BTS World Tour: Love Yourself in Seoul review — K-pop band's concert film is an unapologetic musical extravaganza
Love Yourself in Seoul feels like Burn The Stage's B-side, a filmed performance for anyone who may not have had the chance to see BTS live
To review the new BTS concert film is to review the experience of watching it with a crowd. The South Korean boy band has been sweeping the globe, and its legions of fans — known as ARMY — are the most passionate and enthusiastic. The film is simple enough; it captures the group’s 2018 Love Yourself concert from end to end, delivering where its predecessor, behind-the-scenes documentary Burn the Stage, fell slightly short, finally showcasing an unapologetic musical extravaganza. Love Yourself’s one-day theatrical engagement this past Saturday was, first and foremost, for the fans, though the nature of ARMY is such that you’re likely to be welcome as an outsider.
The experience begins before you enter the cinema, where you’re greeted by the electric buzz of teenagers — most of them girls, many of them holding signs, all of them partaking in coordinated chants. Admittedly, the optics of a burly, bearded late-twenty-something like myself showing up solo to such an event are, shall we say, out of the ordinary, but the only person who ever gave me the stink-eye was a grumpy teenage boy off in the corner, seemingly annoyed that the girl who had dragged him there was paying more attention to singer Park Jimin. Conversely, a couple of the girls in my row figured out I was alone and handed me a glowstick wristband and sticker depicting all seven Bangtan Boys leaning against a jeep.
BTS stands apart from most produced-by-committee K-Pop acts, wielding both artistic freedom in a largely sanitised space, and an unapologetic self-love memorandum. Their members — rappers RM (Kim Namjoon) and Suga (Min Yoongi), street dancer J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), and vocalists Jimin (Park Jimin), V (Kim Taehyung), Jungkook (Jeon Jungkook) and Jin (Kim Seokjin) aka Worldwide Handsome — open the concert with their 2018 smash-hit 'Idol'. A few seconds in, I realised grabbing a seat towards the front was a mistake. The real show was going on behind me, as fans filled the aisle, stood up, danced and sang along. The theatre had extra security on watch to make sure people weren’t recording the film or causing a ruckus, but after a while, even the managers came in to take videos of the proceedings, and security had no choice but to let people dance. It’s safe to say, a reaction like this is something even cinemas aren’t used to seeing.
The film is as standard a concert documentary as they come, though that’s hardly cause for complaint. Where Burn the Stage was a journey between shows that built to a musical climax that never came, Love Yourself feels like its B-side, a filmed performance for anyone who may not have had the chance to see BTS live. It stays out of the way of the performers, much like a standard comedy special might, letting the content take hold and dictate the edit. It’s familiar — a wide shot establishes each song before closing in — though never rote, since each performance carries an entirely different kind of energy.
Where the film occasionally stands apart, though, is it isn’t satisfied with simply moving from wide shots into mediums and closeups. On occasion, it becomes a more intimate showcase, focusing on minute details you wouldn’t get to see live, like the sweat glistening off Jimin’s face, or the extra microphone hanging off his back, or the embroidery on his shirt. It does this for the rest of the group too, mind you, but if you’re even vaguely familiar BTS fandom, it shouldn’t surprise you that Jimin got the most vocal reactions (I’m an RM guy myself, for the record).
The energy does dip a little towards the middle; after a handful of bangers, a stilted solo rap performance by RM (he’s my fav, I’m allowed to say this!) followed by a halfhearted shoot dance from the rest of the gang seems like cause for concern. However, it’s followed immediately by pop track 'DNA', the track that marked BTS’ arrival on American television, and rap performance 'The Rise of Bangtan', filling the room with energy once more.
From there on out, the concert has a noteworthy structure, as if to play, bit by bit, to every age group in the crowd. It moves from youthful, starry-eyed love ballads to performances with more overt sexual energy, before looping back around to more ballads, though ones that seem to shed the earlier sense of innocence, taking on a complexity oft-unseen in Pop as the group sings about — as the title suggests — loving yourself (It eventually loops back further to more bangers, in the form of a triple encore).
International pop-culture phenomena tend to travel West to East, but BTS represents a major paradigm shift, one fully evident in the fact that the English subtitles for Love Yourself seemed wholly unnecessary. Everyone in the audience had familiarised themselves with the Korean lyrics.
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be alive during Beatlemania, watching a BTS concert film with a sold-out ARMY crowd is a pretty fitting parallel. That is, until the group decides to stop over in India, in which case I hope to collect more stickers.
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