EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY — Twice before, I’ve written BTS reviews in which I’ve asked if the K-pop powerhouse could possibly outdo its long history of remarkably expectation-shattering performances. With the performances at MetLife Stadium this past weekend, BTS exceeded their own high standards. What’s most amazing is that they did so by significant strides, and seemed to do so effortlessly.
From the beginning of Saturday’s nearly two and-a-half hour show, I found myself having what I expect was the same reaction that the rest of the 50,000 fans in attendance at the long-sold-out show had: I was gasping in disbelief as the band re-created — actually, outproduced, onstage — their very popular “comeback” video for their smash hit Dionysus.
Their original video performance of Dionysus was as solid as granite. At MetLife, however, it was as substantive as the Manhattan schist that anchors the Empire State Building and all of the other dozens of skyscrapers in New York City.
A set of Grecian columns onstage gave way to two tarpaulins, which quickly disappeared to reveal tour bus-sized plastic forms that inflated in seconds to become silver and black leopard balloons.
Those, in turn, created an archway through which the band of seven young men — Kim Nam-joon, 24, (who’s nicknamed RM), Min Yoon-gi, 26, (Suga), Kim Seok-jin, 26, (Jin), Jung Ho-seok, 25, (J-Hope), Park Ji-min, 23, (Jimin), Kim Tae-hyung, 23, (V), and Jeon Jung-kook, 21, (Jungkook)—emerged, singing, dancing, rapping with the musicality, gusto and rhythm for which they’ve now become world-famous.
And the show just kept surprising from there, over and over.
The stage was in the shape of a long -T, which extended far out into the audience of the oval-shaped stadium. It provided multiple opportunities — of which BTS blissfully took advantage, every time — for the band to perform in the main performance area, at the top of the -T, if you will, and at a second performance area at the bottom of the -T, which was a platform in the middle of the stadium.
A walkway that was literally half the length of a football field separated the two performance areas, and the seven often walked between the two areas, with a full camera crew on hand, projecting their images onto the eight video screens surrounding the main performance area. Each screen was about five stories tall.
The whole scene, taken in together, was quite a sight, indeed.
The combination of remarkable staging (during the song “Ampanman,” for example, a two-story bouncy house inflated from under the stage, and the band members performed while sliding down and climbing upon it), excellent video elements, pyrotechnics (during the encore, the fireworks show rivaled that of many small towns on the Fourth of July), quality lighting and audio (the volume at MetLife, while very high, was actually bearable) provided a firm foundation on which BTS could give a memorable performance. Fortunately, the band built on that foundation, and then some.
Among the many highlights of their delivery was the intensity with which they expressed themselves, in every song, but “Fake Love” stood out because it is by no means uptempo. Still, thanks to crystal clear camera work projected onto the video screens, the sweat in each band member’s hair and on their brows was apparent.
They obviously poured their all into the performance.
Two solo appearances by two members of the band also left lasting memories.
Jungkook’s “Euphoria,” in which, at each concert on this tour, he literally floats above the stadium audience on a pulley and pole system while singing, has been talked about widely on social media. It was still a wowing spectacle at MetLife Stadium.
Also, the raw emotion and ferocity of movement Jimin brought to his performance of “Serendipity” was palpable, even hundreds of feet away from the stage.
The group’s so-called rap line — RM, J-Hope, and Suga — gave a phenomenal performance together of their heavily hip-hop influenced hit “Outro: Tear.”
It was one of many reasons why this show in which there were no standing-room seats had people standing in front of their seats nonetheless, almost the entire time.
Whether in solo performances, or as a group, it was obvious that BTS invests high levels of energy and emotion in their presentation, while also being accessible, open and laid back to their legion of fans, who call themselves ARMYs.
It was on this last point that the concert was most gratifying. I have written in the past that BTS’s members are larger than life, yet somehow manage to relate to each of their fans in a personal way. That has not changed, in spite of their stadium performance having evolved into a true extravaganza.
Their first ever U.S. stadium show was also here in New York, at CitiField, last October. It was incredible, but the stagecraft, while excellent, did not match that of MetLife Stadium.
BTS’s parent company, BigHit, switched stadium production companies from the earlier show to the one at MetLife. The new producer, LiveNation, was wise to allow as much of the band members’ individual personalities to shine through amid all of the production elements. The result was a truly memorable concert experience.
At CitiField last fall, the band had one great performance after another for two-plus hours, followed by, at the end, a very touching on-stage session of greetings and observations between the band members and their adoring ARMYs.
At MetLife, at various points in the concert, the band members would speak with the audience, saying how much they love New Jersey and New York, thanking everyone for coming, encouraging fans to “make some noise.”
That last is standard concert fare, to be certain, but the ARMYs ate it up, coming as it did from incredibly appealing band members for whom English is not a first, or even second or third, language.
As was the case at CitiField, BTS ended the night with a nearly 10-minute conversation with their audience. Each band member, in English or Korean, and sometimes both, talked about how it felt to wrap this highly successful “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour in the New York metro area.
“This is the most beautiful stadium,” RM said to the ARMYs filling every seat of MetLife. He went on to say that just five years ago, the band was only popular enough to have played a small theater near Times Square, and even then they had staging problems out of their control.
Now, the band’s leader went on to say, “We really did become something. Because you guys became our something.” The crowd burst into cheers, with good reason.
Many of them were holding globe-topped light sticks, called ARMY bombs, which are programmed to create light displays across the stadium, which they, of course, did throughout the evening.
However, at the end of the night, RM asked the crowd to use their smartphone flashlights to illuminate the stadium for a moment. Suddenly, almost everyone in attendance was able to participate, without having purchased the $57 illuminating device.
It was a democratizing moment that promoted mutual adoration between the band and its fans in a way that has helped BTS not only become the most popular band in the world (they’re the first band since the Beatles to have three Number 1 albums in less than a year), but to also win accolade after accolade for their ability to connect with their fandom.
Again, I’ve twice asked in the past if BTS can outdo themselves — first, after their CitiField concert, and then, after their mesmerizing live performance at the Melon Music Awards, or MMAs, in South Korea late last year.
At MetLife Stadium, they outdid themselves yet again, in ways that were gratifying at every turn. The big question is, “What next?”
This will be hard to top. While I have faith in this group of seven highly talented and brilliant artists, they have to also rely on an army of another sort — producers, directors, engineers, planners, logistics personnel and so on. Fortunately, the band has a large say in their own artistic output. They can be trusted to use it wisely.
Whether or not the apparatus surrounding this world-class phenomenon called BTS can live up to the seven members’ high standard of performance and relatability remains to be seen. Because it is BTS, though, seeing what happens will be fulfilling in many ways. And with the history of the band as a guide, the ultimate result will likely prove gratifying.