From the pop-up shop on State Street to show time at Soldier Field, Chicago’s bright-eyed and super diverse BTS Army took over a freezing downtown on Saturday evening as the Billboard chart-topping K-Pop sensation BTS (Beyond the Scene or Bangtan Sonyeondan, meaning Bulletproof Boy Scouts) arrived with its Love Yourself: Speak Yourself world tour. Despite the frigid temps, the sold-out tour stop (the first of two nights) was a show that easily warmed the hearts of the outdoor stadium.
While the chilled, rainy weather could have spelled disaster for the K-Pop superstars and fans, it stopped neither BTS from delivering an elaborate, explosive and dazzling show, nor the filled-to-capacity crowd from enthusiastically rocking out. The seven-member outfit — Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jungkook, V and Jimin — each expressed their most humble gratitude to fans, adorably hoping that they didn’t “catch a cold” as the show concluded. It’s all part of the bandmates’ charm and ability to draw a diverse crowd, and their music’s themes of overcoming critical hardships.
But was (and is) the lengthy show worth enduring the cold weather? Dear God, yes!
If you survived the extremely long lines at the security checkpoint, then chances are you made it to see BTS, draped in all white, open up the night amid a gaudy backdrop of Roman pillars, bursting flames and two giant, silver jaguars, complemented by a long runway, which the band certainly took advantage of. The musicians’ charisma, paired with the flawless precision of their choreography and vocals, were a winning combo as they opened with “Dionysus” (from the just-released “Persona”) followed by “MIC Drop” and “Anpanman.” And speaking of the hits, they certainly didn’t leave out “Boy With Luv,” which struck a powerful chord with fans despite collaborator Halsey not being there.
BTS’ English-speaking members, Suga, Jungkook, Jin, J-Hope and especially the proverbial “Beyonce” of the group, RM, lead the group’s “intermissions” between songs as each of the septet introduced himself. From there, fans were treated to a show with colorful special effects, compelling video segments and dynamic performances that powerfully captured the fun escapism of K-Pop and the all-inclusive nature of BTS.
What makes BTS stand out within the pantheon of New Edition, ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys is its hybrid fusion of bubblegum pop, R&B and hip-hop delivered at an impressive level simultaneously. Throughout the show, the group not only performed mega hits like “Fake Love” (which you’ll hear till butterflies come out your ears), but also offered solo performances (V, RM and Jin), hardcore rap sets (Suga, J-Hope and RM), and powerful vocal sets (Jin, Jungkook, V and Jimin) that showcased their boundless talent.
RM and Suga (who rapped alongside Wale and Nicki Minaj on BTS songs), for example, are not just oozing insane star power and stage presence but have some seriously high-octane flows that should someday lead to a play for America’s mainstream rap scene. Meanwhile, V, Jungkook, Jimin and Jin each had the ladies screaming with their magnetic charm and fluid, sultry movements, like Jimin’s seductive performance of “Serendipity” and the four vocalists’ soul-stirring “The Truth Untold. ” And while the execution of their choreography deserves praise, at times it was way too fast for their more sultry tunes.
If you have never seen a K-Pop show live or have never heard of the genre, then the Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour is a worthy introduction. The songs of BTS are easy to follow for the uninitiated, but it is their high-quality rap and singing ability, colorful and unique effects and video packages, their chemistry as a band and the sincere love for their fans that will make you feel right at home.
Fair warning for those Soldier Field-bound on Sunday night: Come as early as possible and break out the winter jacket you mistakenly retired for the season.
Mark Brayboy is a local freelance writer.