Concerts in Quarantine: On BTS Bringing Stages to Screens and Connecting Fans Around the Globe.
When the pandemic sent me home in March of 2020, I was overwhelmed with uncertainty. What did this mean for my job that was all about planning events? When would I get to see my friends and family? How long was this going to last? And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also constantly think “but what about concerts?”
After the painstaking stress of getting tickets to see BTS for their upcoming shows at Soldier Field, all I wanted was to use them. To stand in that stadium with my friends and fellow ARMY, singing along to the songs I love, in awe of the performances and performers gracing the stage, I couldn’t wait. But I also just wanted to know that a tour of any kind could happen for this band and this fandom. Because if you ask anyone who knows about BTS what it is that they love the most, it’s performing live, on a stage, in front of their fans. And we all get to benefit from it. Whether we are there in the venue itself, or maybe watching grainy streams or waiting for tweets to grace the timelines, concert season for ARMY was always such a great time. You didn’t have to have the front row seat, or a ticket at all, to enjoy the months of BTS touring the world because they, along with the fandom, made it fun for everyone. But then before we knew it, the 2020 summer we were all looking forward to quickly approached with no tour in sight. And it was heartbreaking.
While we couldn’t help but think about what could have been, we weren’t being left with nothing. In the early times of the pandemic, we were given BangBangCon, an opportunity to watch older BTS concerts for free online, along with fellow fans. And just weeks later, the first virtual BTS concert was announced. BangBangCon The Live would air to coincide with BTS’s 7th anniversary, and we all could enjoy a live concert again, just in a new way.
BBC The Live was smaller scale and intimate, bringing BTS into our living rooms in a variety of sets on a sound stage, with a few new performances and the stage presence of these 7 artists that we know and love. And that was only the beginning. As BTS moved forward with their music while they world stayed stagnant, they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to perform the songs that were meant for the 2020 tour so instead of delaying further or letting them be, they brought them to us in MOTS ON:E, giving ARMY one of the most memorable weekends in recent memory. For 2 nights, we got to watch BTS on a larger stage again, performing group and solo songs that were made to be performed. With unique stages, choreo, outfits (including a mid-song costume change!), the void that the cancellation of concerts left was starting to feel just a bit smaller. We finally got to see these songs that meant so much to us for months be performed in a way that felt so incredibly personal. And while it wasn’t to the scale that we all had originally imagined, it still felt powerful and impactful. With new technology, they tested having fans on screens, even singing along at times, to bring that sense of community back into the venue. And the ARMY twitter timeline felt like it was back to a sense of normalcy, getting to have a few days to share our favorite moments of live concerts, but one that we all got to experience together. While some had to wake up earlier than others, we still all had a chance to attend and experience these new performances and looking back, I think that is more special than we even really realized at the time.
And then just about one year after BangBangCon The Live, we all got to experience a virtual concert weekend again for Muster Sowoozoo. In honor of BTS’s 8th birthday, the group held 2 streamed concerts, performing a show outside for the first time in years, and it felt like a breath of fresh air. To see the fireworks again, to experience the guys dancing around a large stage and chasing each other with water bottles, it was like a homecoming. And while there was no audience there in person, they improved on the technology from ON:E and had screens of fans filling the spaces of the set, singing and shouting along, allowing us to hear fanchants and cheers that we had missed. It was a celebration of their 8 years as a group, but also of their love of performing. It felt like BTS had new life breathed into them as they brought their performance back outdoors, with all of us having thoughts of brighter days to come lingering in the back of our minds.
1.33 million people in 195 regions around the world tuned in to Sowoozoo weekend. To put that into perspective, San Diego and Dallas have populations of 1.33 million. But this is so much more than a stat or a number. It’s a message. That 1.33 million want to experience a concert and live music, even virtually. That 1.33 million will show up online with paid tickets, no matter what timezone they’re in or what else they have going on, to experience that concert. These shows were accessible, taking down barriers that have surrounded the concert industry for decades. While large artists like BTS do world tours and visit various countries and continents, they do not go to 195 regions. They can’t. But they made it possible for anyone who lives anywhere to experience a concert live, with fellow fans, from the safety and comfort of their own home. And while I of course missed the jumping at my seat and cheering until my throat went sore, I felt like I had something back. Something I’d been missing for so long. Because there’s a special kind of joy that comes from experiencing your favorite songs and artist live. There’s a unique feeling to watching them have pure, high energy fun as they dance around the stage. And we all got to experience it, just in a new way. And I can’t help but think about how phenomenal that is.
I don’t want to dwell on the fact that hardly any western media wrote about how huge it is for BTS to hold streamed concerts like this, reaching millions around the entire globe, but I’d be remiss to not say that it’s frustrating to see. Because it’s not just about BTS. It’s about how the pandemic has taught us how accessible and adaptable things can be. How resilient artists can be. In a world where not every nation or city can host every concert tour, or where every venue is not convenient or accessible for all, we have now seen how possible it is to bring that experience to the fans in a virtual way. And I’m sure that terrifies the industry. As we saw in the post-Muster survey, this now even brings up the idea of live tours having a streaming option. That’s a huge change for the industry that requires new technology, expenses, and people. But it also means positive change for the fans and for new ways for an artists’s music and performances to reach the public. Sometimes change can be a really, really good thing.
So as things “reopen” and we all continue to anxiously await rescheduled tour dates as the tickets sold pre-pandemic remain in our Ticketmaster accounts, I can’t help but think back to where my mind was in March 2020. I was so scared and the uncertainty of the future weighed heavily on me. And a big part of that was the question of concerts. And now I look back 16 months later and think about how incredibly thankful I am that BTS adapted and brought live music into our lives during a time when venue doors were shut. ARMY was, without a doubt, the luckiest fandom this past year in this regard. Along with countless tv/award show performances, a set in a New Year’s eve show, and so much more, we had concerts. Full scale productions with live performances, dancers, the whole shebang. And we all got to experience it together. I sincerely hope that what BTS has shown is possible brings change to the larger industry. And while I’m not confident that it will, because I know how much they scare others with their accomplishments and achievements, I know that as a BTS fan, I’ll continue to feel proud and grateful for what they do. Especially when it comes to live music. The stage is where they shine the brightest, where they feel most at home, and I can’t wait to continue to witness that, either from stadium seats or my couch. Because they’ve shown me that either is possible, and I don’t think I can really say how grateful I am that in the darkest of times, they gave us so much light through these shows. Every ticket, each early morning, the exhaustion and post-concert sadness, was all so incredibly worth it. I hope they know all of that. I like to think they do.