JAKARTA: Elated K-pop fans in Asia are reuniting in celebration and hope after the world’s top-selling band, BTS, made a return to the stage in Seoul with their first show for a live South Korean audience in more than two years.
The “Permission to Dance on Stage” concert on Thursday night was the first in a three-day series, with more scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets sold out within minutes, with 15,000 fans allowed to attend the first gig at the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium in the South Korean capital — the largest live show approved by the government since the COVID-19 outbreak began, as restrictions are still in place in the country.
The seven-member group’s first in-person show since the pandemic was at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in November.
“When I said you would have to wait a while, I meant a short time, but the period turned out to be two-and-a-half years, so we felt sorry,” the boyband’s vocalist, Suga, told the audience from the stage in Seoul. “It would have been nice to run around the venue and meet you all in person, but the situation is not making it possible.”
During the show, fans had to wear facemasks and could only clap in excitement, as strict COVID-19 protocols did not permit them to shout, sing or dance.
“I’ve really missed you and I’m really happy at this moment. Although we can’t see your faces at the moment, I hope we made your day,” said BTS’ youngest member, Jungkook.
The show was also livestreamed for millions of BTS fans — known as ARMY — around the world.
For both those who made it to the Seoul stadium and those who watched it on screens thousands of kilometers away, the return of BTS live shows at home is a special moment.
“I think it’s very special to (the boys) and that’s why it’s special to me as an ARMY. And I can’t wait … I’m really happy for the ARMYs who are going watch them live,” Dante, a 25-year-old fan in Jakarta, Indonesia, told Arab News.
Dante, who bought a ticket to watch the livestream of the group’s Sunday concert, said she was hopeful that BTS’ return on stage in their home country would be followed by a world tour.
Also known as the Bangtan Sonyeondan, or “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” the K-pop group debuted in 2013 and is now one of the music industry’s most profitable artists.
Their catchy, upbeat songs have won them tens of millions of followers across the globe and last month the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s title of the world’s best-selling artists for the second year running.
“Symbolically, the Seoul concerts feel like a giant celebration, as if pent-up emotion and energy is about to be released,” Cedarbough Saeji, assistant professor of Korean and East Asian studies at Pusan National University, told Arab News.
The K-pop septet thrived throughout the pandemic, releasing a series of hits and consistently interacting with their fandom on various online platforms.
“I think the pandemic helped BTS to reach more people than ever before,” Saeji said. “With all the uploaded clips and backstage moments, the V Lives (live sessions) and such, fans grow to feel very close to the members.”
All the activity, she said, created a “para-social kinship.”
Saeji added: “Even though this is an imagined closeness, it feels so real, and it can be emotionally very important for the fans.”
Aparmita Das, a 27-year-old ARMY member from Meghalaya in northeast India, said she “found strength and solace” in the BTS fandom.
“Beyond music, I found a family of seven members who understand me and help me in almost every difficulty in life,” she told Arab News.
Like Dante, Das could only watch the Seoul concerts online, but that does not matter, she said.
“There’s a belief in our fandom that there are no bad seats at BTS concerts,” she added.
“Whether you’re in the gold sound check barricade section or within four walls of your room, the experience is ethereal.”
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