There’s a popular meme amongst BTS fans (aka ARMY). It’s a modification of Captain Holt’s “and you’ll hear it again!” line from Brooklyn 99; this time he’s insisting “and you’ll light it up again!”. This one image captures the ubiquitousness of “Dynamite” since its release in August 2020; the song has broken records, dominated the Billboard Hot 100 chart, appeared on year-end best song lists, been used in sports broadcasts and celebrity interviews, and won multiple awards. It’s also been performed by BTS over 30 times. No one has embodied the “and you’ll light it up again!” energy more than the group themselves.
What’s remarkable about BTS’s extended “Dynamite” promotion cycle, which led to what they described as their “dream stage” at the 2021 Grammy Awards on Monday, is that every single performance has been unique and spectacular in its own way. Throughout their history, BTS and their team have always demonstrated incredible versatility, production values, attention to detail, storytelling abilities, and an irrepressible combination of flawless choreography, strong and stable vocals, and a powerful stage presence. All of these factors have never been more evident than in their many iterations of “Dynamite”.
The debut stage of “Dynamite” was at the 2020 MTV VMAs. With their original plans for an outdoor performance thwarted by rain, BTS used a green screen in what was a relatively simple display for them, but which provided an introduction to what would become the overarching metanarrative of “Dynamite”. During the first half of the song, BTS dance in front of iconic New York locations – the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and the Empire State Building – before their backdrop transitions to the Seoul skyline lit up by fireworks.
BTS have said in several interviews that “Dynamite” is very much a product of the pandemic. If not for COVID-19, they would have been on their Map of the Soul world tour, not looking to record new music, and “Dynamite” would never have existed. Much was made at the time of the song’s release about the fact that it was the band’s first song fully in English, and BTS have touched upon wanting to reach as many people as possible with the song, saying they aimed to comfort and uplift fans and others with the bright and boppy tune. They’ve also said that they needed a breakthrough themselves after feeling lost and helpless as a result of tour cancellations.
“Dynamite”, then, is about forging connections and breaking down barriers. We can see this in that first performance at the VMAS – BTS may have been unable to travel to New York, but they could still dance in its streets, situating themselves where the action of the awards was while also highlighting their own beautiful city.
Subsequent performances of “Dynamite” only levelled up this imagery and expanded its possibilities. For America’s Got Talent, BTS included nods to the show’s set before dancing through local amusement park Everland in a performance shot as though it were one take. On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, they performed the song not once, but twice, first in an a cappella version with the Roots and then with full choreography – and a touch of skating – at a roller rink.
At the Melon Music Awards, BTS added an addictive dance break to “Dynamite”, while appearances on shows like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and MTV Unplugged saw the group sing seated in front of a live band, allowing their natural charisma, sense of spontaneity, and very best chair-dancing to shine through. For the Recording Academy’s MusiCare’s charity concert, BTS performed in an empty theatre, with Jungkook surprising fans by playing the drums.
For the Billboard Music Awards, the group linked up with a live band in the US while performing full choreography at Incheon Airport. The American Music Awards saw them perform in an empty Seoul Olympic Stadium, where they would have kicked off their world tour. On The Late Late Show with James Corden, BTS sang and danced at the airport once again before moving through an actual plane and onto an impeccable recreation of the show’s set.
There were many more performances – too many to list individually. Every single one involved a different set and costumes, with the BTS members offering their own twists on their singing and dancing. They never looked bored or over the song, inhabiting it with the same enthusiasm in their 30th performance as they did with their first performance. In turn, they didn’t allow audiences to get bored, providing enough variety and surprises to keep things interesting and fresh.
All of this culminated in the Grammy Awards performance. Shot in a one-take style, this time they recreated another set – the Grammys stage itself. They danced and sang their way around it in brightly coloured suits before heading out for a big finale on an actual rooftop of a Seoul skyscraper, literally setting the sky alight. Coming towards the end of the show, it was without a doubt one of the most impressive performances of the night, and a beautiful way to bring “Dynamite” full circle.
As with their first “Dynamite” performance and those in between, BTS’s Grammy stage showed the way in which they can be at the top of their game (quite literally in this instance) in their home country, whilst also placing themselves on a world stage. Through each unique “Dynamite”, BTS told the story – their story – of bringing the world together, of overcoming isolation, and of smashing through both cultural and industry barriers, all the while staying true to themselves and never forgetting where they come from.
While BTS may not have won the Grammy they were nominated for (Best Pop Duo/Group Performance went to Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga’s collaboration “Rain On Me”), they did achieve something they said they wanted even more: a solo stage at the Grammy Awards, with their own song, telling their own story. And as they revealed in their livestream debrief after the Grammys, they’re far from done yet. Whatever comes next, there’s no doubt BTS will light it up again.
Written by Jenna Guillaume, an entertainment journalist and author of YA rom-coms What I Like About Me and You Were Made For Me. Follow her at @jennaguillaume.
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