RM, J-Hope, Jimin, Jin, Suga, Jungkook and V–the boys that make up the K-pop supergroup BTS–want you to know that when you strip away the glamour, fame, concert tours, and legions of fans, they’re just like everyone else. Their point gets across in their YouTube Red miniseries BTS: Burn the Stage, which chronicled the group’s WINGS tour and wrapped up May 9.
Since I’ve become something of a BTS expert in the last few months, I decided it’d be worth my while to watch the series, not fully knowing what I was going to get. From descriptions of the series, I knew I was supposed to expect to see a raw, unfiltered look at the group, a rarity for K-pop as a whole. In fact, the boys mention as much in the first episode and is a theme throughout the series. Thankfully, what I watched was, indeed, something that was pushing the envelope for the tightly-bound K-pop world. Even though I’m sure Big Hit had the final say on just how unfiltered the final footage would be, it is clear that the company–and the group–wanted as much of the real thing as possible.
As I mentioned above, the group knows just how rare it is for a K-pop group to give their fans relatively unfettered access into their personal lives. In fact, their self-awareness is one of the most interesting parts of the series. Many times, the boys reflect on their multifaceted relationships with their success. For many of the boys, success is something that mildly chafes at certain areas of their lives. RM and Suga, both self-described loners, discuss how their true selves are far from the extroverted personas they have to wear on the road. Both say, in so many words, their preferred day would be spent alone with their thoughts.
However for all of them, they welcome the chance to express themselves and connect with large swaths of people, which reaches into the millions worldwide. Their group mission is to be a voice for their youthful listeners who face struggles of all types on a daily basis. It’s a mission every member of the group takes very seriously and throughout their WINGS tour, they are constantly humbled by the amount of love they receive from fans who stand out in lines for hours or days at a time, recite every word of each song even if Korean isn’t their native language, and faint away from overheating, exhaustion, and sheer exhilaration.
The boys themselves aren’t immune to the rigors of tour life. Throughout the series, each member mulls over their own insecurities and fears. They worry about what others think about them. They lament over small mishaps during their performances, since they are, like most performers, perfectionists. During the Chilean leg of the tour, Jungkook is brought to the brink of passing out multiple times. In Brazil, Jin and V get into an argument minutes before the concert starts, forcing RM to jump into leadership mode to squash the argument until they can discuss it after the concert’s over.
When I was telling my youngest sister about this part of the miniseries, she replied, “So it’s their managers talking to them?”
“No,” I said. “They’re talking to each other, alone in their hotel room.”
“Wow,” she said. “Really?”
It’s the group’s commitment togetherness that makes them unique. They talk through their successes and struggles together as if they’re family. Indeed, they say they spend more time together than they do with their real families. When you think about the boys’ lives from that aspect, they are the only family each of them have for months (or even years) at a time, especially while they’re on the road. Because they are essentially brothers by this point in their relationships, they behave as brothers. They might have disagreements, but those arguments aren’t enough to break their friendship or their brotherhood.
“Our strength is that no matter how difficult, tired or exhausted we are, we gather at night and talk,” said Jin.
“We settled the matter that night,” said V. “It’s not something that will come between us. I think it made us become even closer.”
This particular moment in Burn the Stage might be seen as monumental to other reviewers because it could be viewed as seeing a crack in BTS’ facade. But I see it as a moment where the boys do show how close they are to each other and how much they have grown to love each other. Interestingly enough, the scene reminds me of something my dad would tell myself and my siblings growing up–that regardless if we have arguments, we must always stick together, because family is more important than letting pettiness come between us. In other words, blood is thicker than water. It’s cool to see BTS existing by this rule as well.
This is just one of many moments where viewers see the human sides to the group, who have been put on “idol” pedestals. There are plenty of other moments throughout the series that showcases how the group hangs onto their normalcy. For instance, while they’re in Chicago, they have a Rock Paper Scissors contest to see who would buy the group Chicago-style hot dogs. Jin loses, and he has to fret over if he forgot his credit card and wait in the long line just like every other non-famous Chicagoan. Most of the boys tour the John G. Shedd Aquarium, go bowling, and head to the mall to play at the arcade and shop in Best Buy. RM and V spend the day at the park and eventually get their shop on, ending their day at Panda Express.
Maybe it’s just because I’m nearing 30 at the time of this post, or because I’m an older sister to three siblings, or even because my entire family acts more youthful than our actual ages, but I appreciate that even though these boys are famous, they still act like kids. Don’t take my use of the word “kid” to think I’m saying they act immature. As the series (and as their charity-focused careers) illustrate, they are plenty mature. But they aren’t interested in acting above their ages, which is refreshing. They’re still interested in being youthful and, most importantly, they’re more interested in just being themselves. That’s really cool to see. No wonder these kids have legions of fans who feel like they know the boys personally; it’s easy to imagine these boys as being people you might become friends with in school or at summer jobs. They’re personable and relatable.
Granted, they might not be able to hang out in aquariums, walk around the park, and shop and eat as unencumbered in America now as they could just last year. Even with the camera crew, not many in the States knew who BTS was. Now, though? They might have to go everywhere with tighter security since they’re just as much American stars now as they are Korean stars. I’d love a follow-up series as the group comes to terms with their newfound American success; I’m sure they are thrilled about it, but seeing how the group is made up of introverts, I wonder if they also view it as a double-edged sword. Despite American fame being a goal of theirs, I wonder if they felt like their relative normalcy in America was a much-needed break from their stardom back home.
Overall, BTS: Burn the Stage is a must-watch for any BTS fan, as it will humanize the group beyond what fans might be expecting. As the group says, they make a point to be as candid with their fans as possible, but they still don’t tell them everything. With this series, the group wanted to truly show what it’s like. On the whole, I think they succeeded.