BTS’s concerts at Wembley Stadium marked a pivotal moment in the band’s global ascendency. Razed to the ground and rebuilt in the early 2000s, the new Wembley Stadium was unveiled to the public in 2007 and has been the site for many iconic sporting and music events since. BTS are the first South Korean musicians to step on that iconic stage, performing to nearly 120,000 fans over the two days. To give an idea of the significance of these performances, BTS held a press conference before the first concert, to which journalists from across the world flew in. During this, the band addressed the symbolic and historic significance of playing at Wembley while pointing out that these two nights would be the culmination of childhood dreams. In a stadium tour, Wembley Stadium represented the pinnacle of success charting BTS’s movement from a rookie group in South Korea struggling to be heard, to one of the most popular contemporary groups whose music negotiates the distance between East and West without losing its essential situatedness as Korean.
Although the set-list was similar to that of their earlier London concerts at the O2 in 2018, the addition of new songs from Map of the Soul: Persona and a smattering of older classics including Wings made it feel different as did the amped up staging and sets. The show started with Dionysus, an ode to the Greek God of excess and ecstasy, the performance of which was framed by fire and giant silver panthers, creating a celebratory atmosphere that continued throughout the night. This was followed by the equally physically demanding Not Today before the group slowed things down with their self-introductory section which segued into Wings: one of the older songs dedicated to ARMY (BTS’s fandom). Despite a set list of 23 songs, which included the seven solo songs from the BTS: Love Yourself series, there was little let up in the energy and dynamism of the group’s performances. The staging for the solos had been expanded to fill the cavernous interiority of Wembley Stadium. The VCR’s which were played on the large screens on either side of the stage provided a visual distraction during the (relatively short) breaks between performances as well as engaging the attention of dedicated ARMY through references to the BTS’ Universe (BU) as well as encouraging them to decipher embedded clues to the content and theme of the next album in the Map of the Soul Series, purported title Shadow.
BTS at Wembley Stadium – Photo © Big Hit Entertainment
It was an evening of memorable moments, not the least of which was Jungkook flying across the stadium as he sang Euphoria: a bittersweet moment for both performer and fans as due to an injury he was confined to a chair for BTS’s concerts at the O2. All the solos were amped up: J-Hope’s Trivia 起 : Just Dance was upscaled both in terms of the backing dancers but also in terms of the mobile and elevated spaces on which he demonstrated his dancing prowess while RM’s Trivia 承: Love used holographic technology to visually etch out hearts as symbolic of the song’s main theme. Jin’s Epiphany stood out as particularly memorable. By this time night had drawn in, and the stadium was bathed in blue light. The projected backdrop of rain providing a perfect frame to Jin’s vocals, while the shifting direction of its droplets mimicked the effects of the music video that accompanied the song when it was first released in 2018. One thing that is always apparent about BTS and was evident here is their professionalism. This was demonstrated when during Serendipity Jimin’s plastic bubble that encases him at the beginning of the song failed to decompress on time necessitating a stage hand to run in to take it down. Unperturbed, Jimin didn’t miss a note while all this was going on in the background.
It was a spectacular concert, especially when the night drew in, and the ARMY bombs lit up in their technicolour glory, pulsating along with the driving beats of Outro: Tear, Mic Drop and So What before stilling for ‘ARMY TIME’ and Make it Right and Mikrokosmos, the last two songs of the night. While BTS seemed slightly nervous at the start of the concert – not surprising given the enormity of the occasion and the fact that they very much being positioned as representatives of South Korea in the West – they quickly warmed up to the task in hand and soon had the audience in the palm of their hands. During their “ment” (time spent towards the end of the concert in direct address to their audience), their sincerity shone through, despite not perfect translation on the night, as did their love for their ARMY. Their fandom is remarkable for its diversity, who were well represented that night, with a good number of them over the age of 20 and a proportion of which were male. The breadth of the audience in attendance was a true representation of diversity and inclusivity in action.
BTS at Wembley Stadium – Photo © View of the Arts (Dr. Colette Balmain)
The overall experience of BTS Wembley cannot be encapsulated by an ordinary concert review. Instead, it needs to be understood as a multi-sensory (VAKT), multi-media experience that pushes at the boundaries of what the concert experience is and can be. In the future, it is possible to imagine a theme park which will replicate the sensorial experientiality of a BTS’ concert, but it won’t be able to replicate the love between BTS and ARMY, something which has to be seen to be understood.
Written by Dr. Colette Balmain
BTS at Wembley – Photos © Mickey Ralph
* View of the Arts would like to thank Mickey Ralph for allowing us to use her pictures in the article.