BTS’ “Map Of The Soul ON:E” Online Concerts Worthy of a Las Vegas Residency

When the details of Map of the Soul ON:E were first released, the event was planned to take place both offline (with appropriate social distancing in place) and online. However subsequent clusters of COVID-19 in South Korea meant that the plans for the offline concert had to be scrapped as stricter regulations on gatherings of large groups of people had to be reinstated. It is impossible to know what the live concerts would have been like beyond the set list, costumes, choreography, and performance quality. However it is impossible not to feel a sense of loss especially in light of the scale and drama of ON, which would have opened the live shows, and was released just before most of the world went into lockdown. Big Hit Entertainment, without a doubt, has been the leader in the transformation of the music industry in South Korea, investing not only in people but in technology. They teamed up with KISWE to provide multi-view (6 different views) and interactive features for the virtual concert which was available in HD as well as 4K. Big Hit Entertainment, BTS and KISWE had previously teamed up to present BANG BANG CON The Live on the 15th June. Rather than a concert, BANG BANG CON The Live was a virtual replacement for the BTS annual live fan meeting, more commonly known as the muster. However the sheer scale and ambition of Map of the Soul ON:E far exceeded that of the more informal and less showy muster (although it is difficult to effect a comparison between the two because the muster is conceived as an interactive fan artist event rather than a concert, online or offline).

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

With nearly 1 million tickets sold and with viewers from 191 countries/regions of the world, Map of the Soul: ON:E is the most viewed online concert series in history. At just over £40.00 for a ticket for one day (which included a repeat delayed screening), a set list of 23 songs, four different stages, the integration of AR as well as XR technology to provide a spectacular viewing experience and ARMY On Air (which showed selected participants enjoying the concert at home projecting their image onto LED screens at the concert venue), Map of the Soul: ON:E took the online concert experience into a new dimension of the televisual, offering an immersive fan experience which emphasized the “liveness” of the event connecting fans from across the world within a new type of communicative paradigm for online events. In addition, viewers could purchase a ticket for an online exhibition as a supplement to the concert which emphasizes the communicative potential of new media technologies in consolidating the bond between fan and artist.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

While most of the songs performed were from BTS’ last album Map of the Soul: 7, the set list included their “greatest hits” from their first single, No More Dream which was released in June 2013 to the their last, the record-breaking Dynamite. The set list was slightly different on Day Two with the fan-favourites Run and Butterfly replaced by IDOL and Spring Day. These were performed just before the encore. In addition, there were different costumes (especially during the solo stages) for Day Two to change things up. The concert provided the viewer, whether casual or fan, a musical tour of what has to be one of the strongest discographies in K-pop alongside a group who grow as artists and performers every time they release new music.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

The concert opened with the spectacular ON emphasizing the science-fictional, dystopian and apocalyptic sensibility of the music video through the use of orange lighting, swirls of smoke and almost barren set. The steep mountain projected in the background symbolized BTS’ uphill struggle to popularity in the almost saturated K-pop industry. Significantly the top of this mountain is the final stop for the members in the music video (directed by Lumpens). At the beginning of the concert performance of ON we see BTS climbing down from the mountain. There is almost always a sense of pathos to BTS’ performances and music which is created through the self-awareness of how hard the journey to success was and how easy the corresponding fall would be. This level of self-awareness positions BTS apart from their contemporaries, many of whom focus on their meaningless “swag” which is born from privilege. This was followed by two of their earliest songs, N.O and We Are Bulletproof PT 2 before returning to tracks off Map of the Soul: 7.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

The dystopian imagery, including the backdrop of a deserted building with orange flames flickering in its interior, continued for the first part of the concert, bookended by ON and UGH. The set design and stage imbuing the performances with both visual and tactile stimuli. For example, Suga’s performance of Shadow included key elements from the music video with disembodied grasping hands emerging out of the white walls of the corridor that he walks down at the beginning of the performance adding a third dimension to the performance space. The next series of performances were by the vocal line starting with 00:00 (Zero O’clock) segueing into solo performances by Jungkook, Jimin, Jin and V. Next was J-Hope’s exuberant Ego which, along with Boy With Luv signalled a change pace creating a utopian rather than dystopian atmosphere. Then, BTS performed a medley of songs journeying spatially and temporally through BTS’ back catalogue. The concert ended the encore of Dynamite and WAB The Eternal after a sad, and from Jimin’s tearful, ending ment.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

It was a concert of highlights in which BTS shone as a group and as individuals. RM often talks about how BTS is a group of friends in a boat, looking different ways, but going in the same direction. This was clearly demonstrated by the individuality of the solo stages especially by the vocal line. Jimin’s emotive dance from Black Swan in contrast to his Latin inflected performance of Filter – his fluidity in the first juxtaposed against the sharp, angular movements of the second. In My Time, Jungkook’s multiple reflections foregrounded the intricacy of his footwork while also isolating his seductive body movements through close-up and medium shots, while both Jin’s and V’s performances were more static, more concerned with statis rather than speed. While Jin was the embodiment of the little prince surrounded by the planets for his performance of Moon, V’s understated performance of Inner Child revealed a new restrained side to the star. In one of the stand out moments of a concert full of stand out moments, V sings in part to a younger version of himself (played by a child actor) while they both ride a funfair carousel – the type that younger children go on before they are allowed to go on the more grown up versions of the rides. This is an example of how the set-design throughout the concert was utilised to emphasize the meaning of the songs working to create multi-layered, auditory-sensory storytelling performances.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

The concert felt like an ending of sorts: perhaps not a full-stop but a semi-colon. The multiple visual and aural references to time and its passage throughout evidenced this. From song titles 00:00 and My Time to reconfigured performances of early songs, for example for Dope in which BTS got onto a “virtual” lift which took them back and forwards in time. Repetition with difference is also key to BTS’ work as best exemplified by the ending poses of Boy In Luv and Boy With Luv. Time here insists on the circularity of temporality rather than the progression of linear time. Time was also articulated through seasonal shifts which were evoked through lighting, technologies of vision and set design: the autumn tones of ON giving way to the white clean spaces of Winter and Korean New Year with the vocal line performances before transitioning to the more vibrant stages towards the end evoking Summer and perhaps hope for new beginnings. This is not to say that this progression was seamless, for example, the pink tones used in part for Suga’s performance of Shadow could be seen to be an allusion to cherry blossoms which bloom at the beginning of Spring in South Korea and whose fragile beauty emphasizes the ephemerality of life as well as its circularity.

Photo © Big Hit Entertainment 

BTS are without a doubt the best performers of their generation as clearly demonstrated by Map of the Soul: ON:E. Their commitment to their art is evident in the passion of their performances within multiple spaces that they had to navigate seamlessly in order to seamlessly transition from one song to the next. The scale of the event didn’t negate the humanity that BTS embodies and which is an important component of their popularity. BTS have remained the same seven boys committed to being performers within one of the toughest and most unforgiving industries in the world. Their stars certainly shone very brightly over the two days.

While an online concert can never replace an offline (or as we now call them f2f) event, such events can not only help fans navigate the uncertainty of the moment but also in the long term make events much more accessible and inclusive as an alternative as well as supplement to an event’s liveness.

Rating: 5-Star App Ratings (Five-Star Apps) | Perfecto

Written by Dr Colette Balmain

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for this article. Truly, this was a visual, emotional, sensory overload that I don’t mind paying over and over for! 🥰💜

  2. zero regret for wasting my saving for the Masterpiece, thankyu for the review!

  3. Erin Hardy Dahle says:

    This is a wonderful article! Please note: the last song they performed is titled We Are Bulletproof, or WAB: The Eternal, not WAP. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for pointing that out. All corrected. Thank you for reading the article.

  4. Ana Victoria says:

    Muchas gracias por el artículo, muy interesante

  5. Great article. Correction though, I think you meant to say WAB or WABP instead of “WAP”

    1. Thank you for reading the article and we did corrected it.

  6. openminded21 says:

    Thank you for writing the amazingly detailed article! I would LOVE if BTS had a Las Vegas residency as I live here and would absolutely take advantage of seeing them. I would humbly like to point out a minor thing. The name of the company whom Big Hit partnered with to hold the concert online is named Kiswe. They can be found on twitter at @KisweVideo. Thank you again for your wonderful words.

  7. openminded21 says:

    Thank you for writing the amazingly detailed article! I would LOVE if BTS had a Las Vegas residency as I live here and would absolutely take advantage of seeing them. I would humbly like to point out a minor thing. The name of the company whom Big Hit partnered with to hold the concert online is named Kiswe. They can be found at @KisweVideo on twitter. Again, thank you for your kind words.

  8. Kristina says:

    This article made me laugh, cry, and hope. Thank you for this amazing breakdown of the concerts. The way you described everything was perfect. I’m at a loss of words. Thank you

  9. Jodi says:

    Beautifully written piece. BTS always go above & beyond for any performance. Their dedication & hardwork after more than 7 years, is paying off in spades.

  10. MaryChase says:

    Please include RM’s performance of Persona!!!

  11. Annie says:

    This article is a masterpiece. It is so well written. And the fact that you highlighted every important part of the concert is commendable. Thank you!💜

  12. Michelle says:

    I enjoyed your article. I would love to see them live but this concert was the next best thing. Your article reminded me of the points I loved about the concert.

  13. Nina says:

    Thank you for mentioning how BTS remains the same 7 humble men despite all their success and uniqueness. They work so hard always pouring their heart, Brilliant breathtaking performances!💜

  14. Nina says:

    Thank you for this well researched written article and extra thank you for mentioning how BTS remains the same 7 humble men despite all their success and uniqueness. They work so hard always pouring their heart, Brilliant breathtaking performances!💜

  15. Malia says:

    Best experience ever!

  16. Marilyn Johnson says:

    I had goosebumps reading your article for some reason. Thanks for writing such a wonderful article about BTS.

  17. Aida Lau says:

    Thank you for your wonderful article, all 7 boys really put out their 100000000 hard work for each concert. They are good role model for the musical industry.

  18. Excelente artículo.Fue increíble el concierto. Unica manera de verlos en este tiempo!!
    Son jóvenes,qué han trabajado y trabajan muy duro para llegar a sus metas.Pero conservan la humildad,sencillez y también la alegría.. Elaboraron un programa llamado “In the soop”,allí durante 7 días convivieron como en campamento.Allí se vió como conviven en armonía.Soy de Argentina

  19. Pavithra says:

    The whole concert was splendid! 💖💖💖💖

  20. Thank you for the detail you have put in to describing exactly what the concert was like for many individuals, myself included. I agree that while watching Map of the Soul ON:E it was definitely hard to avoid a sense of disappointment at the current predicament with the pandemic, at seeing the extent of detail and attention that was put into making such a thrilling and awe-inspiring viewing experience, and not wonder just how amazing this would have been to view live!
    I also really enjoyed the fact that you mentioned how self-aware BTS are of their own success and the metaphor of the mountain used within the ON music video and its use within the concert to showcase how far they have come and their constant awareness of how easy it would be to fall.
    This is one of the reasons why one of my favourite songs by BTS is Black Swan. Their ability to look forwards to a time where they may not feel joy anymore in creating music shows how they don’t take anything that they have worked so hard for, for granted.
    I really enjoyed how the concert experience of Map of the Soul ON:E was conveyed throughout this post!

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