Below we document our first BTS concert experience. In 2018, Tagseen and I were fortunate enough to see BTS live for the first time. We would go on to see them once more in 2019, but there’s nothing quite like your first time. Below is an extract of my travel diary to the United States in 2018. This entry captures our adventure towards BTS. Warning! It’s long. So if you’re relaxed and have some time, here’s our journey seeing BTS live in New York City.
Extracts from this entry were also published in the chapter we wrote in the book, I Am ARMY, It’s Time to Begin.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that linger after a dream comes true. Or a bucket list item is fulfilled. Or a wish is granted by a power higher than yourself and the only label you have at your disposal to describe it is “luck” because why else would you be so blessed? The decision to try and see BTS on the North American leg of their World Tour was spontaneous and without expectation. Tickets to every other stop on their Love Yourself World Tour had sold out within minutes as hundreds – no thousands – of ARMY tried to secure tickets to a coveted performance. Securing them felt akin to striking gold. So many wished to be lucky enough and yet the laws governing life dictate that there will be winners and there will be those left disappointed. I say all this to reiterate the fact that our expectation was zero.
Despite our seeming expectation-less disposition, with 6 devices between us, and against all odds, we managed to secure tickets to the historic final date on BTS’ North American World Tour. Citi Field was a stadium and BTS would soon be the first and only Korean act to date to ever sell out in excess of 40 000 seats. A Korean band who sang in Korean had won the hearts and minds of the world – in the case of a venue the size of Citi Field – they’d also won the adoration, devotion and respect of the worlds largest music market.
The feeling was surreal. For weeks after our purchase, we still felt like it wasn’t real. For the record, Citi Field sold out in 20 minutes – and we had 2 tickets! Were we really going to see BTS? Would we breathe the same air? Would we be another bastion of light in a sea of jewelled ARMY bombs undulating in a perfect synchronized frenzy?
On Thursday 4th October we departed Cape Town and spent almost 24hrs commuting to New York City. We’ve been to the US before and we knew that the journey would be long and intense. But nothing could stem the incredible, intense surges of excitement that held us within its grip with every kilometre that drew us closer to BTS.
Our first stop – luggage and all – was into the heart of NYC, to the Line Friends store. We needed BT21 accessories and didn’t want to waste any time getting them. Rolling our suitcases ahead of us, we were able to walk right into the Times Square store, wrapped into a cacophony of bright colours and sounds. BTS’ music blasted throughout the store as ARMY crowded around merchandise excitedly touching and making their selections from the 8 available characters. Spontaneously people would sing along, bust out some random choreo in the middle of the aisle or just squee excitedly because they could. The atmosphere was friendly, happy and excited. By 4 PM we were settled in Queens and began checking Twitter for updates. Lines for merch at Citi field had already begun forming before midnight of the previous day! ARMY did not come to play.
Armed with as much information as we could find, intimidated beyond measure, we departed our Airbnb before 5 AM on Saturday 6th October with an uncertain amount of hope of being able to purchase at least one piece of official merchandise from the tour. ARMY had been camped out for almost a week prior for a prime position in GA. In the wee hours of the morning, we Uber pooled with a young ARMY and her mother. It was the sweetest thing and the first insight into the diversity of the fandom. For a moment we – all four of us – squeed together just a little before embarrassed, we retreated into silence as our driver navigated the deserted streets of Corona, New York.
In the dark, the Citi Field lights seemed brighter than ever, bidding us welcome. It was just after 5 AM but there was activity everywhere. ARMY with blankets, chairs, coffee and/or snacks milled about excitedly, chatting in earnest or sharing a joke. The press had also already arrived. We walked into the stadium grounds and I remember turning to my sister and saying, “can you believe we made it?” It was a quiet moment, but a joyous one. In a few hours, we would see BTS. The time, arrangements and effort to get to this place now did not matter. We had made it.
The merch line
Walking through the darkened grounds lit by lampposts every few meters, an entire world unfolded. Tents – dozens – were lined up in rows with queues in every direction. The atmosphere was festive but organised. Off to the side, the press was interviewing ARMY pooled in bright lights because the sun hadn’t yet risen. Politely I inquire from people I pass where the merchandise line began. Without much effort, we found it and joined the queue that probably already had 100-200 ARMY. Within minutes a young woman joined us and we began conversing. We’d just made our first ARMY friend! Twenty minutes later her friend arrived and as we settled in to wait for 9 AM when the merch line would be opened, we made one final friend in line. The five of us naturally gravitated towards each other and with no effort at all, we clicked.
When you read about the generosity of ARMY, the kindness and the smiles – we are here to tell you it’s all real. We were offered snacks, doughnuts, water and smiles for the next 4 hours. It might sound like a long time, but it wasn’t really. With good company, a lot of laughter and increasing hopes of being able to secure at least 1 piece of official merchandise, the hours ticked over quickly and by 9 AM, the five of us were among the first 200 people in the merch line, lined up and ready to spend some dollars.
At around 10 AM, we start to hear the strains of IDOL, followed by chaotic screams. We realise BTS were inside the stadium! Soundcheck had begun! Around us, people all collectively lost their minds. Fanchants began, screams of [insert members name] as they made their way through a few songs. Again, the intense grip of excitement rose to choke us all as we all listened and sang along until it was our turn at the front of the merchandise line.
From a process perspective, it was quite straightforward. You are in line, you’re handed 2 sheets of paper – one with the items on sale and their picture and another with the price and boxes to tick off what you want. When we reach the front of the line we hand our form to the cashier who fetches all the items you ticked off – provided they haven’t already sold out.
The BTS experience
With merchandise out of the way, we turned our attention to the other activities. We took pictures at the large BTS signs and billboards, our South African flag on proud display. There were numerous LG and BT21 experiences. One such experience was the LG x BTS STUDIO. Weeks prior, Bighit had announced that concert goers could enter a raffle to win tickets to the BTS STUDIO experience. Both my sister and I won. This ticket meant we didn’t have to enter a raffle on-site to win a ticket. We headed to the express queue where our ticket was verified and skipping ahead of the line, I was ushered into a dark tent with a rushed “follow the instructions!” from the attendant before the tent flap closed and left me alone.
There was a huge LG screen in front of me, a red carpet covering the floor and a long couch. Not really knowing what to do, I select Jungkook’s picture on the screen and take a seat. As soon as I sit, I see – and hear – Jungkook enter. He talks directly to me in hushed tones and sits beside me. I felt ridiculously flustered. IT’S NOT REAL I remind myself. As I look away from the screen, the seat is empty. But when I look back at the screen there he is, radiant beside me. The screen begins to count down and like a photobooth, takes 2 pictures. Like that, Jungkook disappears but I have a picture to remind me of the way I am most likely to feel if we ever met – and due to the unlikelihood of this ever happening, it makes the memory even sweeter.
In the booth next door, my sister invited one of our new friends to join her for the experience. They chose Hoseok and in perfect unison, screamed in flustered delight as BTS’ ray of sunshine sauntered in and promptly sat on my sister’s lap! With a quick instruction to “scoot over!” their picture completely captures the panic and joy his presence induced. Unforgettable.
Just before midday, we had soaked up all the experiences, were lugging around heavy shopping bags and still had hours to kill before the doors opened at 4 PM. We’d all been up from around 2 AM and we were crashing. With the promise to be in touch with our new friends and meet back at Citi Field after 4pm, we headed back to our Airbnb to eat, freshen up and hopefully nap. But the excitement was too intense. By 4.30 PM we were back at Citi Field and now the mammoth scope of this stadium concert hit home.
We made it, finally!
There were THOUSANDS of ARMY everywhere. Dressed as members (grubby JK for example) wearing BT21 headbands, official and non-official sweaters, hoodies, jackets or homemade outfits, the atmosphere was electric. Music blared from Bluetooth speakers as people danced while waiting with friends. The GA line wrapped around one side of the stadium like a giant writhing snake without an end in sight. At various meeting points, fansites sold unofficial merchandise like pickets and headbands they had designed. Purple ribbons were also handed to everyone to tie to their ARMY bombs or even thread through your hair if you chose to.
The feeling of community is palpable and quite emotionally disarming. Everywhere you turned there were smiles, a lot of laughter and genuine kindness. In the thick of a swarming, active hive of ARMY, the diversity of age, race and gender is staggering. Young and old milled about brandishing ARMY bombs and purple ribbons. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Parents, grandparents or just fans are all out on a quest to enjoy themselves. The feeling is so identifiable and universal it’s like nothing I’ve experienced before.
Before long, we pass security, get our ARMY bombs paired at one of the numerous, easily accessible express booths and head to our seats. (As a side note, if you’re heading to a BTS concert the one thing you DON’T have to worry about is buying an ARMY bomb. There are hundreds upon hundreds available. It’s the one thing Bighit made sure to have enough of on the day!)
In any case, as we ascend towards our seats, the chants of ARMY can be heard and it grows in intensity the closer we weave towards the centre of the stadium. BTS MVs are playing on the large screens as fanchants and loud screams echo across – and around – as the combined voices of thousands dovetail in perfect harmony. The process serves to hype the crowd, whipping us all into a complete frenzy. From our seats, we have the perfect view of the stage and while swaying and singing along we don’t even notice that the sun has set. Turning on our ARMY bombs the scene is transformed into an incandescent jewelled ocean with waves of flickering colour sweeping from one end of the stadium to the other. It’s beautiful and it’s galvanizing, forging ARMY into one nebulous network of chaotic, frenetic excitement.
It’s now dark and the first of a few reels begin to play. The screams are now deafening because it’s obvious the boys will appear soon. The music intensifies, there’s a massive flash of light on the stage, they appear, ascending from somewhere beneath the stage. The first strains of IDOL begin and those who haven’t lost all sense of time and place join the utter jubilant insanity. The screams are otherworldly as BTS begin to move in synchronized ease. Save Me and I’m Fine are next before the members take a moment to welcome everyone. Again, the screams are at fever pitch as each member is appreciated in equal measure. The feeling that rises up inside me is hard to describe. In person, all 7 members glow with happiness and joy at being on stage with their beloved ARMY. They GLOW, blinding us with their intensity.
Between performances, more highlight reels are play, giving the boys time to rest and change. Hobi and JK appear first with their solo songs. Hoseok’s stage presence and energy are unparalleled. His bright smile and shining eyes never dim as he expertly executes intricate dance moves with ease. After Hoseok, Jungkook sings with such earnest confidence it almost moves us to tears. The sea is now blue and white as he moves through the beautiful choreography for Euphoria. Our throats are already raw as we exclaim as loudly as our strained vocal cords will allow. “Take my hands now, you are the cause of my euphoria!”
With deliberate care, songs and routines weave from OT7 to member solos. Each as powerful as the previous, the energy never wanes the tempo keeps building as emotion swells like steam in a pressure cooker. Taehyung’s Singularity is a wondrous moment that is so beautiful to watch and listen to. Sexy and slow, he weaves a magical spell and we were all left spellbound, at his complete mercy. Similarly, Jimin’s Serendipity is an assault on the senses as he moves through, and flawlessly executes, his choreography routine to the cheers and screams of an adoring crowd.
If anyone tried to take a seat and catch their breath, Namjoon denied them respite. It was like a rainbow appeared as the leader of BTS beamed unapologetically as ARMY chanted loudly along with his song. “SARANG, SARANG, SARANG!” we barked, already hoarse but determined not to fail our leader. Personally, his solo had me over a barrel as I struggled to catch my breath as I smiled right back at him, feeling as if he could see and feel our joy as keenly as we felt his.
In all honesty however, I know the exact moment my vocal cords snapped. It was during Seesaw. Watch any fancam of Yoongi at Citi Field and I dare you to try and deny my impulse to just scream “Yoongiiiiiiiiiiii” into the cacophonous crimson coloured void. To say he radiated happiness is no understatement and as a confession, when Yoongi smiles, it touches something really deep inside.
It’s Seokjin’s Epiphany though, that drained whatever emotions we had left as he danced with precision across our graves. In this lifetime, I have yet to experience anything more powerful than thousands of people clearly, collectively and passionately singing along to his solo. “I’m the one I should love!” I sing too, near tears. Soul destroyingly beautiful.
While every song was perfect, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the sheer brilliance, the utter perfection, the staggering raw power of our rapline performing OUTRO: Tear live. It’s jaw-dropping, it’s incredible, it’s akin to a religious experience. Everything you know it is – it’s more. Then even more. Amidst a green psychedelic laser-like backdrop, our rap trio goes all in and deliver a performance meant to bring us all to our knees. For the record: they succeeded.
Despite the tsunami’s of emotion and the intense choreography, the members remained almost relaxed in their stage presence. It’s perhaps indicative of their confidence and their almost osmotic ability to soak up the love pouring from ARMY in the venue – but also from around the world. Namjoon’s final words beseeching ARMY to use BTS – to use HIM – as a vehicle to learn to love themselves was when tears eventually made an appearance. Hyperbole aside, there truly wasn’t a dry eye.
There really is no new way to express the feeling of seeing and experiencing BTS live. Videos do the quality of their vocals and the volume of ARMY singing and fanchants no justice at all. I’ve attended many concerts before – huge stadium concerts – and none of them come close to the quality of a BTS concert. The energy and professionalism of the members, the staging and production values are outstanding. The cost alone boggles the mind.
Now that it’s over, we’re left feeling dazed and confused, as if it was a dream. But we’ve got the pictures and the videos to prove we survived it. We just have to sync the evidence with our brains and perhaps it will feel more real. We’ve both also lost our voices. No exaggeration. It comes and goes even now, 3 days later.
If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve convinced you to save every penny you have if seeing them is something you want. It’s well worth it. Amid hearts and kisses, BTS promises to return to the United States in 2019. Whether the US or elsewhere in the world, we’ve already decided this cannot be the only time we see them. We wanted more, needed more. We promised ourselves, we would get more.