Many of us have spent this year getting familiar with our living rooms. Global pop stars BTS are no exception. The music video for their new track, “Life Goes On”, has them huddled together happily on a couch, engrossed in TV.
BTS started the year on a high: their new album Map of the Soul: 7 charted No.1 in over 20 countries – they were on an international promo train heading straight to an epic world tour. But as COVID restrictions hit, BTS’ celebratory return with “ON” and its marching band bombast was performed in studios empty but for crew.
The sound of canned applause in those first dystopian-like music show performances highlighted how imperative live audiences are to artists. As BTS would later say: “BTS and ARMY are each other’s batteries”. Left without their power supply, the group had to find new ways to connect with fans.
ARMY’s (BTS’ fandom) domination of social media is widely acknowledged, and they’ve always used digital spaces to commune. This is aided by BTS’ seemingly unfiltered tweets, and their frequent visits to V LIVE (a streaming platform popular with K-pop groups) and WeVerse; a major point of difference in the group’s early years.
In early 2020, as we all took on unexpected hobbies to allay lockdown boredom, BTS joined in. Among some of the relatable activities were RM and Jimin live-streaming their dalgona coffee-making attempts; J-Hope’s crafty beaded bracelet sessions; JK and V creating paper carnations; and Jin’s ‘Eat Jin’ mukbang. Fans could tune in on Saturday nights to hear Suga host a radio show, his smooth honey voice answering fan questions and narrating fairytales with fellow members.
The world outside and online was overwhelming, but this corner of the internet was made cosy for fans. In every step BTS took to stay in touch, fans got the message: we’re struggling and so are you, let’s help each other. As Suga himself raps on “Life Goes On”: “People say the world has changed, but thankfully between you and me, nothing’s changed”.
This sense of community was bolstered in a number of online concerts beginning with Bang Bang Con, a marathon weekend of past BTS live shows and fan-meets streamed for free, viewed by 2.24 million people at the same time. Fans could chat alongside the stream and BTS members reacted on their bespoke chat app, WeVerse. You could even synchronise your ARMY Bomb (BTS’ concert lightstick) to have it flash in time with the music.
As part BTS FESTA, they also celebrated their seven-year anniversary with Bang Bang Con: The Live, a ticketed online concert that peaked at 756k viewers in 107 countries – the biggest-ever audience for a paid virtual concert. Sure, we were all in our bedrooms in different timezones, but BTS united us.
Even though fans couldn’t be with BTS physically, the group offered escapism in their music. The brightness of “Dynamite”’s music video sets was transposed into Fortnite, creating a digital universe fans could play around in. The boys shared their lakeside getaway in In The Soop, a meditative series that reflected the limbo state we all felt ourselves in.
COVID restrictions naturally put an end to live concerts, but BTS continued to find alternatives. After cancelling the in-stadium MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E world tour, the group made sure to keep their two-night online live experience that used Augmented Reality to transform what a concert can look like on screen.
Fans could feel even closer to the group there than in a stadium. During the concert, the members interacted with a live chatroom, with fans’ faces projected onstage while they performed, complete with handmade banners that their idols could read up-close. No matter how far away you were from them, in that moment, all 993k people (across 191 different regions) were together.
Now, as we’ve somewhat adapted to the changes the pandemic has brought to our lives, BTS themselves enter a new era. In the new self-produced album BE, BTS invited fans to get a more intimate look into their production than ever before. Surprise YouTube premieres showed the creative process in fly-on-the-wall documentary style. Viewers sat alongside BTS as they held conversations over lunch, discussing the themes of their new music.
On BE’s release day, the members gathered around pizza, dressed in pyjamas, to livestream their reactions to the new MV. Fans watched BTS watching themselves, reacting in the way fans do, an unbroken connection between them.
After their ON:E concert, leader RM tweeted to say: “Because of you, I was able to feel alive for the first time in ages. In the midst of all these faults that are not our own, I hope that we can do our best and shine throughout this long long time period!”
There’s no doubt that sentiment is echoed back by fans around the world, in their homes, watching through their screens. The history-making accolades that we’ve seen of late – multiple songs debuting at #1 on the Hot 100, and the debut of a song and an album at #1 on the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 in the same week, to name a few – are an accumulation of BTS’ incredible power, both in music and in connecting with their fans; not that any of us really needed the reminder.
Sevana Ohandjanian is a writer who wants to talk to you about K-pop. Find her tweeting into the abyss @IchbinSev.
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