Review: BTS Dazzle All By Themselves With Beautifully Intimate ‘MTV Unplugged’ Set
The last 12 months should have looked a lot different for BTS—and for the rest of the world. Before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted live music, the Korean pop septet was set to light up stadiums around the world on its massive Map of the Soul Tour in support of its chart-topping album, Map of the Soul: 7, which turned a year old on Sunday. The pandemic has postponed the globe-trotting tour indefinitely, with no indication of when BTS will be able to bring their multisensory live spectacle to the million or so BTS ARMY members who bought tickets.
Thankfully, the last thing anybody could ever call BTS is lazy, and the band members have been hard at work all year releasing new music, plotting extravagant virtual performances and shattering all sorts of sales and streaming records. In October, BTS gave Map of the Soul: 7 the stadium treatment it deserved with “BTS Map of the Soul ON:E,” the jaw-dropping, two-day virtual concert that clocked 993,000 viewers from 191 different countries or regions.
On Tuesday night, BTS graced the set of MTV Unplugged and presented a starkly different scene: seven men in a room backed by sparse instrumentation, bolstered by their mutual admiration, passion for their craft and desire to connect with their fans. The masterful five-song set reinforced what’s already common knowledge among the ARMY: Strip away the stellar choreography and breathtaking pyrotechnics, and BTS remain seven of the most charismatic and talented singers in pop music.
Of course, this was still a BTS performance, and a certain level of grandiosity was to be expected. The group kicked off their set with “Telepathy,” a swaggering disco-pop number off their latest album, BE. The band members traded lines effortlessly as they sauntered around a room outfitted with a foosball table and retro arcade games. One could easily imagine the members of BTS hunkered down together in a room like this as they wait out the pandemic, plotting their glorious return to in-person concerts and writing new music at a furious pace.
The upbeat tracks off BE bookended the Unplugged set, as BTS closed their performance with “Dynamite,” the chart-topping, record-breaking juggernaut that’s become an awards show fixture over the past six months. But it was the three middle songs that fully showcased the group’s staggering technical and emotional range. The band transported to a greenhouse bathed in sunlight for a devastating rendition of “Blue & Grey.” Their voices soared in unison over delicately plucked guitar strings and piano chords, and Jimin in particular dazzled with his aching falsetto.
V, who co-wrote and co-produced “Blue & Grey,” explained that the color blue represented “the feeling of burning out,” while grey reflected the “sadness of not being able to see ARMY.” The Unplugged rendition of “Blue & Grey” amplified the track’s twin moods of euphoria and melancholy—the communal joy of creating and witnessing music, and the sorrow of not being able to do so in person.
A likely high point for many viewers was BTS’s surprise cover of Coldplay’s 2005 ballad “Fix You.” It proved a perfect fit for the band members, complementing RM’s rich baritone and Jungkook’s tender falsetto equally. The song’s uplifting lyrics could hardly have been more fitting for this turbulent year: “And the tears come streaming down your face, when you lose something you can't replace... Lights will guide you home.”
Millions of people have suffered immeasurable loss over the past year, and they’ve clung to the comforts that can help them briefly forget their sorrow and feel like their old selves again. For millions of fans, BTS are that beacon, and they bear that responsibility with great reverence. It served as the guiding principle for BE, in particular its lead single “Life Goes On,” which the group rendered beautifully with the help of a live backing band. The band members looked longingly at the camera as they reflected on the day the world stopped and set their eyes toward a future in which they could be reunited with their fans in the flesh.
That day will come, and it will be glorious. Until then, BTS have gifted their fans with another intimate, gorgeously crafted performance and reminded the rest of the world why the ARMY is so happy to have them.