PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE concert in LA: A homecoming for BTS and ARMY

PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE concert in LA: A homecoming for BTS and ARMY

BTS and ARMY are finally reunited after 2 years of virtual concerts and online events. Mabie Alagbate, a writer and 'Dynamite'-era ARMY, takes us through her first BTS concert - from long lines that led to nowhere to getting interviewed on K-media, plus witnessing the biggest band in the world come home to where they clearly belong - the live stage.

It felt too good to be true. After two long years of what seemed like the most global long-distance relationship, BTS and ARMY (fans of BTS) were finally reuniting. For many, this face-to-face encounter is much anticipated, well-deserved. 

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It was Day 1 of the world's biggest pop group's 4-day comeback concert at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Still on a high from the 'Butter' act's historic win at the 2021 American Music Awards, the excitement could be very much felt among the fans. 

The grounds were festively adorned predominantly with the bright colours and shapes from 'Permission To Dance'. Photo booths, selfie spots, vending machines for free photo cards, and even a free breakfast treat from McDonald’s were all set up to keep ARMY preoccupied throughout the day. Occasionally, pockets of screams would burst out upon hearing the band rehearsing inside.


An Exercise in Patience

Our group (Tita Susan, Carmina, and myself from the Hunger Games ticketing story) arrived at noon. We first wanted a photo with the 'Permission to Dance' sign overlooking the lake in front of the stadium before lining up for the merch, thinking that it’s not going to take too long. It took us two hours in line. 

Apart from the blistering noontime heat, though, it wasn’t all too bad. We knew lines were going to be long; any event like this is always going to be an exercise in patience. Good thing a cool breeze would come pick up more frequently as the day wore on. There was also plenty of socialisation happening on the spot. There were those going around giving away DIY BTS-themed freebies and treats. I myself brought a pack of purple face masks to give away, which many were happy to put on instead of the generic masks they had. 

Plenty of ARMYs were going around giving away free treats.
Brought tangerines with me. If you know, you know.

At the hour mark, I decided to check out the situation at the front of the line. No wonder it was taking so long; group pics were being taken, and then followed by solo pics. Even if people tried to be quick about it, the line still didn’t move fast enough.

That’s also because there seemed to be no one facilitating the flow of the queue, which was surprising, and which turned out to be a foreshadowing of the rest of the events to unfold that day. 

Lines to Nowhere

The San Francisco Crew (L-R): Myself, Carmina, Tita Susan.

After lining up for two hours and taking photos for three minutes, it was time to go to the merch booth. Because there were three of us in the group, we were able to multitask while holding our spot. One would sometimes go around checking the situation on the ground, while another would go purchase food or sit down on the side to rest. It was even during one of these moments that Tita Susan got interviewed by SBS!

Tita Susan being interviewed by Korean news network, SBS.

Unamusingly, lines to the merch booths kept getting broken up and reconfigured. Apparently, certain lines formed actually led nowhere. Rearranging everyone meant possibly losing a good head start or even your spot itself. Needless to say, this didn’t sit all too well with the people already standing there for hours.

We were in the merch line, being tossed about here and there, for three hours. By the time we fell in line for the entry, it was 6 PM. 

Coming Undone

Finding the line to the correct entry gate was one thing, but finding the end of that line was completely another. By 7 PM, we spotted some marshals on bikes navigating their way through the crowd, most likely to provide an assessment of how many people were still outside. Answer: A LOT.

By 7:20 PM, most of the people were still outside in lines, both for the merch and the main entry points for the stadium. The show, which was originally scheduled for 7:30 PM was apparently moved back by an hour to make sure everyone was inside before the show started.

We had our tickets, vaccination cards, and IDs all ready for verification at the entrance. To our shock, we just slid right through the security barrier. 

The only saving grace for this whole fiasco was the fact that we had secured seats so there was really no need to rush to get a spot. That, plus the fact that although there was tension in the air, and you can feel a soft surge of people trying to move along, fans were looking out for one another, giving reminders to not run and to keep each other safe. Otherwise, it would have gone sideways very easily. 

As soon as we got inside, we headed to our section, found our seats, and then finally, settled in with a sigh of relief. We were spent and exhausted, and the show had not even started yet. 

We’ll Go Through All of That Again In A Heartbeat

Preferably not because that was simply unacceptable, but if it means being rewarded with another experience of being together with BTS in person, we’ll suck it up. 

As soon as the lights turned down and the VCR for 'ON' came on, there was no room for tiredness--not even tears. BTS was right there in the flesh, in the here and now, and we were all wrapped in this bubble.

We all happily stayed inside that bubble for the next two and a half hours. The setlist was mostly similar to the Permission to Dance On Stage online concert from October, but seeing them perform it live was a different hit altogether. 

Jungkook didn’t get to fulfil his wish of dropping in from above the stadium for his grand entrance, but RM, along with the rest of the group, got theirs - kicking off with the song they practised so hard for, the opener of their cancelled 2020 tour - 'ON.' This was followed by the remix version of 'Fire,' 'Dope,' and 'DNA.' 

After a quick costume change, they were back with the emotive 'Blue & Grey' off their 2020 album, BE. What came next was a stunningly jaw-dropping performance of 'Black Swan,' the white ruffle-sleeved dancers fluttering around the members to complete their swan formation.

A succession of songs brought backtracks from earlier eras, including 'Blood Sweat & Tears,' 'Fake Love,' and the much-awaited, hip-thrusting anthem, 'Bapsae.' A big highlight, apart from Jungkook’s never-ending saga with the buttons on his wardrobe, of course, were 'Dis-ease' and 'Telepathy,' which had the members onboard carts moving along the perimeter of the stadium floor, bringing them closer to ARMY. 

'Idol' quite literally almost brought the house down, as those in the 500s (rafters section) shared how they felt the floor shaking from under their feet because of how hard everyone was rocking out. I was in the 200s, and I too did feel a bit of the shaking, like you were on a suspension bridge. 

Look, Ma, No Tears!

I honestly thought I would be bawling as soon as they came out, but I didn’t. Not even when they did their introductions, not even during the more emotional numbers. It was so overwhelming, I just couldn’t accommodate this particular feeling.

Between the loud screams and singing and dancing and screaming singing, thousands of ARMY bombs dancing in the air to the music, the wave of pulsating lights, BTS performing right in front of us serving looks and moves, I really couldn't fathom how all of this was real. 

And yet there was also stupendous joy. Taehyung's smile was so big and wide all throughout, even though he still wasn't a hundred percent recovered. "Look at me, I'm standing!" he proudly said. During interactions, Jungkook could not help but look up at ARMY in awe. When he was not making the ladies swoon with his dance moves, he was a happy bunny hopping around the stage and bantering with the others, especially Jin. J-hope was so radiant, it was impossible not to be caught by his sunshine. He had such a beautiful, peaceful smile, paired with moon eyes, it felt like the more you look at him, the more hope in life you get. No wonder even Suga says he is their battery charger.

Jin went back out for the last segment with a ribbon and a flower on his head. This beautiful flower had now fully bloomed, he said. I must say his live vocals were so strong and stable, I was able to really appreciate the flavour it brought to their harmonies. Jimin's dance adlibs were entrancing, so it was surprising to hear him say later on that he was shy and feeling awkward on Day 1. Then again, as he said his speech, he did have to turn around a couple of times, bouncing up and down and shaking his shoulders, presumably to shake off the nerves. 

Suga's stage presence was so strong, and that Ginger hair really enhanced his glossy skin all the more. "This is our job, this is what we're supposed to do. Finally, we are where we should be," he delivered in Korean. 

Of course, RM, had just as beautiful words to say. In fact, it wasn’t until 'We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal' and RM’s speech that I was able to somewhat allow myself to shed some tears. Out of sheer happiness, out of gratitude, out of pleasant disbelief.

We Are Bulletproof

“You guys are our proof of our existence, our value, our creed, our love, our peace, our everything. You guys are our goddamn proof. We are the bullet, and you guys were our proof. So we’re now truly bulletproof.” - RM

Leading up to the concert, I did see some posts saying they could not understand how there could be people flying out all the way to LA to catch BTS live. At this point, there’s really no other way to find out but to try listening to them.

Some people will give it a listen once or twice and decide it’s not for them, and that’s fine. I myself took some three years beating around the bush and quietly lurking around the fandom before I had Taehyung drag me towards the rabbit hole, and let Jimin push me completely off the ledge. 

BTS will touch you at the right time, when you need it most, probably when you expect it least. It’s not just going to be their music that will arrest you, too, but their entire being. It’s normal to hear ARMY talk about how amazingly invested they are in the happiness and success of all the members, not only because they are truly superb artists, but especially because they really are good people who deserve all the good things in the world.

As the wise Suga said, it doesn’t matter when you become ARMY. New recruits shouldn’t feel too bad about missing out on their earlier days, because the day you found them is the day they debuted for you. 

BTS can make you believe again not only in yourself, but also in the goodness of humanity. And in this industry--where artists are only as good as their last act, and where coolness, regardless if it’s at the expense of others, is the main currency--the authenticity and humility that BTS brings feel like a privilege to witness in this lifetime. Make no mistake, they are far from perfect and are just as flawed as the rest of us. But with their sincere efforts to at least bring some positivity around, despite the less than ideal circumstances the world is in, they manage to still make it a great time to be alive.

And that is why ARMY will literally cross oceans for them. 

BTS will continue their PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE concert series on 1 December and 2 December. The last day (3 December at 12:30 PM KST, 10:30 AM JKT, 11:30 AM PHT/SGT) will be livestreamed globally via VenewLive. Find out more here.