Welcome to Open Court, the newsletter and platform space where we explore the things we need to talk about in sports and life. I'm Joanne C. Gerstner, a sports writer, author, decent tennis player, cat lover and lover of dark Swiss chocolate. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
I couldn’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater. Like, maybe, for the last Star Wars movie? Yeah, it’s clearly been a while. Chalk it up to COVID, or just not getting around to it, and nothing being out that made me want to take the trek to the land of upselled popcorn combos and sticky floors.
I am happy to say I rediscovered the movies last weekend, or as the elites intone seriously - cinema – for what turned out to be one the hottest shows in the world.
YES. Those guys. Again. They are everywhere. BTS finally got to perform in their native Korea, using the open-air Jamsil Olympic Stadium for their triumphant return. The last time they were able to perform in the 70,000-seat stadium was 2 ½ years ago - October 2019 - the last shows of their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself world tour. They were supposed to have another world tour in 2020, in support of their Map of the Soul album release in March…but we know how all of that blew up in the wake of COVID-19 shutting down our world. They performed in the stadium last summer for two online concerts, but it was empty. No fans were allowed due to the pandemic.
Contrast that to BTS performing four sold out shows in Los Angeles, at 50,000 seats a pop, the end of last Nov./start of Dec. We were masked during the shows, per LA County regulations. But we had Permission to Dance and were loud as hell.
But the guys really, really wanted to perform in Korea, celebrate their successes with the American Music Awards, Grammys, string of No. 1 songs, and reconnect with their OG fans. They got their wish, but with a lot of strings attached, thanks to the Korean government. So get this...Jamsil is an outside stadium… the capacity was limited to 15,000 per show (three concerts total there), everybody had to be masked at all times, COVID free/vaccinated (with rapid tests avail at the entrances), with no singing, cheering, standing or dancing. Clapping and sitting were allowed! How kind!
In other words, this was total opposite of a BTS concert, where people are dancing their butts off, screaming, singing every lyric, and super into it.
The average person can pull off more interaction in church, and while a BTS concert is a religious experience for some, being silent like a library is not the game.
Now flip the script. The guys are used to feeding off crowd energy, the call and response, the being in the moment with others. Little habits like screaming, "Make some noise!" would not be a wise call out. Having all this interaction shut off, as the price of being able to perform at home, was a serious bummer.
I watched the live-stream of the March 10 concert at home, getting up at 5 a.m. to see it live. It was jarring to see the parts where you know the crowd would be chanting or screaming…turned into the tinny sounds of clappers or people using their hands to clap. You could see BTS tried their best to be happy, but they were a little weirded out too.
A concert is about interaction. And this was the lack thereof. The guys joked we were all witnessing history, and would someday tell future generations there was a concert with no cheering.
HA. Ha. ha.
Which is what made Saturday’s global movie event so killer. It was live-streamed to some parts of the world to theaters. In North America, we got the delayed version, seeing the shows in the afternoon and evening. The box office for BTS, according to Variety, was no joke: a global event cinema record $32 million from 3,711 theaters in 76 markets.
What was even more revealing, according to Variety, was that BTS ran head-to-head with the new Batman movie, and finished second. The tickets were $35 per person, which is not cheap…but definitely a lot less than the bill for a live Bangtan show. BTS made $6.84 million in North America from 803 theaters.
Need more metrics? According to Naver (a Korean media site), 2.5 million total around the world interacted with the three concerts (in-person - 45,000, 1.4 million in 75 countries for the at home live-views, and 1.02 in 191 countries or regions for the two movie livestreams).
The 4:30 p.m. showing I attended at my local multiplex was in sold-out 120-seat theater. I asked the manager on the way out if the 8:30 showing was also going to be sold out, and he nodded and smiled.
This was not just some little wacky event for the dedicated fans of a boy band from Korea. The success of BTS in conquering the big screen with their one-day run could be the start of other artists exploring this mode, according to Deadline.com. It is another way to get fans into a show, a welcome relief for those who cannot buy tickets because of demand or price and also takes down some people’s fears to be in stadiums during the twists and turns of the pandemic.
As an aside, John Oliver’s perfect takedown of the Death Star d/b/a Ticketmaster was lovely. Please watch it and grow angry with all of the world:
This afternoon at the movies was definitely a BTS crowd. There was a strong happy vibe in the theater, with families, kids, older people all in a great mood. People were discussing BTS, asking about favorite songs, biases, wreckers, all the stuff of the fandom. It was also unique to have so much interaction and smiles at a movie. Usually, you find your seat, settle in, and maybe talk quietly to the person(s) you came with. Here, everybody was chatting with the people in line for popcorn, the patrons in the row in front and back of you, and so on. Also present was the range of BTS merch, from plush BT21 Tata, to headbands with little Koyas, and more than a few t-shirts. It was nice being in a place where everybody was so ready to have fun.
The ARMY tradition of handing out little gifts was also happening, with baggies of candy, stickers and other trinkets being passed out. I brought some photocards I picked up along the way and asked the people sitting around me who their favorite member was. I handed out some Yoongi, JK and Tae cards, feeling like a dealer trying to pick the aces out of a deck. The JK card was a gift from another fan, handed to me during the horribly long security line wait before the Los Angeles concert. I was touched by that gesture, so I decided to pay it forward. When I mentioned that the JK card was well-traveled, the college student’s eyes grew wide, like I had delivered something sacred.
She turned and told her sister, and then their friend, that I had seen BTS live in LA, and they just gave me more stares of disbelief. Which led me to do the only correct thing: show off the photos from the concert on my phone.
When we got closer to showtime, the ARMY bombs came out. I brought mine, and let my seatmate hold it for a bit. Again, hilarious reverence. My relationship with BTS is obviously different - I don’t worship or stan in awe. I find them fun, relatably human and enjoy their performances. I also know my attitude about “famous people” is definitely refined by my job as a sports journalist. I learned long ago that the rich and famous and talented long for normalcy. So if you can treat them like normal people, things work out better for you and them. There is no need to quake in front of LeBron James or Serena Williams or Simone Biles.
But that was much too heavy a thought bubble to drop on the super excited people around me. They were openly discussing that they may not make it through the movie without an emo meltdown.
Since the live concert was held at 5 a.m. eastern (7 p.m. in Seoul), and it was now 4:30 p.m. in my world, I already had seen some spoilers on Twitter. It was pouring rain. Two of the members fell hard. And the guys performed soaking wet. (Not to mention the silent, and now drenched, audience.)
The traditional fanchants started, quietly, in our Michigan theater.
Kim Namjoon! Kim Seokjin! Min Yoongi! Jung Hoseok! Park Jimin! Kim Taeyhung! Jeon Jung Kook! BTS!
(Curious about the order? Namjoon is the leader, so he gets first billing. Rest are listed by chronological order of age from oldest to youngest.)
Even the Biebs is aware of the fan chant.
My showing of the concert was pretty chill. Everybody stayed in their seats, but there was a lot of shimmying and chair grooving. Singing out loud - approved. Screaming member’s names or the occasional gasp was normal here.
And the applause. After every. Single. Song.
It was a fun, wholesome experience. Like a Rocky Horror sing-a-long, minus the fishnets.
The only small bummer for us was the lack of subtitles. The members interact a lot with the audience through their between song chatter and their more formalized individual remarks at the start and end of the show. The members spoke Korean, and yeah, my 20 words of their language were not enough. I picked out saranghae (love you) and aigoo (oh my), and…that was it. Oh well. I would like to add that suggestion to the Hybe/Big Hit suggestion box. They do live English (and other languages) translation for their live-streamed online concerts. I am not sure how the difference in delivery/technology would affect adding subtitles for the movie theaters, but I would argue BTS could pull it off. They’re too big globally not to do it.
Small language barrier aside, there really wasn’t much separating us from BTS in Seoul. We knew the inside jokes, see: Kim, Seokjin and encore headwear, understood their body language of being happy to perform at home, and quietly prayed the fans in the stadium were having as much fun as us.
When it was over, everybody clapped. We didn’t need Batman to save the world, like he was in the rest of the theaters in our cineplex.
BTS did the trick for us.
Open Court will be back, pipin' fresh, next Tuesday!
Open Court publishes on most Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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