BTS shows are made for stadiums, as the K-pop superstars proved during the kickoff for their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself world tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday.
The set capped off an extremely successful month for the band. In April, they played Saturday Night Live, achieved their third No. 1 entry on the Billboard 200 with Map of the Soul: Persona, and released their biggest single to date when “Boy With Luv” debuted at No. 8 on the Hot 100. But with BTS, breaking records can feel like a broken record, so it was nice for ARMY members to shut out numbers for an evening and focus on why the group has the magnetism to perform in front of a sold-out crowd of 60,000 people.
Emerging behind a pair of giant panthers with glowing red eyes, they launched into the AutoTuned prog-rock-esque “Dionysus,” their ode to the Greek god of wine, theater, and ecstasy (a fitting value system for this boy band). The tight choreography and the song’s Last Supper staging helped set the table for the rest of the evening. Highlights included Jimin’s precise dance moves during solo track “Serendipity,” V being hoisted up on a plush mattress to capture the slow-burn sensuality of his neo-soul cut “Singularity,” and “IDOL” plunging into a euphoric beat drop as dozens of dancers joined the band on stage. Several arrangements were reworked for the live setting, including the distorted guitars on the “Rocking Vibe” remix of the emo-rap hit “Fake Love,” a song about an ill-fated love story.
As the tour name suggests, BTS culled the majority of the 24-track setlist from their Love Yourself series, with a few older songs sprinkled in. They also performed four tunes off their latest EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, a project that saw the group move in a more conceptually ambitious direction, with references to Carl Jung and mythology — even if the cleaner production of the mid-section was more generic than previous offerings. But their Ed Sheeran collaboration “Make It Right” got some newfound energy in the live setting. Overall, BTS proved that easily digestible pop doesn’t have to be made up of empty calories.
Alongside pyrotechnics, the set design revolved around kooky props: Jimin emerged from a plastic bubble cocoon, Jungkook soared above the audience during “Euphoria,” and the members played on an inflatable slide during “Anpanman.” Real life feels like a sensory deprivation tank once you’ve seen a BTS show.
But the concert also presented an intriguing split in perception. The septet was so heavily accessorized with technical goodies, you had to watch the monitors to get the full concert experience. You’d look up at the Jumbotron and make eye contact with J-Hope, or see Jimin give a suave tussle through his hair. Then you’d look at the stage and see the band performing on a set filled with heavy machinery. Other visual achievements included V’s face being rendered in blue and red like the stereoscopic split of a 3D image, a black-and-white filter punctuating the menacing tone of “MIC Drop,” and RM introducing his self-described “Doctor Strange ray” during “Trivia: Love,” in which the motion capture of his hand movements created illustrations on screen. By the end, he spelled out, “Love you! LA” along with a heart.
Back in 2017, fans worked to create a rainbow ocean with their lightsticks. Now ARMY Bombs, the bomb-shaped lightsticks sold by BTS, are Bluetooth-activated and color coordinated with each performance. The lightsticks and smartphone flashlights created such a bright constellation that leader RM declared, “You’re the stars to our night and the lighthouse to lead us.” Suga added onto the heartfelt farewell by calling the show “one of the most incredible nights of my life. Good weather, good people. Isn’t that all you need, ARMY?”
BTS and ARMY are connected by the far-off distance of a parasocial relationship, in which fans can feel close to celebrities without personally knowing them. But for a brief moment, the biggest band in the world pulled back the curtain to reveal seven hardworking boys underneath their larger-than-life personas.
Trivia: Just Dance
Best of Me
Boy With Luv
FAKE LOVE (Rocking Vibe Mix)
The Truth Untold
Make It Right