Tuesday, September 10, 2019

[Review] Bring the Soul: Episode 3 "Relationship"

Episode 3 of Bring the Soul was not what I was expecting from the teaser. The theme of the episode was “Relationship” and a scene of Jungkook and Jimin sharing a meal in one of their hotel rooms post-concert had been highlighted, all of which filled me with a sense of dread because I have spent nearly my entire time in this fandom desperately avoiding the delusional former “Larrys” pushing the “Jikook” agenda. Ah, yes, the former One Direction fans and their horrific fandom habits of getting overly invested in the conspiracy theories that say two of the members of the group are actually dating and making babies. It feels like years ago but it was only a few months ago in late June that the Jikook takeover of twitter with #ReceiptNation, posting sasaeng photos and gossip of dubious origins in an attempt to “prove” that the imaginary couple was REALLY IN LOVE.


The one personal thread running through this episode was Jimin’s loneliness as the lone extrovert in a group overflowing with introverts. While the rest of the members seem more or less content to do their own thing in their own hotel rooms--whether that’s playing FIFA, watching YouTube, or whatever--Jimin, in particular, misses the physical closeness of their earlier years. In that scene teased as shipper-bait, Jimin and Jungkook are filmed having dinner together in the hotel and as the soju flows so does Jimin’s loneliness. He laughs a bit, embarrassed, as he tells Jungkook the story of getting blackout drunk and telling the staff how much he missed all his members.

But the “relationship” hinted at in the title of episode 3 wasn’t one endorsed by either side of #ReceiptNation but seemed more like a continuation of the theme from episode 2. What is the relationship between the members of BTS and their careers? Between BTS and their audience?

And this is the meat of the episode. We see what was happening as Bangtan left Los Angeles for Texas and then on to Canada (with the Canadian jaunt filmed for RUN ep 69-71 merely hinted at).

(Words of wisdom from Namjoon. This fame may be a blip but the after effects--the garbage--will linger.)

Episode 3 brings up a disconnect between Bangtan and their audience so big that my heart ached hearing them speak to it. Here’s the thing: the audience for BTS concerts in America (and for Kpop concerts more generally) doesn’t know or care about performance. There’s a reason Kpop groups generally half-ass their choreography and setlists here and it’s because we’re easily impressed by anything. I don’t know if I’ve linked this recently but I will never forget reading the reviews of Big Bang’s 2015 concerts here and wondering if we’d seen the same shows. If you’ll allow me to quote myself:

The review at Jezebel really hammered home how differently people can view the same show. Where the Jezebel review saw an extravaganza of confetti and background dancers, I saw a subdued stage with only a handful of confetti cannon blasts and a minimum of required background dancers. It all depends on where you're coming from. When your baseline for pop act are the slackers of One Direction--who don't even dance--then twelve dancers seems like a lot. When your baseline is a Johnny's & Associates concert featuring sixty-plus backing dancers, many of whom have fans of their own, then twelve feels like the absolute minimum for a decent concert. When you've seen concerts that feature hundreds of multicolored balloons released into the air, water features, harness work, multiple moving stages, random sword fighting, skits involving cross-dressing and robots, and a record-breaking number of backflips in a row, then a couple of confetti cannons and some pyrotechnics feel subdued, rather than cra-zy pop stuff.

And if Bangtan had a competent management team and guidance from people experienced in this market they wouldn’t be grinding their bones into dust sharpening choreography and performance for a western audience whose baseline for appreciation is ONE DIRECTION (who doesn’t even dance).

But Bangtan does not have that. They have a management team who “suggests” sharpening moves after a show that had left the group in a pretty good mood judging by their happy faces and comments.

Does it matter if they perform sloppily if both crowd and group go home happy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If it motivates them to be in the zone on stage instead of feeling like they were “punching through water” as Yoongi put it, then yes. If it induces anxiety over failure, then no.

Because the American crowds will scream either way. And we see the camera linger on the crowd, hidden behind phones, caught mid-shriek, may as well have been ripped directly from This Is Us.

(An English-speaking fan saying how glad she is that Bangtan is always there FOR HER put over footage of the group doing their newly sharpened moves to "DNA". The performance goes unmentioned.)

You see it’s not about Bangtan. That’s the ending message of this episode: it doesn’t matter what they do on stage because the fans will see what they want to and what they want to see, according to the two English-speaking fans interviewed for the episode, is seven woke oppas who are here for us to sheppard us through dark times, agree with all of our opinions (represented by a “...” we can fill in the blanks), and validate our every feeling of micro-injustice served up by a society who doesn’t understand that I’M SPECIAL.

Towards the end of the episode Jin says, “The idea that fans who only see us once a year won’t see us at 100% felt like getting slapped.” The meaning the episode wants us to take from that, I think, is that he’d gotten complacent about performing and the scolding from the staff member was a wake up call. But coming next to the narcissistic statements from the fans it just felt sad. They were up there on stage giving their all to their art and all that Army wants from them is to hold up a mirror back at us in the crowd.

I was at those shows in Hamilton, Ontario (read about it here!) and they were incredible. The atmosphere was warm and I’ve seen enough idol concerts to tell that the members were having a genuinely good time on stage. We even literally hear Jungkook say that these shows in Texas and Canada were great, he’d had a lot of fun, and the audience knew how to have a good time. And yet the mood of the episode was all gloomy music and tragic undertones. Why?

It’s something I feel like it’s worth hammering at again and again because the message never seems to come across to certain parts of fandom but reality shows and documentaries are scripted and edited to tell a story. Jungkook’s GCF in Newark gives his side of the story. What we are watching in this documentary is not objective truth, it is a subjective narrative pieced together from some real events, yes, but editing matters. Music choice matters. The inclusion of certain interview snippets matter. The decision to mix and match interviews from random days and times with no context for the questions was a decision made. The decision to score these happy concerts with wistful or sad songs was a decision made. What we need to ask ourselves is why.

(Jimin eyeing the camera before they begin their dinner.)

Why did they title this episode “relationship” and tease the Jungkook-Jimin dinner? Is it because they know their audience is filled with former Larrys who have moved on to Jikook? And, knowing that, deliberately encouraged Jimin and Jungkook to film a dinner together in order to deliberately include it in the documentary as Jikook bait?

(A cheerful Jungkook post-concert.)

Why was this episode of happy concerts edited together to be so depressing, especially when we know the awful stuff that happens as they death march this tour into Europe? We won’t know the full narrative arc until the end but either they are going to try and whitewash the parade of injury and illness that was Europe 2018 by making this early part of the tour seem far, far worse than it was or it’s just going to get worse from here as we fall down an emotional porn rabbit hole with nothing to grab onto.

Either way, the episode left me feeling sad. And wishing Bangtan had more support--the idea that Park Jimin cannot have his preferred in-ear monitor is just astounding--and better guidance in their journey.

(Edited to remove the mention of Taekook with #ReceiptNation. It was pointed out (kindly) that the hashtag was for JiKookers to post their "receipts" of their relationship after some gossip about Taehyung and Jungkook going to the movies had come out.)


Leffetpopculture said...

Great review,
-I felt really uncomfortable watching this, in the memories 2018 we can see that JK cried after several performances,It's sad to see that his management push this unhealthy perfectionism.
-Namjoon poor guy have to hear all the bad things fist, I wonder if the staff scold him more since it was off camera.
-They don't need to do that much during concerts especially for the western audience, like Ed Sheeran did a stadium tour and he's just standing with his guitar. Performers like BTS are rare, the audience expectations aren't high.They should put more energy in their performances in the americans awards shows not in concerts. Fans wil enjoy no matter what they do on stage, they don't need to exhaust themselves...
To end my comment on a more positive note.
-I'm glad that they change things for the speak yourself tour, there're less choregraphies, I hope this tour was less tiring for them.

Filmi Girl said...

Much appreciated! Thank you for reading!

I agree with all your points. And especially with Jungkook and knowing he is a perfectionist it seemed very cruel to crash his good mood. I didn't explicitly write this but I do wonder how much of that little intervention had been planned by Big Hit for the cameras to generate drama. I was at that show and can for a fact that it went well. Are there always going to be things to improve? Sure! But part of managing a "team" whether sports or anything is celebrating the wins when they come, you know? I just get the feeling the staff had been instructed to do it for the cameras.

And YES! on Speak Yourself. I also noticed that (Anpanman for example) and share your hope that it was less tiring.

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