South Korean supergroup BTS on Thursday returned to the stage in Seoul for the first time since 2019, with an adoring home-grown crowd offering only applause as COVID rules barred all screaming, chanting, or singing.
The show is the first of three concerts for the chart-topping septet titled “Permission to Dance on Stage - Seoul” at the capital’s Olympic Stadium.
Since BTS’ last performance for domestic fans in 2019, the band have gone from strength to strength despite the pandemic, with three Billboard-topping singles and two Grammy nominations.
Fans waved purple LED wands—the official color of BTS fandom—in sync when the band appeared on stage, with rhythmic clapping filling the 60,000-capacity stadium, which was only a quarter full due to social distancing measures.
Band leader RM, whose real name is Kim Namjoon, said they were thrilled to be performing in front of a live audience again.
“The fact that you are all seated in the stands shows a lot has changed,” he said, referring to a livestream-only concert they performed to empty seats a few months ago.
“When would we get a concert where we get this much clapping? This is a concert to be remembered in history.”
Bandmate Kim Taehyung, stage name V, added: “I'm so touched and thrilled that our ARMY is here.”
Tickets for the three concerts—45,000 in all—sold out within minutes, despite stringent social-distancing requirements for the BTS fans, known as ARMY.
Chanting, singing, screaming, or even standing up were all banned, as South Korea battles an Omicron spike, with more than 300,000 cases reported Thursday.
But fans including Heo Minhee, a 25-year-old office worker, said being at the concert was a “dream” despite the restrictions.
“I still can’t believe that this is my seat whenever I look at my ticket,” Heo told AFP before the concert.
Han Aenghee, a 53-year-old fan from Gyeonggi province, added: “I prayed every morning to secure a ticket, and miraculously, I got tickets to the first and last concerts.”
“I'm very grateful,” she said.
Ahead of the gig, the BTS members expressed concern over the rules but asked for fans’ understanding.
“There is a certain energy that can be felt from a person’s voice, and I wonder if clapping can be enough,” said J-Hope, whose real name is Jung Hoseok.
Fans were disappointed about the rules but acknowledged the changes were inevitable.
“Even though it’s hard, I think it’s a necessary change under the current circumstances,” said Lee Chaerim, a 28-year-old student.
“At least we can see them,” added Darina, a 24-year-old student from Russia who lives in South Korea. “We can sing in our hearts.”
A handful of social media posts showed some fans were trying to sell their hard-won tickets after testing positive for the virus.
Many concert-goers said they had taken extra precautions, some even placing themselves in self-quarantine after securing a ticket so as not to test positive and risk missing the big event.
“I didn’t go outside so I wouldn’t catch COVID,” said Choi Jungyoon, 16, who stayed home for around a week.
Her friend Jung Dayeon added: “I wore double masks when I had to go to crowded places.”
The floppy-haired musicians, all in their 20s and often sporting earrings and lipstick, appeal to a generation comfortable with gender fluidity.
They are credited with generating billions for the South Korean economy, and their label enjoyed a surge in profits despite holding fewer concerts during the pandemic.
In 2020, BTS were forced to call off what was supposed to be their largest international tour, with almost 40 gigs, though they held some concerts online.
The group’s first in-person show since the pandemic began was at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in November, with the four-night run grossing $33.3 million (P1.7 billion), according to Billboard.
The first and last shows of “Permission to Dance” will be streamed live online, while Saturday's concert can be watched in real-time at movie theatres around the world. (AFP)