to get hold of a staff member who removed her from the platform.
Before we got that far, I waited a long time for my friend Milla to arrive. She had been stuck in the line because of the long wait to be frisked and they had even confiscated her Danish flag as security decided not to allow flags on the first concert day in Paris. When finally Milla arrived, her other friend who was to sit with us, was still in line and didn’t make it through until close to the start of the concert.

Most ARMYs arrive in good time before a BTS concert as the venues usually screen BTS music videos in up to three hours before the concert itself. The music videos were screened in Stade de France too, but most of the time, French commercials cut in during the screening in the middle of a song to the annoyance of most of the fans. At the same time, the storm had increased, and it was still raining, so we were all bitterly cold in the outdoor stadium.
Because of the delayed soundcheck, the concert was delayed as well and started fifteen minutes late. At least when BTS got on stage, the rain stopped a bit, but not totally. As for the setlist, it was pretty much the same as during last year’s “Love Yourself” tour, but a few songs had been removed and replaced by new ones like “Dionysus”, “Boy With Luv” and “Mikrokosmos” as well as old ones like “Not Today” and “Wings”. The medley was the same both days, though, whereas last year BTS had different medleys on day one and day two in the same concert venues .The medley itself was loosely based around the day two medley and added “IDOL” that had been the opening song last year.

This year it was “Dionysus” that opened the concert in what was probably the most spectacular stage show of the evening, complete with Greek columns and huge silver tigers. The energy level of BTS was through the roof and had everyone (except for the disabled) up off their seats and dancing. The audience remained on their feet for the rest of the evening, despite of it being an all seat concert, so I was glad that nobody was sitting in front of me as I would then have spent the night bobbing to the sight of, not ARMY bombs, but ARMY bums!
After the first three songs, BTS’ leader RM (real name Namjoon Kim) talked to the audience and said that no matter the weather they would go on with the concert and only afterwards I understood what that implied.

You see, due to the bad weather, a lot of the new scenography and special effects during the show had been cancelled, so the show we saw was rather “amputated”! This was mostly visible during the solo songs of the seven BTS members. The songs were the same as last year, but all added new scenography and effects.

My favorite member j-hope (real name Hoseok Jung) did his “Trivia: Just Dance” dancing on movable, lightening cubes, but the water cannons that had been added this year, were not used during the concert, as it was cold and wet enough to begin with. Still, Jimin (real name Jimin Park) did his “Serendipity” sitting in a giant bubble that he burst, RM did “Trivia: Love” while making magic hearts in the air and V started off his “Singularity” lying on a bed where last year he danced with a coat stand. SUGA (real name Yoongi Min) who had been lying on a couch last year was supposed to go through a glass door this time in his song “Trivia: Seasaw”, but the door somehow never made it to the French stage, and apparently something had been cut from the song “Epiphany” by Jin (real name Seokjin Kim) too, although his old-fashioned piano from last year had been replaced with a modern, silvery piano and piano stool in one, in the shape of a tear.

And then there was Jungkook. Last year, he had hurt his foot before the first show in London, so he had to make the Europe tour sitting down on stage instead of dancing like the rest of the guys. This time he was supposed to fly over the audience like he had done during the US leg of the tour in May and at the two concerts in Wembley as well, but because of the storm, it was too dangerous, so he didn’t fly after all. That made me think that last year I didn’t see Jungkook dance, this year I didn’t see him fly, so if I go again next year, I wonder what I won’t see him do! At least I got to see him dance this time.
About one third into the concert, BTS sang their current hit “Boy With Luv” and during the performance, who suddenly appeared on stage? None other than Halsey. The American singer, who is mostly known for her “Closer” collaboration with The Chainsmokers, her problematic tweets and the drug scandal in Sweden last year, is featured on the “Boy With Luv” track and has popped up a couple of times on BTS’s tour to share the lime light. It was only her second public performance with the boys, though, the first one being at the Billboard Music Awards in May and as such, I should probably be grateful that I saw here live. Many ARMYs have embraced her because of her collaboration with BTS, giving her career a big boost, but personally I’m not a fan of her music or her two-facedness, so I would have preferred a flying Jungkook over her any day! She disappeared straight after the song, though, and BTS went back to concentrating on the show and ARMY again.
All in all, it was a really great concert, which I presume all BTS concerts are as they really know how to put on the show. The scenography is amazing, the choreography is out of this world, the music is top notch and both BTS and ARMY had a lot of fun. Too bad, though, that during the song “Anpanman”, BTS didn’t seem able to use the bouncy castle that they had so much fun on during all the other concerts, but I suppose, it was too wet and slippery that evening. There weren’t really any fireworks, either, like they usually have, but at least BTS was on fire, and the great chemistry between them and the close connection between BTS and ARMY gave us all some hilarious, thought-provoking and heartwarming moments.

I have to say, though, that not only was this concert very different from the other concerts on the tour due to the weather, it was also very different from the concert I had seen last year, despite the songs being almost identical. The reason for this was, that in Berlin I had a seat fairly close to the front stage with only the pit separating me from the boys, but this time I sat way back in the stadium, which was four times larger than the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin. Because of this, I could only see BTS as small ants jumping about on the two stages, but of course the big screens gave me a much better view of what was going on. Instead of seeing BTS closer up, I was now part of the ARMY ocean, all the faceless people in the upper tiers who each wave their ARMY bombs in time to the music. The venues are in control of the light in the light sticks, so they change the colors and the intervals during blinks to fit with the music and it was a great experience to sit in this everchanging multi-colored sea of people who all love BTS.
Before the encores, BTS each addressed the audience as usual, and where in Berlin only j-hope had tried his hand in German and the rest of them spoke in Korean with a German interpreter, except for RM who spoke in English, Jimin, V and j-hope all talked solely in French in Stade de France, whereas RM spoke in English again and the three others talked in Korean with a French interpreter. This way, I had no idea what most of them said as my French is rather rusty, and so far, I haven’t been able to find a translation online, whereas last year I understood the German and besides, everything was translated on the internet.

To be honest, I was glad that I had already seen BTS in concert before, because although the Stade de France concert was extremely good and it was a great experience to be part of the ARMY ocean, it was not as nice as the Berlin concert. I don’t know why, but neither staff nor ARMYs acted as nice as they had done in Berlin, some were actually rude and besides, many ARMYs were screaming and chanting a tune that the French usually chant during football games all the time, even while the guys were talking, so no one were able to hear a word of what they were saying. They also chanted the football chant during the break before the encores. Here ARMY usually sing a BTS song and the one that we were supposed to sing was “Born Singer” but most of the audience ignored that to chant the French football chant. As France and South Korea met each other the same evening in the women’s football world cup, it sounded a bit disrespectful to me, as if the fans were more interested in gloating over their football team than actually listening to what BTS said and make them happy with singing their songs.

Oh well, I had an enjoyable evening anyway as seeing BTS live is always great and there were many funny moments like when Jimin tried to eat RM’s hair, when SUGA sang “I can be your hero” to j-hope or when BTS asked us to do a wave, not realizing that we had been doing waves for fifteen minutes during the break! Musically the highlights for me were “Dionysus”, “Trivia: Just Dance”, the medley, “Trivia: Seasaw”, “Epiphany”, “Outro: Tear” and “MIC Drop”, but I’m sure every ARMY has their own favorite songs, and with a setlist consisting of twenty-four songs, there are enough to choose from!
The concert ended on time at 10.45 p.m., which means that at least fifteen minutes had been shaved off the show, although all the songs were there, so I guess that was the time that should have been used for all the extra effects that we didn’t get to see.

Going home after the concert, wasn’t a problem for me as I was taking the metro to Aulnay-sous-Bois in the direction away from Paris, so hardly anyone was on the metro in that direction, and the next day when my daughter and her boyfriend went to the show, the weather was nice and they saw the full show. As this was my daughter’s first BTS concert I am glad she had a great and complete concert. They didn’t even get frisked and flags and banners were allowed inside the stadium as well.

As for me, I went to Musee D’Orsay the day after to see all the great art there is on display in this museum and I also swung by what was left of Notre Dame after the fire. The sight was devastating. On my way home on June 9th, my leg gave up completely in the Danish airport and since then I haven’t been able use my right leg but have to drag it along while using the elbow stick. I guess that’s the prize I had to pay to see BTS again, but it was worth it.
Lastly, I have something that I want to get off my chest, something I’ve found it a bit sad. You see, after the concert, it was difficult to find anything about it online, which surprised me. Usually there are lots of photos and concert reviews afterwards, but I hardly saw any. But come to think of it, no one except for the French ARMY had bothered to hype up the Parisian concerts to begin with, and it kind of felt as if they were seen by international ARMY as some sort of discount concerts that just should be over and done with after Wembley so BTS could get back to Korea. No one was excited for Paris and it made me sad.

Furthermore, our concert was one of only three with bad weather during the tour, the first ones being in Chicago on May 11th and 12th, but where the bad weather in Chicago made the concerts legendary, I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there even realized how the weather conditions had influenced the concert on June 7th in Paris and that we didn’t see Jungkook fly or had any of the other special effects just like in Chicago. Furthermore, where American ARMY were thanked for braving the weather in Chicago, the Europeans in Paris only got a meh. That made me sad. End of story.

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Notes 1


In case you don't know the alternative universe (called BU) of the South Korean music group BTS in advance, I guess it will be very difficult to understand what is going on in “花樣年華 The Notes - The Most Beautiful Moment in Life 1” (or “The Notes 1” for short!) by Big Hit Entertainment.

The BU, which is short for Bangtan Universe, has existed more or less since BTS’ debut in 2013 and in it we follow seven young men and the problems they face in their childhood and youth. Although the names of the seven protagonists are the same as the real names of the seven BTS members, their stories are not BTS’ stories. Instead they deal with all kinds of problem that are relatable and relevant to young people, ranging from loneliness, illness and poverty to abuse, suicide and even murder. As the seven boys grow into men, the BU is expanded to include time travel, parallel universes and a huge amount of refences to mainly European literature, art and schools of psychology and philosophy.

The creation of such an alternative universe is very satisfying for a professional writer such as me, and it is one of many reasons why I have come to love BTS. The stories and the characters in them have always been interesting and multi-facetted, because even though the BTS members personify these characters and lend them their names, Big Hit Entertainment have never tried to make the characters heroes or the story a heroes’ quest. Instead, it is nitty-gritty realism paired with mysterious, maybe even magic and definitely highly intelligent psychological and cosmological aspects!

The story of the BU can be found in BTS’ music videos, highlight reels and other videos as well as in the notes that have accompanied their albums since the release of “Love Yourself: Her” in September 2017. These notes have only told snippets of the story using a deconstructed timeline, but in “The Notes 1” we are finally presented with the album notes in chronological order. New contents have also been written for the book, mainly about Seokjin’s childhood and what Namjoon did when he had to move away from Seoul with his parents. We also get to understand the actions of both Taehyung and Jungkook much better. As such it is a great read and “The Notes 1” comes with a free... notebook, of course!

On the other hand, not all the questions that we as ARMY (BTS fans) have concerning the BU are answered in “The Notes 1”, probably because there is going to be a Notes 2 and more. I for one am tired of waiting and waiting AND waiting to learn what happened to Jimin in the arboretum and I'm annoyed that Hoseok's shirt in Yoongi's motel room isn't even mentioned. We only get a tiny glimpse of Yoongi's dependence on Hoseok and of their own private chat room.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that “The Notes 1” has been written in Korean first and then translated into respectively Japanese and English. It’s the English version that I have read, and I do find the translation rather poor. Sometimes you have to guess what a sentence means, other times the sentences are pure nonsense. The texts at the back of the book haven't been translated at all, which is a shame, as they contain several clues to the story.

The reason I give “The Notes 1” five stars despite its flaws is that we as ARMY have waited for this book for years. Besides, I hope to get the answers to the rest of my questions as well as a better translation when “The Notes 2” is released!

Five out of five stars: *****

HOPE WORLD

How come that I, a fifty-five year old Danish woman, is completely mad with “Hope World” by a twenty-four year old Korean guy named j-...