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BTS takes a risk with ‘SNL’ performance and album release here in NYC, but risk pays off big

This musical performance review is by PIX11 News reporter James Ford.

NEW YORK — BTS, the seven-member supergroup from South Korea, took a risk by holding the first live performance of the debut single from their new album on “Saturday Night Live,” in New York. By the end of the live broadcast, it was apparent that the risk had paid off.

The K-pop megahit band is so popular that they’ve literally become a vital part of their country’s economy.  Profits from the band’s recordings, concerts, and related merchandise exceed those of most Korean corporations. BTS is also the source of about 8% of tourism to South Korea yearly.

Their choice, therefore, to release their latest album, “Map of the Soul: Persona” outside of their home country, and then to have their first live performance from it on “SNL” spoke volumes about the importance and influence of the band, and of our city.

BTS on “SNL” did not disappoint. “SNL” itself, however, could have done a few more things to match the band’s professionalism and showmanship. Fortunately, the few shortcomings of the broadcast and the venue did not eclipse BTS’s overall effect.

The group, made up of members Kim Namjoon (whose stage name is RM), Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Park Jimin (Jimin), Kim Taehyung (V), and Jeon Jeongguk (Jungkook), have built a reputation since their founding in 2013 for performances as rock solid as granite. The combination of tuneful and pleasant singing, deft rapping, and innovative and expressive choreography have made them the kings of K-pop.

The “SNL” performances — there were two — were as tightly executed as ever, both literally and figuratively. It was clear that Studio 8H, the performance stage and studio from which SNL is broadcast, is relatively small — about 78 feet by 78 feet, to be more precise. That 6,100 square foot space has to accommodate all of the sets for the comedy sketches, as well as the cameras, lights, recording equipment and other machinery, and the live studio audience. It means that the actual space for the band to perform was just big enough for the seven band members, and a small combo of backup singers and instrumentalists, who joined them for the first number, “Boy With Luv.”

Despite the constraints, BTS performed well.

In “Boy With Luv,” the debut single from “Persona,” each member of the band displayed the kind of showmanship for which the band has now become legendary: their individual personalities and skills were apparent, but those attributes combined for a strong presentation by the group as a whole. It did seem that V’s microphone, in particular, was not working properly for his part in “Boy With Luv,” and the audio generally for the performance seemed to be lacking somewhat.

That, of course, is not the fault of the band, who carried out their performance with the seamless skill for which they’ve gained international fame.

One other thing BTS is famous for during live performances is fans screaming so loudly and intensely that the audio engineers fight a constant battle to try to keep the band’s sound volume higher than that of the audience. No such battle on “SNL” late Saturday night, unfortunately.

Apart from host Emma Stone encouraging the fans to scream out their feelings for the septet at the beginning of the broadcast, the audience was noticeably forcibly subdued. That was something of a disappointment. Part of the reason that The Beatles’ 1964 U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” is a groundbreaking performance is the screaming, screeching fans. The same could have easily happened here, but did not, at least not to the extent that was possible.

It’s a further shame, noting that the band has the largest, most devoted, and most social media-connected fan base, called ARMYs, than any other group in pop music.

The septet’s second performance, of their song “Mic Drop,” from their 2017 album “Love Yourself: Answer,” was the tour de force.

Performed in the last half hour of the 90-minute broadcast, it was well worth waiting for. Everything about this performance was outstanding, especially considering the constraints of the small stage and the dialed-down audience.

The band members’ closeness with one another, nurtured over nearly seven years of being together most of the time, was evident. Their dance moves were so in sync, the raps had so much soul, and their harmonies were so expressive, that it made for truly high quality live television.

BTS’s choice to be in New York for the release, and subsequent first live performance, of “Map of the Soul: Persona,” was savvy marketing by their label, BigHit Entertainment. After all, our city is the media capital of the largest media market in the world. The supergroup met the challenge of being here and performing here well, in spite of some limitations placed on them by the “SNL” production and venue.

It was proof that BTS’s reputation and following across the globe are well-earned.

Click to watch BTS’ performances.

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