There is no band in the world like BTS. The specific blend of insane chemistry, genre-bending music, angelic good looks, incredible stage presence and once-in-a-generation talent has made the K-pop group into a global phenomenon and earned them a literal army of devoted fans.
The group’s seven members — RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook — were prepping for a global tour of their penultimate album “Map of the Soul: 7” when the pandemic hit last March. Undeterred, BTS began work on a brand-new, record-smashing album, “Be,” which was released in Nov. 2020.
On Feb. 23, they continued to make history when they became the first K-pop group to perform on MTV’s legendary Unplugged series, joining the likes of Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Miley Cyrus. The virtual concert, which featured four songs from “Be,” was a reminder to fans new and old of just how good BTS are, and will doubtless be remembered as one of their most iconic pandemic-era performances.
The concert opened with BTS’ first live performance of “Telepathy,” an exuberant disco-pop track off of “Be.” Calling the song “unplugged” might have been a bit of a stretch. In true BTS fashion, the performance of “Telepathy” was an extravagant production of swooping camera shots and an ostentatious set that had the group members playing foosball and horsing around on a motorcycle in the background.
But despite its upbeat retro vibe and funky undertones, the lyrics, like those of most BTS songs, go deep. Suga, who is performing again after taking time off for an injury, helped to write “Telepathy” and said that “the song’s lyrics describe our current situation of temporarily being apart from each other.”
Next on the set list was “Blue & Grey,” a melancholy guitar ballad that the group performed in a backlit, plant-filled greenhouse. Like “Telepathy,” “Blue and Grey” is a B-side track off of “Be” that had never been performed live. With its simpler melody and light acoustic instrumentation, the track allows the group’s vocals to shine, especially V’s soulful baritone, which apparently has no concept of range.
“Blue & Grey” offers a poignant insight into the burnout, depression and loneliness that even the most successful artists experience. V, who originally wrote the song for his solo mixtape, said that he “tried to express my inner sadness and uncertainty, so I translated the feeling of burning out as ‘blue’ and the sadness of not being able to see ARMY as ‘grey.’”
Arguably the highlight of the concert, however, was BTS’s jaw-dropping, instantly-iconic cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
The cover was notable for a couple of reasons: for one thing, it is only the second song that BTS have performed all in English (after their No. 1 hit “Dynamite”).
For another, it had the rap line (RM, J-Hope and Suga) singing the lower harmonies to the vocal line’s melodies — an unusual but welcome occurrence for the group.
Beyond that, “Fix You,” with its uplifting lyrics and soaring refrains, is a quintessentially BTS song that showcased the sheer magnificence of the group’s vocals and their desire to offer hope and comfort to their fans.
Seated in a row, with little production beyond some lighting, BTS gave a transcendent performance that left fans and non-fans alike with chills.
“Last year, we all went through such difficult times, and this song gave us comfort,” said Jimin about the cover, “so we wanted to prepare this cover to comfort you all as well.” The concert closed with performances of two of BTS’s most successful songs to date: “Life Goes On” and “Dynamite.” The two songs were performed with a live band and were the most “unplugged” of the night, with barely any vocal backing.
Despite having already given several live virtual performances of both songs, the group delivered fresh renditions that leveled both songs up by several notches.
Grammy-nominated “Dynamite” debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 2020, making it BTS’ first number one single in the U.S. and making the band the first South Korean group to top the chart.
Three months later, “Life Goes On,” the lead single off of “Be,” debuted at number one as well, and became the first song to top the charts that was sung in primarily non-English.
But despite the smashing success that they have found with both of these songs, BTS’s renditions of them on MTV Unplugged were brand new, with extensive ad-libbing and more harmonies — especially on the part of Jungkook, who, like the rest of the group, can not seem to stop outdoing himself.
As a whole, BTS’ performance on MTV showed that even stripped of their impressive choreography and all the drama of their live performances, BTS is one of the most talented bands in pop music.
Their MTV Unplugged offered insight into the ways that they are maturing and improving as a group and highlighted their ability to embody a range of genres.
Considering all they have already accomplished, it might be easy to think that BTS has already peaked.
With this concert, they have proved that the only place they are going is up.