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BTS’s Show in Saudi Arabia: A cultural game changer or otherwise?

BTS’ first show after their vacation was held in Saudi Arabia yesterday (11 Oct). Could it be a cultural game changer?

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — South Korean boy band Bangtan Boys, who are commonly known by their stage moniker BTS, held their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself show in Saudi Arabia, at the King Fahd International Stadium yesterday (11 Oct).

Though this concert was highly anticipated. But it was also contested by many. 

The group and their label faced harsh criticism and backlash for their decision to perform in a state often condemned for their human rights abuses.

Prior to BTS’ confirmation, Nicki Minaj pulled out of her Saudi Arabia concert to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community. For these reasons, Big Hit Entertainment’s decision to have BTS perform stirred up some negative sentiments from fans.

This is because BTS pride themselves with the tagline of “Love Yourself”, but it is important to note that Saudi Arabia is known for criminalising same-sex relationships, having suppressed women and restricting the freedom of expression.

In response to this, Ji-min mentioned, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, that they would be happy to perform where their fans, ARMY, want to see them. Leader RM, whose real name is Kim Nam-joon, said that this was an official invitation, and added that the decision to perform in Saudi was not easy after all.

But the culturally-sensitive lads did make alterations to certain segments of the show.

For instance, they stopped the rehearsals and also cut off the music playing from the looping music videos during prayer time (Maghrib and Isha).

They modified their choreography to something for their audience. No ab-flashing nor hip thrusts were seen.

During the live performance for “Silver Spoon”, member J-Hope was seen sending hearts at the audience instead of his usual hip thrusts.

At the end of the show, members replaced their usual bow with simple waves as a sign of respect for the Muslim community.

For fans, the show was not something they would have expected to see in Saudi Arabia. However, most, if not all, are thankful to have caught the septet’s stellar performance.

“Besides the fact that BTS is one of the very few Korean-pop acts to hold a major concert here in Saudi Arabia, the highlight is that the lads, as well as the production team, showed respect to the religion and culture that this country has,” says Leah Bautista, 28, a local ARMY who was present for the show yesterday (11 Oct).

There is no doubt that the members and their ARMY had a memorable night that evening, but the political impact of the concert remains to be seriously considered.

What do you think about it? Is BTS’s Love Yourself: Speak Yourself concert in Saudi Arabia a cultural game changer, or otherwise?

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