At a press conference before BTS took to the stage at London’s Wembley Stadium on Saturday, rapper Suga mentioned their goals when deciding on the set list for their “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour. “We wanted to make it more like a festival than a concert,” he said. And judging by the party atmosphere in the stadium, even long before the band appeared, it wasn’t difficult to tell where the idea might have come from.
As their music videos played on the screens flanking the stage, the crowd screamed, singing along in lyrics both Korean and English. After the video for single “Idol” faded to black, a showreel began, featuring all seven members pacing about the screens in turn, posing as though they were in fashion ads, staring out at the adoring crowd. They didn’t sing but received rapturous screams anyway — BTS, after all, is often much more about the seven people in the group than the music.
When the group did hit the stage, they opened their set with a meticulously polished (and party-appropriate) “Dionysus.” Far from the impression given by the lyrics, which are about drinking and all-night parties, the seven and their backing dancers were step-perfect, the high-energy choreography the early star of the show. But the crowd was equally, if not more, enthralled when the group paused after “Not Today” to talk to them for the first time. Although their onstage banter was probably nearly as rehearsed as their dance steps, the reaction from the tens of thousands of fans showed how strong the connection is.
The concert was livestreamed and thus the group performed to cameras as often as they performed to the crowd, the feed broadcast both on the arena’s big screens and onto smaller screens across the world. Their faces were obscured and accentuated in turns by carefully chosen CGI effects.
As the show continued, the band continuously walked this line between flawless staging and more genuine-feeling moments. Dancer and rapper J Hope was perhaps the best at injecting his personality throughout, maintaining an energy that outstripped his bandmates even as they (and the crowd) became increasingly hyped through the two-and-a-half-hour-long performance.
Even the rhythm of the concert was planned down to the smallest ebb and flow. After especially explosive numbers, like “Best of Me,” or “Idol,” the members descended below the stage, and their digital representations returned, one or two at time, acting like models showing off a simple product: themselves. Then just one performer emerged in person, a reminder that each part of the seven who make up the whole can also work alone (though not without the support of the presumably dozens of support staff.)
Most of these, too, were strong performances, particularly Jung Kook’s “Euphoria,” which saw him soaring above the stage. The most interesting, though, was Jin’s “Epiphany,” a self-love proclamation that pushes against the limits of the eldest member’s vocal talents, and in fact sometimes exceeded them.
But the shakier performance was more endearing, particularly to a fanbase that has constructed a narrative about Jin being underappreciated by label Big Hit. He’s given the fewest lines in albums, the shortest screen time in music videos. But he’s a member of BTS, and the fans will lift him up for it, even – or perhaps especially – where he seems to give the weakest performance of the group.
In fact, it all ties in with the group’s messages of self-love: Jin’s performance, and the audience’s reaction to it, was perhaps the best demonstration of the night that something doesn’t have to be perfect. vocals mean little: he’s an idol, not just a singer.
Conventiently, the sun was setting during “Epiphany”: K pop concerts often feature lightsticks, lanterns on the end of handles that can be synched via app so that the whole crowd glows in unison, and from Jin’s solo onwards, those “Army bombs” allowed the fans to be folded into the performance itself, flashing white, swaying purple, or sending rainbows rippling through the arena. During the songs “Tear” and “MIC Drop,” the screens cut to black and white, with the Army bombs providing the only color as the entire arena shone green and then red.
But the four-song encore to demonstrated what had been missing from much of the hyper-smooth performances throughout the night: fun. Despite the precision of the preceding two hours, the songs didn’t contain the high-energy goofiness that fans are used to seeing through BTS’s other products, like the variety show “Run BTS!” The members briefly clambered over a bouncy castle during “Anpanman,” but still proved that the band is at its best when slightly chaotic and maybe not quite so polished.