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BTS Bring the Fire and Set the Night Alight on MTV Unplugged: Review

on February 23, 2021, 9:30pm
 

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: Recently, there’s been a growing divide between millennials and gen-z: side parts and skinny jeans are out. Different emojis are in. End up on the wrong end of the divide, and you’re in a tough spot.

MTV Unplugged feels much more associated with the millennials, first airing in 1989 and rising to prominence in the ‘90s, ushering in many performances that have since become the stuff of legend. In 1992, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album became the best-selling live album of all time. Mariah Carey’s episode marked a shift in her public reception and launched her cover of “I’ll Be There” to No. 1. MTV as a whole now often feels associated with a nostalgic time of TRL, flannels, and Blockbuster, but rest assured, millennials — if BTS is doing it, it’s still cool.

The members of the septet — RM, Jin, SUGA, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — have now joined the ranks of the pop culture icons that preceded them with a five-song set, the majority of which was sung in Korean. While they are certainly not the first international group to appear on the show, which has heavily featured artists from around the globe since its inception, they are the first Korean act. As usual, the BTS boys brought their A-game to their latest “first.”

Can You Hear the Bass Boom? I’m Ready: The opening of “Telepathy” marked the first time the group have performed the upbeat track from their most recent album, November’s BE. The boys have a knack for keeping their virtual performances new and exciting, refusing to let their distance from an audience push them into anything repetitive or mundane. “Telepathy” featured the members in an arcade, leaning into the nostalgic energy of the program. Why were they all wearing something that featured Donald Duck in some capacity? Not sure! Was it incredibly charming nonetheless? Absolutely! Will I probably spend a few days wondering if this holds any significance for things to come? Of course I will!

In introductory comments, RM and Jimin expressed their delight at appearing on the “legendary” program before highlighting the return of SUGA, who had been absent from group activities in recent months following a shoulder surgery. “We are seven,” J-Hope exclaimed, with all the members visibly happy to be performing as a whole again. They continued with a sharp turn to “Blue & Grey”, the introspective ballad also making its performance debut on the program, in a set flooded with light and filled with greenery. This song is particularly special to V, who took part in writing it, but Jimin and Jin also soared in their upper registers, offering lush harmonies throughout.


Let’s Rock & Roll: Covers are frequently featured on “MTV Unplugged,” and BTS surprised everyone with a nod to another chart-topping group, selecting Coldplay’s 2005 hit “Fix You” in a moment that especially allowed their four vocalists to shine. Jungkook seems committed to constantly outdoing himself, especially vocally, and this song choice put it all on display. It’s also worth mentioning that there have been few other recent performances that showcase Jin’s expansive range better than this one: he dexterously slipped from lower harmonies to his breathy falsetto with a trademark smile. Coldplay should be proud of these guys.

The song choice feels deeper than just the great vocal display, though — the lyrics in “Fix You”, which focus on comfort, consolation, and reassurance, feel akin to many songs within the massive BTS catalogue: “Spring Day”, “Mikrokosmos”, and “Stay Gold” come to mind. In a time fraught with worry, BTS have only continued to dig deeper into their reputation as a source of comfort, hope, and joy. This performance was yet another love letter to those that seek BTS out when things get difficult, perfect to tuck away and treasure until the next cloudy day.

For their last two songs, BTS wisely reunited with Ghost, the live band that has supported the group for years and is notably featured on some of their most high-profile performances, SNL and NPR’s Tiny Desk included. The four musicians that make up Ghost inject an electric feel into their arrangements, toying around with chord progressions and riffs that make now familiar songs like “Life Goes On” and “Dynamite” feel exciting and new again. It was just August that BTS performed “Dynamite” for the very first time on MTV at the 2020 VMAs, launching the already massive hit into the stratosphere, and in these few short months since then, the song has been stapled to the charts and unforgettably yielded the group’s first Grammy nomination.

The only downside of the evening? We are facing yet another day without a performance or music video for “Dis-ease”, the standout track from BE that landed on our Top 50 Songs of 2020 list. ARMY, apply your clown makeup with me as I once again convince myself that they are holding off on performing this song because something bigger is coming for this absolute masterpiece of a bop. (As always, if I’m wrong, you never saw this.)

A Little Funk, A Lot of Soul: BTS appearing on such a renowned program within the music industry as MTV Unplugged is no small feat (which the members themselves acknowledged humbly over and over again throughout the night), and it’s exciting to see the group sign their seven signatures into yet another chapter of the pop history books. Closing out with “Life Goes On” and “Dynamite” served as a reminder of the two songs that finally sent the group to No. 1, a victory that felt correct, earned, and overdue all at the same time.

There will always be people who like to say things were better back in their day — you can find them every weekend, bemoaning a new episode of Saturday Night Live, insisting that the show hasn’t been funny since the original cast. You can also find them in the comments of announcements like the one for BTS’s appearance on Unplugged, hitting send on self-congratulatory posts asking how this group they’ve never heard of could possibly be performing on a channel that was so much better in their time. If BTS leaves the listener with anything, though, it’s a spirit of welcoming and the encouragement to keep moving forward despite the naysayers. It’s not too late to join the party! Because being exclusive and snobby? These days, that’s like a side part — it’s just not cool.

Setlist
Telepathy
Blue & Grey
Fix You (Coldplay cover)
Life Goes On
Dynamite

If you’ve been enjoying our coverage of bands like BTS and want to help a good cause, pick up one of our #K-Pop Stans t-shirts. We will be donating 50% of all net proceeds from this shirt to BTS and UNICEF’s ongoing LOVE MYSELF campaign, which aims at ensuring children and teens in the world lead safe and healthy lives without the fear of violence.