The screaming really is that loud.
It’s a physical force — a shrill, trebly shriek that crackles the eardrums and makes your clothes vibrate. It gets so loud you can’t hear a person talking five feet away. But unlike most screaming, it’s a joyful sound — much happier even than the screaming in films of Beatles concerts, which seemed to have a tinge of desperation. Tears here are few and far between — this is pure, undistilled excitement.
Sure, that’s the scene at every BTS concert, but the group’s appearance at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield for ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday took on an extra level of dedication. Fans began camping out for the appearance over the weekend — and were warned by city officials not to pitch tents, although many did anyway — working in shifts with friends to hold their spots in line. New York has been in the throes of an unusually wet and cold spring, and although the rain stopped at around 2 a.m. and the sun is out, the ground is very wet and the temperature around 55 degrees — mostly because the sun hasn’t yet cleared the trees. People’s breath is visible in the air.
Alison, 15, from Queens, had been in the park since 2 a.m., but had been camping out since Saturday. “Me and my friends took shifts, there are like six of us,” she says. She loves BTS because they’re “very unique, not only in their culture but the artistic ways they create their music.”
Eboné, 26, from Orlando, Fla., traveled to New York just for BTS’ local concerts and their “GMA” appearance. A dedicated fan since 2014, she also had been camping out since Saturday morning. “It’s been miserable,” she says, “We got rained on, we got frozen, especially since I’m from Florida. We had a tent but some of the neighbors in the area did not like the tents, so we weren’t allowed to put them up until way later at night. We were allowed to have tarps but that didn’t help much, so a lot of our friends got sick.” However, the misery had company. “At times over the weekend there were just a few dozen of us, but by last night there had to be over 500 girls in line,” she says. “I’ve been here since about 1 a.m., standing in line and waiting to get in.”
By 7 a.m., “GMA” and some 4,000 fans have completely taken over the area. Not surprisingly, the crowd is overwhelmingly young and female — heavy on colored hair, tiaras with animal ears, tricked-out surgical masks, signs, official BTS light sticks and other implements of affection — but a fair number of bemused, annoyed or tolerant-looking parents are in the audience as well. An enthusiastic stagehand pumps up the crowd and warns that “there will be a lot of stopping and starting — that’s TV.”
From the privileged VIP area in the bleachers next to the stage — only top personnel are allowed backstage — we can see the group emerge from backstage before the crowd does. It becomes a game: “Screams in 3,2…” (screaming erupts as the group becomes visible to the crowd). Stagehands, many wearing earplugs, bustle around with good-natured efficiency. The crowd is mildly excited by the sight of the “GMA” anchors Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, Amy Robach and George Stephanopoulos, but the phones come out en masse when “Riverdale” actor Charles Melton and “Blackish” star Yara Shahidi (pictured above) arrive in the bleachers, posing for selfies with fans on their way up to the small set at the top of the bleachers for an interview with Strahan.
The group — all clad in sleek suits with open-collar shirts and sneakers— appears onstage several times before they actually perform, being interviewed, posing for photos with the hosts and the like, and the “GMA” hypeman works the crowd into a fever pitch each time.
But the audience knows when BTS is taking the stage to perform, and the screams reach their loudest peak before the group launches into “Boy With Luv.” The crowd sings along so loudly they drown out all other sound — they’d probably drown out a hovering helicopter — at times chanting “BTS! BTS!” in the middle of the song. The group has made a seemingly gravity-defying science out of synchronized dancing, and they nail each move.
The energy downshifts as the group exits the stage, and for the next 20 minutes the hosts shoot live segments in several different locations, with the audience behind them. Segments are broadcast over the P.A. — at least I think they were — but they’re unintelligible.
— Jem Aswad (@jemaswad) May 15, 2019
Finally, the group emerges for their show-closing finale, “Fire,” being joined at the song’s end by a dozen dancers clad in white. There’s more singing along, more chanting, more screaming and waving. After the group finishes the song, they hang around for more photos — this time with Melton and Shahidi — then a couple move to the front of the stage for a final bow while a couple of others hang back, chatting with their new pal Melton. After a few more bows, they’re off. What’s most remarkable at this point is how quickly the venue empties out: Within 10 minutes there’s just a handful of people remaining.
“BTS is the first favorite group I’ve ever had,” said 14-year-old Karina from Connecticut. “When you dig deeper into their lyrics it really inspires you, and they inspire me to be the best version of me.”
Eboné adds, “Their lyrics and music are about empowering people, about staying true to yourself, and that it’s okay to fail and find success in different ways. I really relate to that as a young woman — they’ve really helped me and my friends through a lot of dark times.”
And indeed, what people often misunderstand about superfans is that their dedication is often as much to the community around the artists as the artists themselves.
“Their music connects people — I’ve made so many friends because of them,” Eboné concludes. “I’m staying [in New York] with a friend I met at a concert last year, we camped out together, and I’ve made so many friends even waiting in line this week. I’ve met so many great people because of BTS.”
— Jem Aswad (@jemaswad) May 15, 2019