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The story of BTS is one of having every possible obstacle in their way — and then smashing through every single one. Getting the Number One song in the U.S. with an English-language track. Check. Getting the Number One song in the U.S. with a Korean-language track. Check. Grammy nominations. Check. Selling out four nights at L.A.’s newest stadium, SoFi, around a holiday known to cause traveling nightmares. Check, check, check, check.
BTS was forced to cancel their Map of the Soul Tour because of the pandemic, something that deeply wounded the South Korean group. But this week, they performed live and in-person for the first time in two years, with four nights of their Permission to Dance on Stage Tour in Inglewood, California. These shows served to remind us what we already know: BTS has little, if anything, left to prove to the world, but they still work like they do.
BTS have often used their world tours to perform their latest albums for their fanbase, known as ARMY. But in L.A., rather than emphasizing their recent material from Be and Map of the Soul: 7, they cooked up a highlights reel, mainly focusing on the songs that got them to global superstardom, from “I Need U” all the way to “My Universe.” The members, for their part, seemed to be focusing more on enjoying the overall vibe and interacting with fans rather than on nailing every eight-count.
In a pre-recorded video played at the start of the show, Jung Kook held a sign that read “We don’t need permission.” The sign set the tone for the entire night. After all, they sold out four nights at a 60,000-seat venue in one of the biggest cities in the country — you really can’t tell BTS shit at this point in their careers, so they’re going to take the opportunity to reiterate their strengths, then have a big celebration with their fans.
The show was divided into four main acts. It went from powerful performances into darker thematics, moved on smoothly into more playful territory, and ended with high-energy anthems. Clad in beige utilitarian-chic ensembles, the septet of RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jung Kook kicked off the show with a big punch by performing “On,” followed by now-classic bangers “Fire” and “Dope.”
For the introductions, the audience seized the moment to conduct the first of multiple “birthday projects” for Jin, who turns 29 this week. The crowd held out signs with his name. With Jin seemingly immersed in the theatrics of his “worldwide handsome” fame, the rest of the members had to snap him out of it so that he could notice a sea of red hearts. Genuinely surprised, he thanked ARMY. Later, fans would attach purple moon-shaped covers over their ARMY “bombs” (the group’s official lightstick), prompting an “I love you” from Jin.
“We waited for this moment for so long,” Jung Kook told the crowd before delving into their performance of “Blue & Grey.” The song addresses sadder moments in their lives, and the performance was stage-designed to happen in darkness. The ARMY bombs had been synchronized to flash different colors and patterns throughout the show, but went dark for this song. Instead, the entire stadium lit up their phones and shone light upon the members as they sang about wanting to be happier.
This served as the perfect introduction for arguably the highlight of the night: the majestic rendition of “Black Swan,” in which, together with their dancers, the guys showed the utmost precision and skill to stunningly simulate a swan’s wings through dance. For “Fake Love,” though the acoustics of the venue didn’t allow the fans’ chants to fully soar throughout, the coordinated movement of the lightsticks was more than enough to make ARMY’s participation noticeable.
With the quote-unquote more serious part of the show out of the way, it was time to focus on play, smirking and smiling ear to ear through “Boy With Luv” and being a tad comical with their poses on the big screen for “Life Goes On.” As BTS plowed through a dozen songs, from “Dynamite” to “Idol,” the show felt like a party. “It makes me so happy to be surrounded by ARMY,” J-Hope told the crowd.
One of said ARMYs was 53-year-old Gert Aguas. Together with her sister Kim Catap, 49, they are “Dynamite ARMYs,” signaling the era they joined the fandom. Both were attending their fourth BTS show. “Now that my three sons are grown, I am free to spoil myself with experiences, such as seeing my favorite band multiple times,” Aguas said, adding that the pandemic made her realize it’s now or never to YOLO it. “BTS bring joy, comfort, and inspiration to millions of ARMY around the world. I am counting down the days until I can see them live again.”
Each of the four nights at SoFi saw different encore performances. For the final show, BTS opted for fan favorites “HOME” and “Mikrokosmos.” And just after they reached the expected ending with “Permission to Dance,” Chris Martin made a surprise appearance wearing a BTS T-shirt to perform Coldplay’s collaboration with the group, “My Universe.”
Outside the stadium walls, much has been said throughout the years to discount the group’s accolades, with some even calling their supporters bots and AIs inflating the numbers in the streaming game. That’s a hard claim to sustain indoors when you’re face-to-face with a sold-out stadium that roars every word to songs in what is mostly a foreign language. SoFi was filled with people who bought tickets with real money to see their favorite band in the world — the biggest band in the world, at that. And that’s something that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Permission to Dance On Stage Setlist
“Blue & Grey”
“Blood, Sweat & Tears”
“Life Goes On”
“Boy With Luv”
“Airplane pt. 2”
“I Need U”
“Permission to Dance”