Permission to Let Life Go On

My pilgrimage to see BTS

A deep purple light over a stadium full of people holding light sticks.

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw BTS perform live in LA at the Permission to Dance concerts (Day 1 and Day 2!). Which is weird because it feels simultaneously like it was yesterday and one hundred years ago.

Yes, it has taken me this long to get any real thoughts written out about it. Partly, this is because of all the extenuating negative circumstances that I will write about later, because I wanted to address the happiness first. Partly, because I’m just trapped in my academic writer headspace, which is very much a “me” problem.

My dear friend told me to put my academic hat away and put on my fiction writer hat. She knows me better than I do sometimes. So, here we are and I’m finally bashing out this article that has been stewing since November 27th (some of it even longer, to be perfectly honest).

I am sitting in my home office with my big headphones on, Still with You playing on loop. I often loop songs while I’m writing. Always have. It helps my brain waves or something. I’m sure there’s science to it. Winter has finally caught up to the Bay Area and the house is cool enough that I’m wrapped in a sweater for warmth.

I never thought I would be able to even get tickets to the PTD concert, but I have some amazing mutuals on Twitter that helped me get some for face value and then I was able to snag some on Ticketmaster before the general sale that I split with another friend I made on Twitter. Never, ever underestimate the kindness and generosity of ARMY. I have lots more to say about that, but honestly that’s going to have to be another article.

When I got the Day 1 tickets in a 200 level section, right off the front of the stage, I called my mom to ask her if she wanted to go. She’s ARMY and has never been to a concert like this before (I was raised on lots of classical music concerts). She jokingly said that she would go if they were “dress circle” and when I told her where they were, she was shocked. For a stadium, it’s almost as dress circle as you can get except for maybe in the 100s.

Planet in the sky over central California, north of Los Angeles

We decided to make a weekend of it, with her flying to my place on Thanksgiving to see the kids before we drove down to Southern California. Traffic wasn’t the greatest with it being the holiday weekend, but it was still fun. We made a whole fun weekend of the trip and I’m so grateful we got this opportunity to be together. It was really the first time we had gotten to spend leisure time together like this in years. I also met up with friends while I was in SoCal, which was so lovely. (I did my PhD in Irvine.) Overall, it was a getaway I desperately needed after so much time working and stressing and living in quarantine.

Going to the concerts at all, given that covid is still happening, and many things feel uncertain, was an amazingly easy choice to make. After more than two years of making really difficult decisions, this was cake. We’d quarantined more than most Americans. We lived for a time with my 97 year old grandmother while I was looking for a job. We had to be locked down. When the vaccines became available for adults, we breathed a little easier, but not entirely. We still have children under 5 in the house. We are still making difficult decisions day-to-day about what’s best. However, I knew I needed to see BTS.

I have written about this in other places, such as in my article Strength of Scars. I had struggled for several years to figure out my place in the world after a lot of rejection (and self-doubt). Then the pandemic hit and I was in a really dark place, feeling very lost. As with many ARMY, I found BTS exactly when I needed to — entirely accidentally through TikTok — and their music and message was exactly what I needed to hear. After being ARMY for a while, I dove into ARMY Twitter where I eventually started the Disabled ARMY account. Through that platform I have done a lot of work helping other ARMY (including with concert tickets). To be able to go and see BTS in person was really a dream come true and something my soul deeply needed.

A selfie of a white woman with brown hair and glasses wearing a purple face mask with a stadium full of people holding light sticks behind her.

I was trusting ARMY to be compliant with regulations — to be vaccinated, to take covid tests, to wear their masks at all possible times. Considering the venue didn’t even bother to check vaccine status (or bags or tickets…) at our gate on Day 1, it really was trust in ARMY. Now two weeks out and negative covid tests all around, I am glad my trust was warranted. Even despite the enormous stress the stadium venue put people under and the complete lack of security, I saw masks everywhere I went. The only time someone didn’t have a mask covering their face was when they were eating and drinking. ARMY are an amazing group of people, really.

Meeting ARMY in person was probably half the fun of the entire concert. I got to meet my ult bias, Bock Twt, and spend lots of time with academic ARMY friends I had made online. I also met lots of ARMY while waiting in lines, giving out my little goodie bags and chatting about our common interest. After spending so long having to explain BTS and ARMY to everyone I met, it was surreal to have a whole town full of people that got me.

Seeing and hearing BTS in person was more magical and momentous than I imagined it would be. And I was fully prepared for it to be life altering. I was swept away, screaming and jumping along with ON, Fire, and Idol and crying to We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal and Spring Day. I got chills when I got to see the ‘Save Me’ flip over to ‘I’m Fine.’ I will probably never really fully comprehend that I saw Blue & Grey transition to Black Swan and that magnificent stage. I tried to take some pictures and videos for my kids who I didn’t feel I could bring on such a trip, even though they are budding ARMY. They were excited to hear that their favorite songs were played.

BTS doing the sign for “dance” on stage with confetti streaming down during Permission to Dance (source: Weverse)

I cannot stress the impact that the song Permission to Dance has had in our house. It’s my daughter’s favorite song to calm her down when she’s upset. I wrote an entire piece about what a wonderful gift it was to disabled ARMY. I really can’t express the joy I felt with BTS singing and dancing to PTD live while a stadium full of 50,000 people danced along with the sign language. Euphoric is really the only word that comes close to describing it.

I thought a lot about (you can ask my poor academic ARMY friends who were forced to stand in line with me for hours on Day 2 with me rambling) how we’ve taken our online community and moved to an offline (sort of offline) virtual world. We were all in the shared space with a common understanding of the world around us and the world outside that space was left outside. Our ARMY bombs not only connected us to one another, but also made us all a part of the creation of that virtual world. We, in fact, each of us became a pixel that, when viewed from afar, turned into a beautiful purple ocean. I love that so much.

A stadium full of lights that are purple
The purple ocean of ARMY, with lights spelling out “BTS” and “ARMY”

Here’s a tweet of a video I made from some of the video from my experience. I had made the music box piano cover of Spring Day sometime this past summer and I’ll never get tired of using it as background music.

Now I am home again and grades are submitted for the end of the term. My fingers are cold from typing furiously away at this for the last hour. There is still a lot to process and work through with everything that happened at the venue (and the tumultuous weeks leading up to the concert). After a stressful few years, I feel my soul has been healed, at least a little bit. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and that reminder that this life really does keep going on. For now, I am going to just relive my happy memories of the concerts, enjoy the chaos of a Bangtan vacation, and focus on enjoying every moment.

You can read more about my research around BTS & ARMY on my website!

This article was brought to you by Jungkook’s Still With You.

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