BTS: The Best is Yet to Come
It truly feels like some sort of fever dream as to how BTS became the biggest boy band in the world. Who would’ve thought in 2013 that this South Korean septet from the formerly humble Big Hit Entertainment, now HYBE, would captivate tens of millions of fans from all walks of life through their genre-defying music and mesmerizing stage performances almost a decade later?
There have been endless celebrity profiles and academic articles on the runaway success of BTS, and every single time a new one emerged, it only solidified their status as global artists for an entire generation. This past summer, legions of their dedicated fans were treated to the boys’ first anthology album, Proof, a retrospective compilation that encapsulates all of BTS in a three-disc extravaganza. It is almost a no-brainer to chronicle what would become BTS’ most pivotal year.
The Permission to Dance on Stage concert series was an essential era in BTS’ career. It came after the runaway success of “Dynamite” and “Butter”, songs that catapulted them into Beatlemania-esque popularity in the States. Up until this point, BTS was still seen as the top group of a niche genre, but now they’re seen as the boy band of the mid to late 2010s. The exponential growth of the fandom was due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the newly initiated could binge through endless hours of BTS content with quite a few catching up in the span of weeks.
To many, these concerts are the first time they saw them in person and experienced the synergy between ARMY and BTS. It was the cinematic climax after seeing them exclusively online for two years, and as a born-again ARMY in fall 2021, I had the fortunate opportunity to not only attend their Permission to Dance on Stage Inglewood shows, but the conclusion of the concert series in Las Vegas.
The concert itself was a nonstop exhilarating experience. They have come a long way from being a rookie idol group asking people on the street to go to their free concert to now selling out a stadium with a capacity of 70,000 before it reaches general sale. The seven men were at their A-game even as member Jin had to sit out for the majority of the show due to his hand surgery. Fans roared with cheers and waved their Bluetooth-synced light sticks called ARMY Bombs along to older hits like “Dope” and “Silver Spoon”, and newer ones like the titular “Permission to Dance” and, obviously, the earworm “Dynamite”.
While their previous concerts featured solo works from the members, this concert featured all seven of them at all times and left no room for discussion as to how much they are idolized by ARMY and pop music critics alike. The series of concerts were sold out even before they hit general sale, indicating the fans’ burning dedication to the Kings of K-Pop as pre-sales required a purchase of a fan membership to qualify. The members poured their hearts into each performance, creating different remixes of older songs and different outfits from their previous stops in Inglewood and Seoul.
This time, the energy was much more intense and happier as the members cheered and interacted with ARMY less awkwardly and nervously compared to the aforementioned shows. I felt a cosmic shift on opening night. Even though most in attendance had seen the setlist presented many, many times before this particular stop, fans cheered like it was their last time seeing the boys, and it fueled the members forward. Before the shows in Vegas, the members had a 3-day affair with their domestic fans back in Seoul, but due to the COVID-19 restrictions in their home country, the audience was not allowed to scream and yell to prevent further risk of spread.
Las Vegas was different in all aspects than their previous concerts in Los Angeles and Seoul, and even their Wings and Love Yourself world tours. BTS enveloped the city in purple, their signature color. HYBE turned Vegas into a city for ARMYs to enjoy for two consecutive weekends. There was an official pop-up, an exhibition, afterparties, a cafe dedicated to BTS’ favorite eats, and hotel room packages in which ARMY would eat, breathe, and sleep BTS the entire time they were in Sin City. Outside of HYBE’s efforts, there were fan-led events on and off The Strip. There was not a single moment where I did not run into an ARMY and exchange social handles or pass out cards of Suga or Jimin.
This sheer level of coordination was unheard of in the States, as previous attempts have been made in Korea and Japan respectively in other years. But for the city of Las Vegas to create an entire city for fans of a boy band from South Korea? That was unprecedented.
As someone who has been following them since their rookie years, it was an emotional high to see them come from performing in smaller venues to selling out whole stadiums effortlessly. I still vividly remember standing outside in the hot Vegas sun back in May 2017, waiting for them to arrive on the red carpet at the Billboard Awards. It was then that they won for Top Social Artist. That moment was when things clicked and BTS became known as the most successful K-Pop crossover act to date.
I was there for their first AMA performance where they would later win Artist of the Year four years later, with Jungkook sputtering on about what he wanted to focus on. I remember passing through the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live for their 2018 tour before BTS would start receiving their first nominations. Witnessing these monumental moments with them over the years is something I grew to cherish deeply, as I am aware that many ARMYs do not get the chance to see them in person. Let alone multiple times in the span of five years.
At the end of their last concert date for Vegas came the trailer for what ended up being their next album, an anthology featuring a few new tracks and their greatest hits. The excitement was paramount as BTS are approaching their 10th anniversary as a group.
The release of Proof was yet another feat for BTS. Not a lot of artists, K-Pop or otherwise, can be able to produce an album that captures their discography well, and thankfully, Proof showed us that yes, BTS’ discography is diverse and iconic. Proof is released at a time when many general public listeners and music critics in the U.S. have only heard of their English singles. This compilation album is allowing people to listen to what they have created before they crossed over to the States.
With a bulk of the older tracks remastered including the feature of “Born Singer”, a track that was never released on streaming platforms due to it using a sample off of J.Cole’s “Born Sinner” until now, people can listen to the growth the group has gone through over the years. Weaving in and out from old school hip-hop to slower hip-hop R&B tracks to EDM to more experimental sounds, BTS has come a long way. Lyrically, the tracks featured questions and commentaries on capitalism, the school system, real-life struggles during youth, and mental health. It is for this reason BTS was so well-loved back home as they addressed topics that South Korean youth understood well, challenging the idea that young people do not understand the complexities of societal issues.
The final disc featured demos that were roughly edited and half-completed, showing the members’ ability to change on the dime. We could see through the looking glass how the production process is boundless and endless, with the members producing completely new melodies and lyrics that ended up being the final product. Some of the stylistic choices were definitely interesting, such as the woahs by V on the demo version of “Boyz with Fun” or RM’s passionate singing on the demo chorus of “I Need U”, confirming that the members do produce their music and are willing to take risks no matter how it sounds at first.
For me, listening through all three discs was like being put in a time machine. With every passing track, I was flooded with memories of seeing the boys over the years, ranging from Jimin’s flirtatious energy during intermission at a 2017 taping of James Corden to waving at the boys endearingly across the street at a busy crosswalk near The Grove four years later. Their passion for creating music got me through my growing pains. I even gained valuable friends through being ARMY. There was a sense of approachability that the members had that made me feel so comforted in their lyrics or just by seeing them over the years. It felt as if no matter how big they were, they still felt like home.
Proof was a re-introduction of BTS to the American audience, and that could not have been more appropriate as the group reaches its final year before their mandatory military service begins. Very few pop groups have the feat of making an anthology album before such a life-changing transition, and BTS had done just that.
As things were starting to shape what was going to be a long comeback promotion and rumors of a world tour, it screeched to a halt after BTS released an hour-long video on June 14th titled, “Bangtan Team Dinner” for their annual FESTA activities, which celebrates BTS’ group debut in June 2013. The video started innocuously and ended with the group’s honest feelings about the overall direction of the band. As the members ate and drank alcohol, they expressed how exhausted they were since 2020, and their inability to write lyrics. RM stated truthfully, “I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore.” The members wrapped up their thoughts tearfully as they announced they would focus on solos with the exception of filming their variety show, RUN BTS occasionally as seven.
This announcement shocked many initially, but as time went on, it was accepted with open arms. There was nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing RM erupting into sobs, wishing that BTS would continue to be themselves honestly without “the rules of the world”. As we were trying to make sense of things, mainstream media outlets wrote about the dinner video without much context, leading to misunderstandings and petty celebrations of what sounded like the end of BTS. RM wrote a letter on the online platform Weverse in the middle of the night expressing his anger towards the coverage, even going so far as to blame himself for being rightfully emotional.
During the ending comments for their “Yet to Come in Busan” concert, V, SUGA, and Jin cleared up the notion that the dinner video announcement meant a complete halt to their activities as a group altogether, but rather that the band was stepping into a new chapter. Prior to the official enlistment news, the members had emphasized to ARMY to trust them, which in turn, softened the blow that came two days later.
there’s relief in knowing they finally have clarity on their own terms after being met with uncertainty and used as buzzword for the topic for this long. my trust stays solid in them and so: the best is yet to come. everything will be fine.— dia 🗡⁷ is ia (@sugatalus) October 17, 2022
It cannot be stressed enough that BTS should indulge in creative breaks and other pursuits, counting their obligations to their home country. We should all be a little bit more empathic in the decisions they are making for themselves. How often has the K-Pop industry overworked celebrities to the brink of self-destruction or have critiqued them so much to the point of suicide? Sure, BTS are rich and successful, but their inner struggles and personal battles are universal, as evident in their lyrics in the past decade.
Many see us ARMYs as being too defensive of the group we love, but we simply are just returning the love and acceptance BTS has given us. It’s only fair for us to now look inward and regard ourselves in the same manner. Although it is scary to admit, we go to BTS for an escape, just like how members go on V-Live to escape their own struggles just to entertain us. At times, we put the members’ happiness and victories above our own, and now that they are taking a break, we need to go back to the basics and love ourselves again.
We too need a break from all the explosive infighting and drama, as those things always lead to the destruction of community and inclusion in fandoms. In a time and age when cult-like behaviors permeate through fan culture, the last thing we need during this hiatus-not-hiatus is for all of that solidarity and acceptance to disappear. To protect BTS and their future, we must protect our friends and the community we fought so hard to keep safe.
Lastly, we should not see this period as a detriment, but rather as a time of renewed and invigorated love for the group. BTS is just as great as seven sparkling individuals as they are as a cohesive boyband. This is evident with the success of J-Hope’s “Jack In The Box” album and BTS coming together one last time to headline Busan before enlisting. We as ARMY must keep the fire alive as our boys continue to experiment with their careers in whichever way they choose while also fulfilling their duties as South Korean men.
In a couple of years, BTS will reunite as fleshed out musicians with clearer minds about their future and what to do next as a band. And when that day comes, it will be another beautiful moment in our lives.
Photo courtesy of Big Hit Music.