For reasons no one is thrilled by, this was a year that will go down in history. But in spite of everything, people carried on with their lives, and did their best to make it through. The stories on each of the performances by the six teams across three days from December 28 to 30 is also a documentation of how people live their lives.
December 6, 2020. Mnet 2020 MAMA: “ON,” “Dynamite,” “Life Goes On”

At the 2020 MAMA show, BTS borrowed various elements from marching bands for their performance of “ON.” Jimin, V, Jung Kook, and j-hope use maces, drumsticks, bass drums, cymbals and more in their solo dances, after which the members perform a group dance with cheerleaders behind them. The enormous BTS logo staged in the center of Seoul World Cup Stadium that appears at the opening and close of their performance is the result of everyone gathering together. This big picture is all thanks to each person playing their own part. The performance extends the meaning of “ON” from the previous version, introducing a substantially greater number of marching band players and roles. In “ON,” BTS sing, “Where my pain lies / Let me take a breath,” and, with their marching band, dance throughout the show, moving along intricate paths, performing somersaults, and, finally, setting off fireworks. Yet this cannot fill an entirely empty stadium. Instead, before the performance, a video of someone in the darkness being swallowed up by the word FEAR is played. The subsequent transition to the bright, wide-open space where many people are performing “ON” together is itself a message: Someday, people will be able to join together here again.

As the pandemic continues, performances once anticipated have been canceled one by one. In place of fear and hopelessness, however, BTS shows us hope for the future. They showed us a CG version of the canceled Seoul International Fireworks Festival in their performance for the MTV Video Music Awards, and on a recent episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden, they magically hurdled over the limitations of COVID-19 and traveled between Korea and the U.S. in a flash. They responded to not being able to invite an audience by making use of various production techniques and technologies. They responded by scoping out and arranging all kinds of venues, from the airport and Gyeongbokgung Palace, to Everland and Seoul World Cup Stadium, to evoke that lively feel. It’s hard to imagine just how difficult and complicated it must have been to secure World Cup Stadium before they could perform there. Nevertheless, all throughout this year, they have appeared on different stages in different ways. The significance of the 2020 MAMA show lies in how it encapsulates every one of BTS’s performances at the end of the year in the biggest, most direct way possible. After “ON” came “Dynamite,” with a huge piece of multicolored colored fabric blanketing the entire stage, and bookended with “Life Goes On,” an expression of suspended time by a crowd of body painted performers, vividly demonstrating the texture of a painstakingly assembled reality. They even incorporated AR into the performance to bring onto the stage, a moment in time in Seoul that we cannot see at the moment, and even member SUGA, who couldn’t join them on stage due to rehabilitation following his medical treatment. They convey our enduring faith that somehow, someday, we will be together again. In this way, BTS’s performances over the past year seem like one complete ritual: A rain dance that will not stop until the rain falls. A performance of hope until the pandemic ends. This is what far-reaching significance music, the performances that express it, and the artists up on stage have in the world right now.
Article. Myungseok Kang
Design. Paper Press
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC