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BTS, Facing Uncertain Future, Reunites For Its Last Scheduled Concert

BUSAN — “BTS is back together on stage! What more could I wish for?” said Kim Ji-yeon, 23, who came to see the K-pop supergroup’s concert in her city, Busan. Last year students of the university of applied sciences studied day and night for the official exam, even on weekends. “I had to skip college because tonight might be my last chance to see BTS perform live,” she said.

On Saturday, the septet reunited for its first concert since the surprise announcement in June that the members are taking a break to focus on their solo careers, sending shockwaves across the band’s worldwide fan base.

While K-pop behemoth BTS is on hiatus, its fandom is spinning off

“We were all crying when we announced that our group activities would end and solo activities would follow,” singer V told concertgoers. “And yet here we are again with a concert as a group,” he said. His comments were met with collective “ah”s and “oh”s from disheartened fans, and his bandmates quickly intervened, saying they’re not “quitting” but just taking some time off.

The announcement in June came as the deadline passed for a decision on whether to exempt the band from the country’s mandatory military service. The band’s oldest member, Jin, may be conscripted after turning 30 in December. “For now, this is our last scheduled concert,” Jin said in an emotional voice.

Held free of charge in support of South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World’s Fair in Busan, the concert attracted more than 50,000 fans. Tens of thousands more fans, even without tickets, gathered in various parts of Busan to watch the concert’s live streams on big screens and take photos of the city landmarks lit up in purple, the symbol color of BTS.

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Authorities said the weekend events are expected to attract some 100,000 domestic and international visitors to the southern port city.

As the clock ticks for BTS to sign up, Busan officials worry about losing support for their expo bid from the world’s biggest boy band. The mayor of Busan has even petitioned the central government to exempt BTS from compulsory military service so that the cultural juggernaut can pass as the face of the bid.

Kim, the student in Busan, said she was initially not interested in the expo bid because she wanted her city to focus on long-term issues such as youth unemployment rather than the one-off event. Now she said, “I’m just glad the expo brought my favorite band to my city,” she said.

The “ecstatic” cries of BTS enthusiasts interrupted what could have been a restful weekend for 73-year-old Yoon Jung-sil, who lives in an apartment next to the Busan Asiad Main Stadium. She said the concert was an “administrative trial” for her city, citing traffic congestion and price hikes in the hospitality industry. To prevent the mega event from turning into a logistical nightmare, Busan authorities flew traffic monitoring drones and sent inspection teams to hotels with exorbitant prices.

“I haven’t seen that many foreigners in my area,” Yoon said. “Is it what the expo will look like in Busan?”

While some residents feared the open-air stadium’s songs and cheers would be too loud, rows of fans camped out at the venue’s entrance hoped for just that, to listen to the concert from outside. “Even just hearing their voices from a distance means a lot to me,” said Janie Aquino, one of the desperate fans who lost the “click war” for tickets, but still traveled to the venue — in her case from the Philippines.

Bujhoy Aguila, 40, who flew with Aquino from Manila, said the band’s uplifting songs helped them weather the pandemic gloom. “BTS, they let me live my second childhood,” she said as she fought back tears.

As the superstars entertained the crowd with their catchy tunes, emotional lyrics and finely coordinated dance moves, fireworks erupted in the night sky above the stadium.

“Some say BTS is too old now,” said Suga, the band’s rapper. The 29-year-old said his nearly decade-long career since the group’s debut in 2013 “flashed before my eyes” as he flipped through the concert repertoire. “Let’s grow old together,” he told cheering fans.

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