BTS are gifted at giving new dimension to their music through live performances. Whether it's in elaborate sets, or reworked songs that lend themselves to high drama, they're always ready to give us a larger-than-life experience. Just like their albums weave together complex narratives, their performances have been replete with symbolism and imagery for fans to discuss at length.
BTS are the top-billed act at every major South Korean awards ceremony, and have been for the last few years. Every time, they up the ante on the artistry and visual delights they bring to fans.
Here are just some of the unforgettable stage performances BTS has given us at awards ceremonies over the years.
Bringing the "Fire" at 2016 MAMA
2016 was a big year for BTS, as the release of Wings solidified their new era of concept-driven music with themes of lost youth and good vs evil. In their multi-song MAMA performance, they bring the sensuality of "Blood, Sweat & Tears" to life, starting with agile dances from J-Hope and Jimin. Then comes the theatre of V's revealing back scars and borderline homoerotic descent into the darkness with Jin.
It's followed by a thundering "Fire" that literally sets the stage alight. It carries the burgeoning flame of youth, of a group whose tangible passion is projecting them skyward. A historical performance made all the more special when BTS won their first-ever Artist Of The Year award that night.
A call-out to the haters at 2017 MAMA
By 2017, BTS had their first Billboard Music Award win and a sold-out world tour under their belts. The Love Yourself era was forthcoming, for which they dropped hints in the opening visuals of this stage.
New heights of fame had meant exposure to new critics, so it was resolutely tongue-in-cheek for BTS to perform album track "Cypher Pt. 4" on the MAMA stage, alongside "Not Today" and "DNA". The metaphorical middle-finger was accentuated with the electric "Mic Drop".
From the moment their silhouetted bodies contort in controlled chaos, the stage crackles with energy. We can hear them catching their breath between the thumping bass, and as they throw their bodies into the performance, they leave us breathless too.
Abs and energy at 2018 BBMA
BTS didn't come to play at the BBMAs, as the first K-pop artists to ever debut a comeback performance on a U.S stage.
Rightfully introduced as the biggest boy band in the world, fanchants echo louder than the group themselves in this performance. Their flawless choreography and vocals instigate endless cheers. With every dance move and vocal run, BTS project that indefinable charisma that only they possess.
Of course, Jungkook surprise-flashing his abs also makes this one for the books.
Jungkook breaks the internet at 2018 MAMA
Also known as the time Jungkook walked down a runway and launched a thousand memes, BTS' 2018 MAMA performance of "Airplane Pt.2" stays memorable for its refreshing member introductions: we never knew how much we needed to see Suga and J-Hope dance together while glitter showers down. Watching JK saunter down the runway with self-assured command left everyone a bit shell-shocked too.
The heroes of 2018 MAMA Fans' Choice in Japan
There's a moment in this "Anpanman" performance, when the members call on the audience to sing-along, and it cuts to a dark sea of people, illuminated only by ARMY bombs. As the group perform in the middle of the venue, they're surrounded by bouncing lights, and the disembodied voices ring clearly. At that moment, they turned the awards show into their own concert.
More than anything, BTS look like they're having so much fun. Confident but ultimately the same goofy guys we've always loved. If you're not smiling while watching this performance, you might need to check your pulse.
Tradition meets modern at 2018 MMA
Not ones to rest on their laurels, BTS took a new approach to "IDOL" - an unabashed song about self-love and pride in their artistry - when they incorporated traditional Korean instrumentation and dance at MMA 2018.
The pacing of this performance is impeccable: it builds from the first drum kicking off the rhythm for J-Hope's synchronised choreo, onto Jimin's modern twist on traditional fan dance, then to JK's scarf performance. When it opens up to a show of talchum masked dancing that has everyone's jaws on the floor, the members unite on stage, dressed in modernised hanbok.
The pride for their culture and their achievements radiates so brightly in this performance, it's absolutely dazzling.
Everything about 2019 MMA
In case you needed further proof that BTS are the main attraction at Korean awards shows, their 2019 Melon Music Awards stage was 37 minutes long. A celebration of their career, echoes of older songs mingle with the new, and individual members shine with elaborate sets: from Jin riding in on an enormous horse statue, to Jimin's ethereal "I Need U" dance, and JK unleashing his full sensuality in a splashy water performance to "Save Me".
It culminates in the roaring rock of "Dionysus", a celebratory song of excess that's exemplified with the arrival of hundreds of dancers, towering inflatable tigers, and actual live horses on stage. Trumpets sound to herald the arrival of BTS, and when you get the first glimpse of them sitting behind a regal table, you can tell: they own that stage.
Poetry in motion at 2020 MMA
After a year of digital performances due to COVID, BTS innovated once more. Using technology to their advantage, they turned to cinematography and stage visuals to create a special world for Map Of The Soul: 7 and BE tracks.
The orchestral "Black Swan" is a mesmerising opener, with the members pairing off for dances including the ethereal moment when JK lifts Jimin as water sprays, slowed down so we can admire every detail.
"ON" bristles, "We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal" and "Life Goes On" comfort, then we're invited into disco party fun with "Dynamite". All the while leaving a space for Suga, who is sorely missed.
It's a performance that's made to boost us all after a rough year, showing that no obstacle can get in BTS' way when it comes to giving their best to fans.
With these performances, it's more than obvious that BTS are consummate performers with undeniable charisma and stage presence. They work bone-breakingly hard to give their all on stage, and they always deliver.
Sevana Ohandjanian is a writer who wants to talk to you about K-pop. Find her tweeting into the abyss @ichbinsev.
BTS will appear on MTV Unplugged Presents later this month – joining the hallowed company of Nirvana, Paul McCartney, Lauryn Hill, Miley Cyrus and more who have all graced the legendary program. Don't want to miss this seminal moment for the icons? Read more about how to watch BTS' Unplugged set in Australia.
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