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Bang Bang Con: The Live – a joyous celebration of BTS and ARMY

As promised at the end of BTS’ April streaming marathon, the boys were “back in ARMY’s rooms” this weekend, wrapping up their annual birthday celebrations with a live-streamed concert that was watched by over 750,000 viewers worldwide.

‘Bang Bang Con: The Live’ followed the end of this year’s Festa, an event of special daily content leading up to the anniversary of BTS’ official debut on 13th June 2013. The group’s seventh anniversary this year was particularly meaningful due to the significance of 7 as a lucky number for BTS and their fans (known as ARMY, which stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”). Following the postponement of BTS’ world tour due to COVID-19, and with uncertainty over when it will be able to go ahead, Bang Bang Con: The Live was also an important opportunity for fans to connect with their favourite group, and with each other, and enjoy an alternative live experience to tide them over until concerts are possible again.

The event was hosted by BTS’ parent company, Big Hit Entertainment in partnership with Kiswe Mobile, a USA-based mobile broadcasting company boasting “multi-view” technology allowing viewers to personalise their streaming experience by selecting different camera angles and communicating with the artist via a live chat function. Bang Bang Con: The Live boasted six camera options, which ticket holders could view on up to two screens at the same time. While those who own BTS’ official lightstick (known as an ‘ARMY Bomb’) could synchronise it via WeVerse, those of us without could also cheer along with a ‘virtual lightstick’ within the live chat interface. These features made it clear from the outset that for Big Hit, the fan experience was central to Bang Bang Con.

The concert itself began with BTS’ leader RM emerging from a set of double doors into a colourful corridor as he opened the first song, ‘Dope’, from 2015 album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1. As RM made his way down the corridor, the other members gradually joined him via side doors, all of them ending up on a dramatically lit digital dance-floor by the time the second chorus came around. ‘Dope’ was followed by the energetic ‘Boyz with Fun’, from the same album, to the delight of fans who haven’t seen these older numbers performed live in a while. The trip down memory lane continued with ‘Like’ and ‘Just One Day’, both among BTS’ earliest releases, but still as popular as ever.

The members introduced the concept of the concert as ‘방’ (bang / room), giving a brief tour of their own living room-esque set-up and promising that more rooms would be revealed throughout the event. Their casual outfits and the homely decor gave a sense of closeness with fans watching from their own homes. Despite widespread disappointment at the postponed tour, and anxiety caused by 2020’s ceaselessly bleak news cycle, BTS’ Bang Bang Con living room encouraged fans to relax along with their idols, with a feeling of intimacy created by this ‘from our home to yours’ concept.

Following a brief commercial break (naturally, all the commercials featured BTS as well) the boys were back with three subunit stages that, for many, were the highlight of the concert. Jin, J-Hope and Jungkook appeared in simple matching outfits on a black and white stage to perform ‘Jamais Vu’. Just as fans (read: yours truly) were getting over their excitement at the unique staging of this beautiful ballad, the stage revolved to reveal RM and Suga in retro outfits, ready for a wonderfully entertaining performance of ‘Respect’, complete with disco lighting and delightful choreography. It was hard to tell who was enjoying this stage more: RM and Suga, or their fans, many of whom (myself included) seem to have been thinking about little else ever since. The final subunit, comprising V and Jimin, gave us a moment of tender nostalgia, as they appeared in school uniforms in front of a replica bus stop to perform ‘Friends’. This song, a personal favourite of mine, recalls memories from V and Jimin’s close friendship, such as the ‘dumpling incident’, now infamous among fans, and these anecdotes were referenced through playful props, making for a very endearing performance.

These three songs, all featured on the the group’s latest album Map of the Soul: 7, kept the setlist fresh. However, making it clear that clear that Bang Bang Con was not a replacement for the postponed tour, back in the ‘living room’ the boys performed snippets of ‘UGH!’ and ’00:00 (Zero O’Clock)’, assuring fans that they would hear the full songs live one day. Following this promise, we were still treated to a full performance of ‘Black Swan’, before a deliciously upbeat disco remix of 2019 hit ‘Boy With Luv’, complete with light-up umbrellas, a new twist on the iconic choreography, and rainbow lighting provided by a wall of ARMY Bombs. This fun (and costly, as one fan calculated) lighting installation recreated the waves of light and colour produced by the crowd at concerts, and emphasised BTS’ dedication to incorporating ARMY into everything they do. The entertainment continued with ‘Go Go‘ and ‘Anpanman’, fan favourites from the Love Yourself album series, as a giant (and vaguely menacing) ARMY Bomb flew around overhead.

In the absence of fans to cheer the members back on stage for an encore, BTS did their own fanchant, doubtless accompanied distantly by many voices around the world. While this was the point in Bang Bang Con at which the lack of a live audience was perhaps most keenly felt, it was also a touching reminder of BTS’ willingness to own their vulnerability, not take themselves too seriously, and engage with their fans, not only during the current health crisis, but always. This was again clear as the boys left room in their group hug for ARMY (although given the number of people tuning in, BTS would need to be practicing some extreme social distancing to actually fit us all in).

To close the show, BTS performed ‘Spring Day’, the ever popular 2017 hit which has now spent a record 174 weeks in the Melon charts. In a VLive broadcast the day before in which the members reviewed responses to a survey of fans about their favourite songs, Suga had compared Spring Day to a zombie, referring to its undying appeal among fans both new and old, as it appeared in the top 10 of almost every category. The lyrics, with themes of separation and longing, were an emotional but fitting end to Bang Bang Con, before BTS exited via the same corridor seen at the beginning of the show, this time leaving together rather than through their separate doors. As the broadcast ended, fans were left with a message on their screens referencing the lyrics of ‘Spring Day’, “만나러 갈게, 좀 더 머물러줘” (“We’ll come and meet you, please wait a little longer”), an optimistic sentiment to wrap up just over 90 minutes of celebration and entertainment.

All in all, the record viewing figures for Bang Bang Con: The Live demonstrate BTS’ ever increasing global appeal. While for the time being, BTS are unable to present their latest releases to fans with the lavish stadium-scale stages we are used to seeing from them, the team behind Bang Bang Con worked creatively and effectively within the limitations of their sound stage. The homey feeling of the ‘room’ theme was a fitting end to Festa celebrations as well as a continuation of BTS’ efforts to “stay connected” with fans during the COVID-19 crisis. These efforts have been ongoing not only through social media and regular content such as their variety show ‘Run BTS!’, but also via a number of livestreams offering a look inside the process of creating their next album, not to mention ‘Surprise LIVE!’ VLive broadcasts featuring everything from coffee-making to crafting. While these regular fan-artist interactions may seem all a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated, they are treasured by many ARMYs, for whom BTS is about so much more than just music. Bang Bang Con: The Live was a joyous celebration of this, and while it could never be the same as a live concert, it was a unique and memorable experience in its own right.

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