By Nadine Kam I
“Bring the soul” is the third in a series of BTS films, this time documenting the Korean super group’s “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” tour last fall, which took them from Seoul to the United States and Europe.
The film opens and closes with the group enjoying an intimate dinner party on a Parisian rooftop at the end of the tour, and press materials promised members would share “their own stories as never heard before.”
That promise of intimacy is what lured me in, but the film didn’t deliver in that regard. There is more intimacy in their VLive self-cameras and “Run” episodes than in this film. I would have appreciated more insight than I already know, and less of the fast-paced montages that fill up time without adding to fans’ knowledge of the group. The films, to me, always feel like an introductory calling card for non-fans who want to understand the BTS phenomenon that Army is already well aware of.
That said, I went with a super fan who doesn’t hesitate to fly off to their concerts, sang along with each of their numbers and on Day 2 of the film’s release, was watching it a second time. I think it’s safe to say she loved it.
Like “Burn the Stage” and “Love Yourself in Seoul” before it, the film contains a mix of concert and behind-the-scenes footage. In between performances we see a lot of them eating, sleeping and working out. I’m pretty sure fans feel some relief in seeing them sleeping because in addition to providing constant joy, they bring out the nurturing instinct in fans who worry about their health because we understand their drive to push themselves to their physical and mental limits to put on their best performances for their millions-strong Army.
This point is driven home from the start when, all smiles on stage, maknae Jungkook bursts into tears off stage after the initial Seoul concert because his voice cracked during a song and felt he didn’t show his best. RM shrugs off that minor incident, saying he missed two verses of a song.
Fans will feel a roller coaster of emotions, from the exhilaration of their high-energy performances to the pain of seeing how much the boys suffer for their art and for their audience. It really hurt to see Jimin in a leg brace, and it reminded me of hearing in real-time last fall incidents in Europe when Jungkook’s heel injury prevented him from dancing. There was reference to Jimin’s inability to perform in London a day after Jungkook’s injury, but the film didn’t show him in the back brace on his birthday, when he suffered severe muscle spasms.
In light of the severity of their ailments, much less attention was focused on Hoseok and Taehyung’s illnesses which were brought to light here. I recalled hearing Taehyung was sick, but it’s more visceral to see it, and again, their heartbreak when they are unable to be at their best for fans. I actually cried when I saw him unable to sing on stage, but mouthing his lines, with the fans filling in the gap with their own vocals. Of course they know every line.
Backstage, he starts crying but even then must smile for the cameras because press photographers are waiting, which has to make fans wonder how many times they are forced to smile through tears.
I know there are a lot of anti-fans out there, and people who just don’t understand the devotion people feel toward this group. Antis and the oblivious seem to think of them as just a trivial, lightweight K-pop band. A typical response among those I know is, “I don’t get it.”
My K-pop professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa would often say to our class, “Do you believe BTS really loves you? Don’t believe everything you see. It’s show business.”
Yet, fans often mention how BTS helped them get through dark times and how the group saved them with their messages of light, hope and self love.
I think a lot of fans do believe in BTS’s sincerity that sets them apart from other groups, both western and Korean. With cameras on them at all times, I really don’t think they can hide who they are. I think most people are smart enough to detect B.S. Even when they do indulge in their share of B.S., other members quickly call them out, letting the audience in on the hilarity of the situation.
You can bet the rest of the music industry is trying to dissect the BTS formula for success. But it can’t be replicated because it is the sum of these particular seven guys: Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Young (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Kim Namjoon (RM), Kim Taehyung (V), Park Jimin (Jimin) and Jeon Jungkook (Jungkook).
I think about this a lot. Even the casual observer can see their talent. On the surface, they are not much different from any Korean male group. Some would say they don’t even sing or dance as well as others. So, why this group above all their contemporaries?
I think fans look deeper to see them as more than a singing-dancing phenomenon from South Korea. Beyond the obvious, we also see their human dimension, knowing them to be comical, hard-working, often hungry, worried, thoughtful, lonely. While others see the costumes and glitz associated with worldwide fame, we are fed with constant livestreams and news of plane trips that start at night, flying into night, the early morning wakeup calls, the detachment of unfamiliar hotel rooms, the longing for foods from home. It is this part that brings them closer to earth and so relatable. In spite of the joyful facade, we understand the hard work it takes to make it in their tough industry.
Western stars lack this relatable quality because they flaunt their wealth and have an air of entitlement and superiority over fans.
In their words and actions, BTS always makes it very clear they don’t take fans for granted. This film shows how much they put their fans’ hopes and expectations above considerations for their own health and well-being. Because few bands in Korea last five years, they know their time could be up tomorrow, so they make sure they are giving their best today.