Four years after BTS brought Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet to Singapore, fans finally got the chance to see the group live again on January 19. Karen and Qing share their experience at BTS’ Singapore stop for the Love Yourself world tour.

Qing: You know what’s more amazing than the show itself? The fact that we actually managed to get tickets. All the way up till we scanned our tickets at the gantry ten minutes before the show opened, I was not convinced I was actually going to see BTS live.

Before we lose ourselves in the excitement of discussing the concert itself, I wanted to highlight the pre-show logistics. I knew the performances wouldn’t disappoint, but everything that happens before the show starts is often a recipe for disaster. We can’t speak for the mosh pit fans and the merchandise-buyers, but the organisers did a pretty good job making sure the seated audience got into the stadium in an orderly, timely manner. The show started just 15 minutes past the scheduled time, even though the security queue opened 40 minutes late. Right from the start, you could feel that whoever was involved in the planning–the local organiser, venue staff, and Big Hit, respected the fans’ time, effort, well-being.

Also, Karen, remember how the first thing we noticed when entering the stadium was how empty the mosh pit looked? They could’ve sold more tickets for the standing pit, but they left it half-empty so that the audience there weren’t packed dangerously tightly.

It was also funny seeing other fans scream their lungs out at just the MVs playing. We were like, what’s going to happen when the show actually starts? But enough of preambling. Let’s dive into the fun part!

Karen: The half-empty mosh pit was actually quite an amusing sight. For someone used to packed standing pits like myself, I wonder how the experience would be for those fans with the freedom to breathe. Sometimes being squashed here and there adds to the fun of it. But oh well!

I wish the first thing I had to say was how amazing their performance was, but I’m finding it hard to put that on the top of the list of what awed me on that day. Arguably, we were too far away to really say much about interaction and the impressive performance. What truly took my breath away was the spectacle that was delivered to fans through the impressive set design and high production value of the VCRs. I remember telling you how much of a theatrical experience it felt to me.

I also remember being very impressed with the live camerawork during the performance. The screens were used not only to amplify what was happening onstage for fans further away. They really maximised it to build atmosphere and beautify the performance itself. During “Airplane: Part 2”, I recall the screens having a distortion effect and deep red tint to reinforce the edginess of the performance. These onscreen effects are arguably best viewed from afar, a benefit for fans positioned further away. I really do think they made it a point to make everyone’s experience a unique one and certainly worth their money. Might I also add that the camera transitions were flawless.

The set itself had two large screens on each side, typical for most large arena concerts, and a couple of movable panels/screens in the centre. The attention BTS and their production team paid to making use of the two screens through the VCR interludes really shows their sincerity in wanting to put up a flawless performance. VCRs played prior to each set of solos made use of both screens to create a more dynamic viewing experience — there were interesting moments like the Jungkook and J-Hope VCR that depicted them throwing props from one screen to the other.

Kudos to the BTS backstage team for coming up with such brilliant concepts and executing them with such finesse. Taking into consideration that they are performing in a foreign country, having to manage such preparations is no easy feat. Rather than doing the easy thing and merely projecting what is being performed onstage, it is these larger artistic choices that really awed me.

Qing: To give our readers context, from where we were sitting, the boys were no bigger than half a pinky. You’re totally right that the distance made the other elements, aside from the performance itself, all the more important.

The set design, camerawork, and the VCRs all melded into a beautifully composed whole. One standout moment was the beginning of “I’m Fine”. A  bird’s eye view shot of BTS lying down (similar to the camerawork in their music show performance, and visually echoing one part of the “Run” MV) was paired with animations of rolling clouds in blue skies, extending across smaller downstage screens that slanted in a V-shape.

The second memorable, breathtaking image was during Jin’s “Epiphany”. Just before the final chorus, he climbed a flight of stairs onto a smaller stage. The stage was awash with apricot-coloured lighting, and the bold, black lines of the stairs and stage framed the whole image, with Jin in the centre, becoming part of the picture. It was stunning. I cannot praise the stage design team enough for their attention to detail here — I was wondering why they draped those brown vines over Jin’s piano, and when I saw the orange lighting, I realised they were going for a melancholic, autumnal feeling.

There’s no doubt that BTS are great performers, but the production helped them to shine that much more, and made up for the inevitable issues plaguing fans seated far away. Speaking of the performance, what were some of the highlights for you?

Karen: Personally, I appreciated their decision to focus on solo songs and tracks that are potentially more lyrically meaningful — as opposed to just going for pure hype and explosive impact. Of course, that doesn’t mean BTS shied away from delivering hit songs such as “Idol” (which kicked off the concert), “Fake Love”, and “DNA”. But the solo songs really made room for in-depth performance, as you’ve mentioned regarding Jin’s “Epiphany”.

More importantly, it’s a smart move to showcase such tracks that would hardly be performed on music shows, making the concert experience even more unique. After all, concerts give them the freedom to perform lesser known tunes for the fans. Jimin’s decision to sing a short portion of his self-composed track, “Promise”, during his closing comments made the crowd go wild. It is these lesser spotlighted tracks that fans love, and that BTS are willing to put onstage, that made the concert even more awe-inspiring.

I also really enjoyed the medley where the group performed a series of songs from past to present. It was a good selection that hyped up the atmosphere. For those still unfamiliar with the Love Yourself series, it might be hard to sing along to songs off these albums. However, putting together a medley of older songs means everyone probably knows enough to chorus along. I was surprised to hear “Boyz With Fun” because that is just such an old track, but a fun one nonetheless. “Fire” was an expected choice; admittedly, it always delivers such a punch it is almost impossible not to include it. “Silver Spoon” was an unexpected choice and I was pleasantly surprised when they started performing it.

The planned fan project, for which we had to raise the banners given out to us at a specific moment, was kind of flat. But the final moments of the concert made up for it. It seems to me that the first three-quarters of the concert tended more towards admiring BTS deliver brilliant performances one after another. It was only in the final quarter or so that the concert felt more intimate, with the members being more free onstage and interacting with fans. I remember Jungkook going down from the stage to wave to the mosh pit fans, V and Jin playfully posing for the cameras, and J-Hope taking one of the cameras to start filming the other members. And of course, there were their closing comments during which they had greater freedom to speak as some of them reverted back to speaking in Korean, rather than sticking to English as they did during previous talking segments.

All in all, despite how far we were seated from the stage, I still felt like the two hours or so spent in the Stadium was a fulfilling one. I’m sure standing in the mosh pit would have been an out of the world experience, being able to watch them up close. However, our faraway seats also offered an equally meaningful and aesthetically impactful experience. What a wonderous Saturday evening it was for me! I’m curious to hear your thoughts about their song choices and your feelings as you left the venue.

Qing: The setlist was chosen and arranged well, for the reasons you’ve mentioned, but also in terms of practicality — it allowed the members to pace themselves. Their professionalism and experience came through especially given the tropical weather. The Singapore National Stadium does not have air conditioning, only a cooling system. Even then, the effects weren’t pronounced from the audience area, much less the stage that’s heated up by the lighting.

Barely a minute into “Idol”, BTS were visibly struggling with the heat and humidity — their white shirts were soaked through. And those imps knew it and teased us throughout the first few performances by shrugging off their jackets and coats (although RM hilariously failed to put his back on and had to try again.) As the show progressed, though, you could see them easing into it, finding that point where they could go all out without straining themselves. And the interspersing of the solo stages certainly helped.

There were a couple of highlights from the performances. I’m not a fan of the future bass leanings of Jungkook’s “Euphoria”, but the sense of vastness that the instrumentals created worked surprisingly well live. Jimin shone with incredible fluidity and grace in “Serendipity” (I recommend reading this breakdown by two experienced dancers), and V gave his own little twist to the “Singularity” performance by sneaking in cute expressions between haunted gazes that the lyrics call for. And boy was that “Outro: Tear” performance a stab to the heart, raw emotion riding on unbelievable technical finesse.

Fan participation also enriched the performances. I was disappointed that the fan chants weren’t that audible — maybe everyone was too excited and could only scream, or my hearing was muffled by the screaming so I couldn’t hear well. But during “Epiphany” and “The Truth Untold”, everyone was singing along, and it was beautiful. Jungkook and V even took off their in-ear monitors to listen.

Performances aside, there were also a lot of memorable little moments, like Jimin tilting his head at the end of “Serendipity” and telling us he loved us. Such a cute little bean. Then there was that iconic moment Jimin slipped during “DNA” and landed (rather gracefully) on his back, and Jungkook forgot to dance and straight up giggled at him. There was also Suga making squishy faces during his ending commentary and correcting the interpreter (“no[t] good night, GREAT night”).

The boys loosened up visibly during the encore. They were so energetic even after performing for close to two and a half hours in the heat, and their affection for the fans showed in how each one of them made sure to go to the ends of every extended stage to wave and bow to us. Jungkook, especially, lingered for so long that RM had to summon him back to the moving platform bringing them back to the main stage.

And so it was with a full heart that I left the stadium, feeling incredibly respected by the organisers, and thankful that I am a fan of a group every bit as sincere and dedicated — to their craft and their fans — as I have heard. I couldn’t be prouder.

(Images via Big Hit Entertainment, Seoulbeats.)