Monday, October 29, 2018

BTS – Love Yourself Tour in Berlin, October 17th, 2018



or The long but truthful account of a 56-year-old Danish author’s first BTS concert
 

In 1964, when I was two years old, the Beatles visited my country Denmark for the first and only time. I was of course much too young to attend their concert and I was only eight, when they split up, so although I was a huge fan, I never got to experience them live, which I have always regretted.
When earlier in the year I learned that the South Korean group BTS was going to include Europe for the first time on their world tours, I decided that I had to see them, no matter what, as so far BTS is the only act in fifty years that has been able to match the Beatles.


B-T-Who?

If you don’t know who BTS are, frankly it says more about you than about BTS. People as diverse as Jimmy Fallon, Tyra Banks, Jared Leto, Whoopie Goldberg and John Cena are among their fans and their popularity has let them to win the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist two years in a row (2017 and 2018), dethroning Justin Bieber. Within four months they scored two No. 1 albums in the US with “Love Yourself: Tear” and “Love Yourself: Answer” and their most recent hit “IDOL” earned over fifty-six million views on YouTube within its first twenty-four hours. BTS have launched their own end violence campagne “Love Yourself” in partnership with UNICEF, they have been invited to and gave a speech about empowering youth at the United Nations, they were on the cover of TIME magazine as “next generation leaders” and in October they even received the prestigious Korean Order of Cultural Merit as the youngest recipients ever. They are for sure the biggest thing happening at the moment.
Many westerners wonder how BTS can be that influential, because they are just a South Korean boyband, aren’t they, and when we hear the term boyband we immediately think about screaming teenage girls, right? Well, according to statistics, only 15% of BTS fans are teenagers, as most fans are in their twenties and thirties, but with a whopping 25% who are 40+. Thus, the boyband term is just a label that western media have stuck on BTS because they sing AND dance. What BTS is, is a South Korean idol-group, which is something quite different. The title is untranslatable to western terms as we don’t have the same type of groups, but most idol-groups are run by one of the three big Korean companies JYP, SM and YG that decide everything about their groups regarding both their careers and private lives but then again, BTS are different from all other idol groups, too!

BTS come from the (originally) small company Big Hit Entertainment, run by the insightful producer and hitmaker Mr. Shiyuk Bang (or Hitman Bang as he hilariously calls himself). They never had as many restrictions as most other idol-groups and right from the start, they were given artistic freedom to write and produce their own music. As they are a very talented and tightknit bunch, this freedom to show their combined talents is – in my opinion – what has set them apart and made them famous internationally.
Starting out in 2013 as an underdog hip-hop group, BTS gradually built a reputation as sincere and innovative artists who write and talk about serious and relevant issues such as rigid school systems, gender equality, mental health and other social and political issues including women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, which are more or less taboo subjects in Korea. Furthermore, their albums and music videos form an ongoing narrative about the social and academic pressure, the confusion and pain, but also the hope and love that teenagers and young adults experience while growing into maturity.

As such, the main idea behind BTS was never to appeal to the masses, but to talk about important issues, tell stories that the world needs and be helpful to the world. As it always says in the Big Hit music intros, this is music and artists for healing, BTS trying to comfort, heal and help especially the young generation.
Fans got to know the members of BTS through social media, mainly through their shared Twitter-account @BTS_twt and their Korean fan café, but also via their dairy logs and behind the scene videos on their BANGTANTV channel on YouTube and through their two channels BTS and BTS+ on the video streaming service Vlive where they upload contents such as gameshows, travel videos and one-on-one talks with their followers, all with subtitles. This way we’ve come to know the bunch as being just as lovable, silly, talented and socially engaged as the Beatles, although in their own quirky way. They are not “a four-headed monster” like Mick Jagger once described the Beatles, but instead a seven-headed creative entity to such a degree that they live together, not because they have to like in their rookie days where they shared a dorm, but because they want to, sharing a common luxury flat in Seoul.



Meeting ARMY

Unfortunately, BTS only did seven shows during the European leg of their Love Yourself World Tour, two in London, one in Amsterdam, two in Berlin and two in Paris. This came to a total of approximately 140,000 tickets in all, but with millions of European fans, not to speak of other international fans who planned to see BTS in Europe, the tickets were sold out without nine minutes, so most fans didn’t get tickets, me included. I was very disappointed and so was my daughter, who is the one who introduced me to BTS in the first place. She on the other hand decided to go to South Korea with a friend instead, leaving me in my misery!
It is said that miracles happen to those who believe in them, and I do now. With only a few weeks left to the European leg of the BTS world tour, I was suddenly put in touch with a young Danish woman who had a spare ticket, as one of her friends couldn’t go after all. After having discussed it with my daughter, I bought the ticket, and suddenly I was set for the BTS concert in Berlin on October 17th, 2018. I just couldn’t believe my luck!
On the day of the concert, I arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Arena at 3 p.m., an hour before the doors opened, to meet up with other Danish fans whom I had only known online through Twitter and Facebook up until now. It was amazing finally to meet and to my surprise, waiting in line was a very pleasant experience too, thanks to ARMY. BTS fans are called ARMY (short for “Adorable Representative M.C.s of Youth”) playfully associating to BTS’ name, as in Korean it is short for 방탄소년단 (Bangtan Sonyeondan), which means as much as “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” - Bangtan deriving from Hitman Bang.

I can honestly say that I was proud to be ARMY that day as the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly, everybody waiting patiently with no pushing or shoving, and I was also happy to witness the diversity of ARMYs as people seemed to come in all shapes, ages, colours, genders etc. Here everyone is welcome, no matter who you are and where you are from. We are all family.
When the doors finally opened, everyone proceeded inside in an orderly manner, tidying up their own trash as they left the outdoor area to go inside. I quickly found my seat, which turned out to be great as it was a front row seat on the right side of the stage with only the pit separating me from the front stage. For the next three hours, ARMYs gathered in the arena, having a blast, singing and dancing to the on-screen BTS music videos and synchronising their ARMY-bombs, which are light sticks fans use during the show and which can be controlled by the venue to change colour according to the songs.
Again, the diversity and friendliness of ARMY struck me as it can’t be praised enough. Just in my own row, the row behind me and the row next to me, I counted six different nationalities, four different races, more than two sexes (if you know what I mean) and an age-gap of fifty years, as the youngest was a fifteen year old teenage girl and the oldest a sixty-five year old man, at least that was what they told me when I talked to them before the show. Because that’s what we do, ARMY. We talk to each other and wish each other a great concert experience. To be honest, I actually shed a tear before the show began as the love in the arena was quite overwhelming.



Showtime

Finally, at 7 p.m. the show started and let me tell you, this is not your ordinary pop concert, but a huge show with high production value: moving sets, pyrotechnics, confetti cannons, specially made videos, background dancers and a breath-taking laser light show.
The roar of the crowd was deafening, when the seven BTS members appeared on stage and launched into the first number of the evening, their current hit “IDOL” complete with an elaborate, high energy choreography.
A week before the show in Berlin, the youngest BTS member Jungkook had injured his foot prior to a show in London and had to have stitches, so he couldn’t join the choreography and remained seated on the stage during most of the show, but it didn’t spoil the overall experience, as he sang his heart out anyway and was very much part of what happened on stage.
When “IDOL” had finished, it was impressive to hear the seven BTS members introduce themselves in German on stage and at one point, J-Hope even said, “Ihr seid meine Hoffnung und meine Stärke” (“you are my hope and my strength”). It made me glad, though, that my daughter wasn’t with me as I’m not sure she would have survived the shock of hearing BTS speak German, which is one of her least favourite subjects in school!

While touring in the US and Europe, BTS operated with two different set lists, as in many cities they did at least two shows. As the concert I attended was day two in Berlin, we got the day two setlist and I was very happy about that. Not that the day one setlist was bad, it wasn’t, as the two of them were more or less identical except for the medley of hits halfway through the show. Here the day one songs were “21st Century Girl”, “Go Go”, “Blood, Sweat & Tears”, “Boy in Luv” and “Danger”, but day two had “Boyz With Fun”, “Attack on Bangtan”, “Fire”, “Baepsae” and “Dope”, which are some of my all time favourites, especially “Attack on Bangtan” (yes, I know. I’m old-school!). The full setlist looked like this (copyright BTS Kookie Monster):
The kind of music that BTS make is often referred to as K-pop, Korean pop, because they come from South Korea and sing in Korean, but K-pop is not a musical genre as such, but rather a visual and auditory content package, including not only music, song and dance, but also fashion, TV-shows and more. BTS do sing in Korean mixed with English phrases, which is one of their great charms, but they didn’t start out as a pop-group, they were a hip-hop group, so hip-hop and rap are still close to their hearts. Since their debut, they have expanded into other genres as well such as rock, pop, R&B, EDM, Latin and jazz and we got a taste of most of the genres during the concert.
On stage the seven Bangtan Boys (or rather men by now!) are playful, hardworking, witty, sexy, cute, serious and sincere. They have fun on stage, no doubt about that, but they are humble and work very hard, wanting to show the best performance possible as they always put their fans before themselves. Most of the songs in the show were group songs with choreographies that are famous because of the high level of precision and difficulty, but each of the members also performed a solo song.




The members of BTS

Main rapper and group leader RM (born 1994, real name Kim Namjoon (in Korean) or as we would say in the west Namjoon Kim, putting his first name first) came across as the playful one on stage, juggling words in his solo “Trivia: Love” and having fun with both ARMY and BTS, but at the same time you felt his intellect too. The man has an IQ of 148, which makes him a genius and he is truly one of the most interesting current thinkers and lyricist.
Especially his speech to ARMY at the end of the show was very insightful and moving, RM comparing Germany to Korea as the two nations know what it means to live in a divided country. RM is the only one who speaks English fluently, so he addressed the audience directly where the others did it in Korean through an interpreter. 


The “big brother” of BTS, vocalist Jin (born 1992, real name Seokjin Kim), was the one who seemed to work the hardest on stage. You could really see him concentrating and pouring out his heart and soul, especially in his solo “Epiphany”. Not only did he play the piano during the first part of the song, his extremely clear and pretty voice came to its right as well. Normally I’m not one for ballads, but Jin’s voice touches me every time!
Jin is usually known for his flying kisses and for telling bad dad jokes, but on stage he came across as much more serious, at least most of the time. Instead of his usual introduction as “world wide handsome”, he was presented as “Mr. ARMY Bomb”, but he didn’t have an ARMY bomb with him, so he had to borrow one from the audience and that caused quite a lot of fun.


The rapper and award-winning producer Suga (born 1993, real name Yoongi Min), has a reputation of being swag and savage on the outside, but soft-hearted on the inside and we saw both sides on stage. He is known to be an introvert, but on stage he was by far the wittiest and one of the most extrovert of the seven Bangtan men. It’s his job to spur on both group and fans with comments and shouts during the show and he did that to perfection.
Suga is a fast rapper, a capable dancer and an incredible composer and we experienced of all of this during the concert. He has a strong stage presence and I especially liked his almost sarcastically quick wit as well as his pride and pace in his work, especially noticeable during his solo “Trivia: Seesaw”.



As for J-Hope (born 1994, real name Hoseok Jung), rapper and main dancer of BTS, he is usually depicted as the sunshine of the group, always being funny, cute and happy and adding an upbeat, energetic tone to the music, but… He has another side too, a sincere and… well, “adult” side, that we rarely see on YouTube or Vlive, It is commonly known among fans, though, that when J-Hope is abroad, he transforms from the cute and funny Hobi to the ultra-sexy Jay and he was Jay in Berlin too, for sure, as he was oozing sex on stage. He wasn’t sexy, he WAS sex, especially in his solo “Trivia: Just Dance”.
J-Hope is a formidable dancer and the things he can do with his body is out of this world, so during the concert we witnessed him jump over two dancers, slam down in a split, body roll etc. Furthermore, he uses a variety of very small, subtle movements of both body and facial expressions to transform into the “adults only” version of himself. To top it off, J-Hope is the showman of the bunch, a born entertainer who knows how to capture an audience and interact with them.



Jimin (born 1995, real name Jimin Park) is also a dancer, trained in ballet and modern dance and as a vocalist, he is the one who hits the very high notes. Jimin has a reputation of being sexy, cute and a bit of an angel, which has always puzzled me as I think he comes across as a bit of a brat on Vlive and YouTube. Seeing him live, I finally got it, though, as Jimin was nothing but cute and angelic on stage, including the injured Jungkook in the action and even carrying V on his back.
After J-Hope and Suga, Jimin was the one who was mostly in touch with ARMY during the concert, sitting on the stage edge to be close to the fans, sending us Korean finger-hearts and acting sexy, but then giggling as if his sexiness is just pretend. In his solo “Serendipity” Jimin did however show powerful and genuine sexy dancing.



To me, the biggest surprise came from vocalist and dancer V (born 1995, real name Taehyung Kim). V has always been described as otherworldly, not just because of his ridiculously good looks, but also because he is somehow “different”. It’s not just him being eccentric, he has an innocence to him and a way of speaking and reacting that has made both BTS and ARMY think that he must be from another dimension.
In any case, we are used to this beautiful, strange and funny man from YouTube and Vlive, but on stage he was very serious. Instead of goofing around, he concentrated on giving a professional and spot-on performance. He had a few “V-moments”, showing his box smile and doing the V-sign, but it seemed almost rehearsed as part of the choreography, just like his flirtation with ARMY. Next to J-Hope he was surprisingly the one who flirted the most with the fans. Furthermore, V had a lot of impact in his solo “Singularity”, where his deep voice and acting skills made up the perfect melancholy background for the jazzy sound.



Finally, there’s the main vocalist and dancer Jungkook (born 1997, real name Jungkook Jeon), whose nickname is “the golden maknae”, golden because he is good at everything, maknae because it means the youngest of the bunch in Korean.
Although he had to sit down most of the time, he was still golden, his singing so pure and sincere in his solo “Epiphany” that you couldn’t help being moved. He came across as very sincere on stage and also very innocent, young and happy, which made me feel young at heart and happy as well.



The best show in town

The show included unit performances too, namely “The Truth Untold” by the vocal line Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook and “Outro: Tear” by the rap line RM, Suga and J-Hope.
Originally BigHit built BTS around RM, and the rap line came together in 2010 with the vocal line following in 2011 and 2012 and since BTS’ debut in 2013, the rappers have written the majority of BTS songs, “Outro: Tear” included, and produced quite a lot too, Suga having produced this unit song. Especially in later years, the vocal line has pitched in with writing and producing as well, but “The Truth Untold” is written by RM in collaboration with other songwriters including Steve Aoki, who also produced the song.



For me, the absolute highlights of the concert were “MIC Drop”, “Airplane pt. 2”, “Trivia: Just Dance”, “Trivia: Seesaw”, “Anpanman” and the medley as I’m mostly into the high-energy songs, but for anyone who has loved BTS’ three “Love Yourself”-albums, this concert was perfect.
What struck me the most about the concert was, however, the high level of energy that BTS possess. It was totally unbelievable, especially with all the difficult and powerful choreographies. The show ran for two and a half hours with no intermissions except for the short video breaks that allowed BTS to change stage clothes, so that ARMY would see them in half a dozen different outfits from handsome uniforms to plain T-shirts.
ARMY worked just as hard as BTS as the level of audience participation was incredibly high. During the show all ARMYs sang along to the songs (in Korean!), chanted the names of the group members, waved their ARMY-bombs and gave BTS loud cheers and support. It was very touching, and both group and audience teared up more than once.
I must say that all in all, I was in awe of how well-oiled an entertainment machine such a BTS concert is. Every detail of both the visual and auditory side of the show was designed to hit you like a freight train to such a degree that the 150 minutes flew by and after the encores you asked yourself what just happened, and you only wanted to experience it again.
As a seasoned concert-goer through forty-five years or so, I can honestly say that I have never witness anything like it, as BTS truly bring the best show to town.





We’ll meet again

When the concert was over, and we came down the stairs to leave the venue, it was once again done without pushing and shoving, ARMY spontaneously chanting the BTS members’ names and singing “Magic Shop”, which was a perfect way to end the show.
I really hope that I will be able to catch a concert again, preferably with my daughter next time. I must say that everything about BTS has me hooked, but especially their music and their lyrics and now their live performance too. With BTS’ vision and ARMY’s support, I am sure that together they will bring as many changes and as much positivity to the world as the Beatles once did.

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