Permission to Dance On Stage 27-11-21
My greatest fear before flying across the country to see BTS perform their first show in front of a live audience since the beginning of the pandemic was that my expectations were too great. This fear proved to be warranted.
The primary fear spawned a secondary fear that this trip would be snatched away by circumstances beyond my control:
- sickness: COVID-19, food poisoning from Thanksgiving, etc.
- weather grounding my flight
- someone in my family dying or getting seriously injured
- an airline shut down
- a car crash: dealing with insurance, repair and / or replacement transportation
I attempted to mitigate my expectations by leaning into the anticipation–which like the relationship between smell and taste–is what truly heightens an experience, right?
After the stress of navigating Ticketmaster presale rules scheduled for the night of a dear friend’s Women of Color-Give gala, booking the first flight taken since the summer of 2019 and downloading the Marriott, Lyft and SoFi apps–I congratulated myself for not purchasing an Army Bomb ($59) or a ticket ($65) to the streaming version of the 2-12-21 show. I would be a low-key fan.
Meanwhile, I joined a Facebook group for those attending the Los Angeles shows which provided invaluable tips from suggestions for stadium permitted clear bags to booking a Rally bus to and from the stadium. I purchased earplugs and a collapsible water bottle.
From the moment I arrived at the airport in my small midwestern town to when I returned, I was in the company of other bts fans. This experience reminded me of that feeling of being in Korea as a Korean American: a connection that feels weird to acknowledge. Others wore bts hoodies, bt21 plush key chains, replicas of bts fashion available from Instagram advertisements . . . I perceived that my FILA jacket was a subtle homage. Probably not.
permission to dance: on stage
caveat: These reflections are about being a fan, not the performance. I was given permission to dance and embraced that seriously. That bts pulled this performance off with a pandemic raging and in a country where they do not fluently speak the language–gratitude is difficult to fully express! My favorite aspect of the evening was the members’ banter (MENT) in English and 윤기 in hangul. Also, “We are Bulletproof: the Eternal.” Truly 대박!
Equally as memorable, the fans I met at the hotel, the concert and the airport shuttle were all endearing. All inconveniences were opportunities to chat with fans to compare notes on event prep and upcoming plans to attend more shows. (I could only attend the first show due my responsibilities as a teacher in another state.)
the show: Ironically, being in a stadium with the ARMY and BTS felt like the most impersonal interaction I have had since I became a fan. For these reasons:
- the global aspect of ARMY has to be seen to fully appreciate
- there will always be the fan who has better seats, more show tickets and that merch that maybe you should have purchased
- most previous “interactions” with bts were on a personal screen in which they were speaking directly into the camera or appearing to share aspects of their “backstage lives”
- a sense that all of the planning was wasted, causing you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This suspicion was sparked by the following: the need to rush into the stadium at the last minute after a 2+ hour line (not clearly designated due to understaffing at the stadium) in which the soundcheck could be heard and screams indicated that you had missed the members coming out to say hello
- bts were quite distant and yet their images were projected on a stadium screen which often filtered their images through graphics which had an over-production vibe
take stock (reflections)
My secret (fully unrealistic) expectations for the live performance:
- performance of 아리랑
- tears (from bts and myself). NOTE: No one was crying.
- involuntary chemistry that you feel when you meet someone in person–this was based on the the inexplicable affection I felt for a president I didn’t support when he spoke at my sister’s college graduation
- a tailored performance for the historic show in LA–not necessarily an eerily familiar version of the streaming show from Seoul a few weeks earlier–however, I also was conflicted because I felt that the Korean fans deserved this momentous show in person more than US fans
- large screen closeups of the performance unobscured by digitally enhanced music video-like graphics
I was unprepared for the scale of the lines at SoFi Stadium: for merch (which I skipped), the various entry points (not marked or designated on Day 1), the photo booths, etc. The last concert I had attended, the family of the band (not bts) was working the merch tables. The band tailored each set list for the specific audience. I realize now that this kind of intimacy is not possible in the world of global K-Pop.
Upon returning home, I have removed the Weverse app from my phone. Unsubscribed from bts related content on Instagram. Unfollowed the bts Facebook group. Have ignored all of the bts related YouTube notifications.
Entering the maelstrom of a bts show made me realize what the members experience every day of their lives, managing ARMY expectations. The burden must be heavy. I have the luxury of stepping away. Of scaling back. This isn’t my life. In fact, any compassion for bts is overstepping. I don’t know them. Our connection is not real.
And yet, just today, I discovered, like a recovering addict 1 week clean, the only way to face the reality that connection to bts on some level is “basic,” “unspecial,” “unrealistic,” “commodified” or “too much” is with . . . bts music.
bts music = healing
정들었던 이곳과는 안녕
이제는 더 높은 곳으로
처음보단 짐도 늘고
처음보단 내 스스로 가진 것도 늘었어
이젠 자부심을 딱 들고
더 큰 세상 큰 꿈을 나 바라보겠어
새 출발, 새 시작
어떤 식으로 또 꾸밀 지 기대되는 시간
짐 날라, 위치 잡아, 먼지 닦아
끝나고서는 수고의 짜장면 하나