K-pop superstars BTS repay the devotion of their fans | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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K-pop superstars BTS repay the devotion of their fans

Saturday at Soldier Field, the Korean group demonstrated their commitment to making a difference in people’s lives.

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BTS opened Saturday’s concert with “Dionysius.” - BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT
  • Big Hit Entertainment
  • BTS opened Saturday’s concert with “Dionysius.”

An hour before BTS started Saturday's sold-out show at Soldier Field, the stadium was already ringing with fanchants, shrieks, and sing-alongs, even though at that point the crowd had little to respond to besides the music videos playing on the giant screens flanking the stage. The BTS ARMY, as the fandom of the seven-member South Korean pop band is known, has a reputation for the intensity of its devotion, and it was on full display all night. At the start of the show, I was a very casual fan of BTS (at least by the standards of K-pop), but it was so intoxicating to be surrounded by that much emotion that I found it impossible not to get swept away. I left with a whole new appreciation for the group.

From their inception in 2013, BTS have consciously focused on issues that might affect their (mostly) youthful fan base. Their debut single, "No More Dream," tackled aimlessness and lack of direction among their peers while subtly critiquing an adult world that offers little hope to those entering it. These themes came up throughout their School Trilogy, which ended with the EP Skool Luv Affair in early 2014—though its later releases in particular offset the group's concerns about Korean society with songs about youthful exuberance and love.

BTS continue to strike that balance between joy and thoughtful explorations of social issues, and their set list at Soldier Field was no exception. For every triumphant scream-along, there was a moment of vulnerability and openness. This show was part of the Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour, a celebration of a suite of three releases linked to the Love Yourself antiviolence campaign that BTS launched with UNICEF in 2017. The campaign is devoted to helping survivors of physical or sexual violence at school or at home, and BTS have raised more than $1.4 million as of November 2018. The connection between BTS and their audience transcends the typically one-sided nature of parasocial relationships—the group express their devotion to their fans by engaging with problems that affect them and directing tangible financial support to possible solutions. BTS seem genuinely invested in using their platform to make an impact in people's lives.

BTS fans fill a sold-out Soldier Field on Saturday. - BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT
  • Big Hit Entertainment
  • BTS fans fill a sold-out Soldier Field on Saturday.

When the members of BTS finally walked onstage, clad in white and gold, they were greeted by deafening cheers. Flanked by giant inflatable chrome jaguars, they launched immediately into the high-energy "Dionysus," from their April 2019 release Map of the Soul: Persona. In the delightfully cheesy break near the end, rapper RM asked the crowd if they were "ready to get hyped up"—and though they'd been hyped up long before he asked, they roared approvingly anyway.

One of the many joys of K-pop is the fashion, and BTS brought it from the start. Rapper J-Hope opened the show in a chest-harness/suit-coat number that left me breathless, and RM went through a wardrobe of trench coats to die for.

After the group delivered storming renditions of "Not Today" and "Outro: Wings," the show's first solo performance arrived. J-Hope smirked and mugged his way through "Trivia: Just Dance," channeling the anarchistic energy of his K-pop predecessor G-Dragon. Singer Jungkook was up next, performing "Euphoria" almost entirely while suspended above the crowd, standing in the crook of a dangling hook that was steered around the arena by horizontal cables. Charmingly, the rig dipped him low right before the climax of the song, then pulled him aloft as he hit a stunning high note. The group returned for "Best of Me," seamlessly shifting focus from member to member. Throughout the show, band and crew alike pulled off the camera work deftly: everyone in BTS knew their angles and effortlessly hit their marks, and the crew members onstage navigated with just as much grace.

After a brief video interlude, singer Jimin rose from the stage, encased in a giant bubble, to deliver "Serendipity," the opening track from the 2017 EP Love Yourself: Her. A tender love song notable for its usage of gender-neutral pronouns, it's another example of BTS's conscious effort toward inclusion. RM took the spotlight next, showing off his camera awareness during "Trivia: Love."

BTS before their first outfit change - BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT
  • Big Hit Entertainment
  • BTS before their first outfit change

After each of the softer solo songs, the group shifted into high gear for a couple of tracks—and the audience followed suit. BTS's current massive hit, "Boy With Luv," brought the crowd to new heights, so that the whole stadium echoed with fanchants—they stopped only to sing the backup vocals, normally provided by Halsey. "Dope," "Baepsae," and "Fire" (all from the 2016 compilation The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever) showcased the group at their most aggressive, as they pinwheeled around the stage in some of the most intense choreography of the show. "Idol," an explosive combination of South African dance music and traditional Korean rhythms, kept the energy up.

In an incredibly dramatic rendition of the ballad "Singularity," singer V rose from a bed to croon over twinkly cocktail-hour piano. "Fake Love," with its goth-metal bridge, maintained the angst level, but rapper Suga punctured that mood by deliberately falling off a tilted bench during his disco and R&B-infused solo, "Trivia: Seesaw." Singer Jin played piano for the opening of his solo, "Epiphany," rising to emote plaintively in front of a digital backdrop of falling rain.

The group ended their set with "The Truth Untold" (a showcase for their vocal line), "Outro: Tear" (a showcase for their rappers), and the smash hit "Mic Drop." They'd assured us that "Mic Drop" was their last song, but of course there was an encore: it featured an inflatable bouncy castle during "Anpanman," a tremendous amount of fireworks during Eurodance bop "So What," and joyous performances of "Make It Right" and "Mikrokosmos," both off Map of the Soul: Persona.

BTS perform “Mic Drop,” the last song before their encore. - BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT
  • Big Hit Entertainment
  • BTS perform “Mic Drop,” the last song before their encore.

Before the actual last song, each member addressed the crowd, thanking them for attending and for their support. Almost everyone remarked on the temperature, and a few said they hoped no one had caught a cold.

RM mentioned that some people backstage had been concerned about the rain that had been falling for most of the day. He said he'd told them, "Don't worry, Chicago ARMY is gonna stop the rain."

The devotion of the BTS fandom is staggering, and only part of that is about the music, its thematic content, and the connections that people find there. Part of it is the faith the fans have in BTS—and part of it is the faith BTS have in the fans. The group made that incredibly clear on Saturday night at Soldier Field. The rain stopped right before the show.  v

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