By Nadine Kam I
While watching the BTS Wings Tour 2017 documentary “Burn the Stage,” I couldn’t help but wonder who it was made for.
It wasn’t meant for anyone unfamiliar with the band. There were no subtitles with names of the members, so there was an assumption of familiarity. Brief footage of the group’s younger years came at the end, so even though the film tried to explain the band’s phenomenal rise to success in the west last year, the new follower would not have had a clue about the extent of the group’s real struggles and the animosity BTS faced when they debuted in South Korea five years ago as an entity too raw for K-pop’s “factory-made” culture, too glossy and soft for the music underground, for whom R.M. and Suga were viewed as sell-outs.
For a concert tour movie, there was a lot of general stage footage, but nothing particularly visceral that gave a true sense of BTS’s dynamism, exacting choreography and power on stage. The casual observer would get a better sense of that from watching any fan-made phone vid on YouTube.
Certainly, it was made for the entertainment of fans eager to see (and spend to view) their idols larger than life, especially those who live in the hinterlands, like me here in Honolulu, far from centers of music life. Yet, the film offers no new information or revelations for avid followers of the group.
I would say that the film was made by Big Hit Entertainment for BTS itself, to document a particular time when they are on fire and too caught up in the moment themselves to make sense of it in the present. In interviews toward the end of the movie, BTS members talk about their success with surprise and disbelief. They aren’t quite sure it’s real, though the audience knows that it was just the beginning of even greater accomplishments and record-breaking hits that came this year.
All the way through, there is a sense of gratitude and their desire to work harder and do their best for their fans, a particularly Korean mindset for most of the idols in a culture that values hard work and keeping promises. It is admirable and just one of many reasons why fans love their Korean idols so much. The degree to which they devote time, energy and demonstrate their respect and appreciation for fans is unprecedented in the west and does not go unnoticed by fans who give them their allegiance in return.
It’s a refreshing break from the “wham bam thank you ma’am” attitude of western artists in general, who are willing to take fans money and offer little of themselves in return. In contrast, Korean artists give their fans access to their lives through variety shows, music shows, TV series, social media, selfcams and livestreams. All this constancy gives fans a sense of a mutual relationship—if not ownership—of the band and its individual members, and all the loyalty such a relationship commands on behalf of fans.