By Ashley Cruz

The promise of seeing each other again is not alien between the BTS and their ARMY of fans; until Covid happened.

With the release of their full-length album, ‘Map of the Soul: 7,’ in February and the hype around their world tour after the explosive Love Yourself: Speak Yourself stadium run, the anticipation was overwhelming.

2020 could be their biggest year. After all, the best-selling group in the world is celebrating their seventh year together.

We seemed to have hit the pause button because of the pandemic, and like many of us, BTS had to find ways to stay connected with their fans and adapt to the changing landscape of live performance.

For seasoned touring artists like them, this feat was challenging; but being the unstoppable force that they are, BTS proved it wrong with their Guinness World Record-breaking “Bang Bang Con: The Live” in June and the “Map of the Soul ON:E” live virtual concerts last weekend.

The 2-day online concert (Oct. 10 – 11) bested all quarantine concerts with its innovative production and powerful setlist that once again proved BTS’s artistic range.

Being virtual in nature, the production had the opportunity to strategically stage performances in various sets and experiment with technology not only to augment each performance but also to connect with a live audience in real time.

Caption: Panoramic view of four stages erected at Seoul’s KSPO Dome and ARMY bombs placed in each seat to symbolize ARMYs watching a concert. [Source: @bts_bighit, BTS Official Twitter]

The concert kicked-off with the thunderous performance of “ON” with a marching band reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s grandiose live production of “They Don’t Care About Us.”

With its anthemic lyrics (“Bring it / Bring the pain on, yeah”), the opening stage was befitting of the times as “ON” talks about perseverance (“Can’t hold me down ‘cause you know I’m a fighter).

Live band arrangements of their debut songs “N.O” and “We Are Bulletproof: Pt.2” made these classic Bangtan songs timeless masterpieces that we could honestly wish for a live concert album.

The setlist features majority of the tracks from 7, starting with RM’s “Intro: Persona” with a recreation of its music video bringing in a massive CGI of Kim Namjoon’s “other persona.”

In true BTS fashion, no one would miss easter eggs and symbolic props in each set. Talk about the mic that went ablaze and those creepy faceless backup dancers, which were both symbolic of his identity as RM and Kim Namjoon.

The new “Dionysus” mix was such a gem that we could only wish for it to be on streaming sites. They were literally on fire as they performed the rock anthem in a dystopian set wearing their “Boy In Luv” uniforms.

The stage design of “Interlude: Shadow” brings a claustrophobic experience like when you’re trapped in a tunnel being chased by your inner demons. The use of space and light made SUGA’s track more gripping than it was.

Where do we start with “Black Swan,” ‘cause honestly, that alone was a work of art. From the orchestral arrangement to their costumes (don’t deny, the sheer and laces got you) down to Jimin’s solo contemporary performance — the world collectively held its breath as they watched the performance.

Jimin’s solo interpretation of “Black Swan” was so captivating that you won’t notice the light on his ankles that looked like shackles that lock the artist in him. To say that Jimin owns Black Swan would be an understatement, and we need to see more of him as a contemporary dancer.

As if it wasn’t enough of an emotional whiplash, the setlist was followed by “UGH!” in a boxing ring setting with rappers RM, SUGA and j-hope in custom robes and gloves, then “Zero O’Clock” with the vocalists Jin, Jungkook, Jimin and V clad in all-white.

This part perfectly sums up our feelings toward 2020 with the anger that comes with the uncertainty of times to the promise of a better tomorrow once we hit the restart button.

Now comes the most riveting set. Jungkook’s Neyo-esque solo of “My Time” was like a sequel performance to his 2016 “Begin,” showing a dramatic yet sensual interpretation of his growth in front of the public eye. The stylists need to get a raise, by the way.

Then comes Jimin’s rendition of “Filter,” dreamy and magical with those costume changes so quick you won’t catch them slip. It’s quite hard to pick a favorite between the choreography and the androgynous theme to be honest.

Jin’s Little Prince-themed “Moon” was refreshing to watch that we could only wish we could give the entire universe to him. The inspiration was spot on as it’s the perfect metaphor for the relationship of BTS and ARMY. Just like the moon, the stage was like gravity that pulls you in, not letting you get your eyes off of Jin.

Last to showcase his solo song was V with “Inner Child” and for sure everyone around the world let out a loud gasp with how adorable that “young V” looked while on a merry-go-round.

Goosebumps went all over when the virtual audience sang along, as it felt surreal to hear their voices echo. It was a collective voice of hope that one day, we will all be back in a stadium to chant along their songs.

j-hope’s “Outro: Ego” was all fun and sunshine with choreography that’s made for a live audience to dance along with. It was reminiscent of his 2016 “MAMA” performance sans the choir. Halfway through it though, there’s this faint sadness inside that we weren’t able to hear the famous “j-hope, j-hope, j-hope” fan chant like in “Trivia: Just Dance.”

Further to the encore, they took us down the memory lane with performances of their hit tracks such as “DNA,” “Butterfly,” and “Run” on an XR-activated stage.

“We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal” was the perfect song to cap the concert off as it serves as a love letter between BTS and ARMY; and just like what RM said, “BTS is not just a story of 7 people. It’s a story of you, me, and everyone.”

Their ending messages proved why people relate to them so much. They’re not afraid to show vulnerability and share the same sentiments, making us feel less alone and understood.

It hit hard when Jin said how much they prepared for the world tour only to perform it twice, but their hopeful spirit was enough for us to feel the same way.

“You know what? I’m happy. I’m so happy. I’m literally so happy,” RM said. “I have no religion, but I thank God that we’re living in 2020. I thank God that we have this technology so we could be connected with no latency, see each other’s faces like really, literally you’re here, it feels like you’re here. And I hope you guys feel the same way, too. And I thank God that we can do this, at least we can do this. At this kind of stage, it’s no one’s fault.” This was enough of a reassurance that we all need.

To pull off an entire virtual real-time concert is one thing, but to be able to emotionally connect with millions of viewers from 191 countries and territories is beyond imagination. No one is literally doing it like BTS, and honestly, every marketer and events organizer should take notes.