IF YOU were to tell 12-year-old me that I would travel to California with my sister to see BTS along with 50,000 other fans without my parents finding out, I would’ve called you crazy.
In fact, I call myself crazy, because the idea that we were able to pull off such a lie and experience the best days of our lives dancing and singing to the top of our lungs, while being so close to BTS — and seeing them four times — was not something we could’ve ever dreamed five years ago.
A story this wild doesn’t just start there. I come from a very religious family where simple things like short hair and staying out after dark are forbidden and looked down upon. You can assume from this that listening to “mundane” music, such as BTS, was out of the question from the start.
It’s ironic, though, because if it weren’t for my mom, I would’ve never found out about BTS back in 2017. I probably also wouldn’t have found myself five years later in a merch line before their concert, unnecessarily early in the morning, lying to my mom and telling her that I was back at the Airbnb just barely waking up.
I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s go back to 2017. My mom was running late to pick me up from school, and I didn’t want to be lonely, so I sat with a small group of girls that were all sitting uncomfortably close to each other, just staring at a phone. They showed me the BTS song, “Blood Sweat and Tears,” which they were oddly excited about, and I thought I might as well listen since I had nothing better to do.
As soon as the song played, the flowers bloomed, the seas parted, the stars aligned, and I had an epiphany — I’m just being dramatic, but I did replay the song an unhealthy number of times for a couple of weeks afterward.
I showed the song to Sara, my older sister, and naturally, she became a fan as well. We got really into their music, and by the time their mini-album Love Yourself: Her had come out, we were pretty big fans–or for official purposes, ARMY.
By the end of 2018, my sister and I had become passionate enough about the group that we were ready for our first big act: going to the movie theater.
Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. BTS had released their first documentary, Burn the Stage: The Movie, and we obviously needed to go see it, but of course, our parents couldn’t know.
They didn’t know we listened to BTS, and going to the movies was forbidden, so we had to go in secret. We pretended we had some…errands to run, and that we wouldn’t be home until later that day, and to not call because we would be too…busy.
I mean, we’ve never been caught for doing anything bad before, and we’re relatively good daughters, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise that they didn’t question it. Once we got approval, we were off to the movies.
I was overly excited as well as nervous; I felt like I was on fire, or perhaps that was just Hell finally catching up to me for lying to my mom. Whatever it was, the experience was exhilarating. I felt like I was in a coming-of-age movie where I was a rebellious teenager doing crazy teenager stuff, like lying to parents, and going to the movies.
Don’t laugh; this was serious back then. We had never told a lie that big to our parents before, and you know how these things go: you get away with one lie, then you do it again. So, we did it again, and again, and again and the things we did got crazier each time. We would come up with a new and better lie; it’s a miracle we never got caught.
Soon enough, it was 2020 and BTS’ Map of the Soul tour got announced, and Sara and I knew that we needed to go. It was a crazy idea, and we had no clue how we were going to pull it off, but we agreed that one way or another, we needed to make it work.
Before we even came up with a plan to convince our parents to let us travel out of the state, Sara bought our tickets. Is it a stupid idea to buy tickets for a show you’re not even sure you’re able to attend? Yes, but we didn’t just buy tickets for one show; we bought tickets for three shows. Three shows — with glorious seats, and none of them were even in the same city.
Could we have actually made up a lie big enough and convincing enough for our parents to let us travel while making sure they didn’t find out we were going to a concert? I guess we’ll never know because COVID hit the U.S. almost immediately after.
The tour was put on hold, and the next thing we knew, we were spending a year in quarantine just staring at a screen. BTS would perform online concerts from time to time, but it didn’t feel the same. BTS and ARMY did everything they could to try to distract themselves from the fact that COVID wasn’t leaving any time soon, which meant we weren’t going to see each other in person any time soon.
It was a sad and frustrating year, and just as soon as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the tour was officially canceled. It was the most devastating moment of my life, and my sister’s, too. However, she had a feeling when she got her money refunded, that this wasn’t the end; and she was right.
A few weeks later BTS announced a new tour? No, it doesn’t really count as a tour. There were only four dates all in one stadium in LA. We obviously had to go to all four; tickets were refunded which meant that Sara still had the money saved up, plus the dates were close to each other. Did we really have an excuse not to go?
Yeah, we probably did have a lot of excuses, but we could worry about all of that after we got the tickets. Nothing was more important at that moment than getting those tickets. So, we got ready for war.
Thousands and thousands of ARMY were buying tickets for just four days, and we wanted to go to all of them? It was a crazy idea; we were absolutely crazy, and crazy lucky too. We managed to get presale codes, and after hours spent each day of pre-sale on the verge of tears and peak frustration, we managed to get three out of four sets of tickets.
It was the most stressful experience of my life. Thousands of people crashing a website and too many people taking the seats we wanted. We soon gave up on trying to get super close seats and resorted to picking out random seats, and in the midst of those random seats we bought, we noticed that we accidentally got Gold VIP Soundcheck tickets.
Did we almost throw a tantrum and nearly punch the computer screen while trying to get tickets? Sure, but that didn’t matter because we got Gold VIP Soundcheck tickets. The other tickets were a bit farther away in the crowd but were still really decent seats; especially considering the fact that the website was not functioning the entire time.
Let’s not focus on the negatives. We got the tickets and that’s all that mattered. We agreed to buy our fourth set of tickets from resellers nearing the time of the concert date since buying tickets from the actual website was not an option anymore.
Now that we had the tickets, we had to figure out how we were actually going to attend the concert, and our first challenge was telling our parents.
We had to come up with a plan where they had no say on whether we could or couldn’t go, and after a long time of debating, we had finally decided on what to tell them: Sara has a week-long business trip, and Melissa is tagging along so Sara doesn’t feel lonely.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Melissa, that is the stupidest and most unbelievable lie you could come up with.” And you’re right, but they believed it. In fact, they trusted it so much their only worry was figuring out if we would drive there or fly there.
I mean, think about it. They couldn’t control Sara’s work, and she would’ve been lonely in California for a whole week, and I had done nothing but rot in my room during the eternal COVID lockdown, so this was a good change of scenery.
After we got their approval, we immediately started to search for housing, clothes, and enough food to survive a week in California plus four concert nights. Luckily, we had Sara’s friend, Lulu, who agreed to be our travel buddy during the trip since she was also attending the concert.
With her help, we were able to find a house for a relatively cheap price and also figured out how to feed ourselves for a week — huge thank you to Lulu.
It was a lot of work, and it took too much brain power, but it was all planned a few days before we left. Housing and food were set, transportation was set, and clothes were set (which were super cute, may I add). At that point, we just had to pack and go.
Soon enough it was the day of departure, and Sara and I woke up at 4 a.m. to go to the airport. I was so sleep-deprived and nervous that it’s surprising I didn’t pass out. It was the first time Sara and I were getting on a plane after almost a decade, and it’s weird to think we were doing it to go to a concert.
At our first stop in Oakland, things were starting to feel real. We were in a different state, in a different time zone, and suddenly everyone around us was heading to the same place: LA, to see BTS. I mean, it was ridiculous; you couldn’t pass by someone without hearing them talk about BTS, but it felt comforting, and honestly, a bit silly too.
As we flew over LA, everything started to dawn on me. Everything that we had done to get here and everything that we were about to do. It was the craziest thing we could have pulled, but we were flying over LA, and we were able to see the ridiculously big stadium from up in the sky.
At that moment I knew that this was real and that we were actually doing this.
However, once we arrived, we encountered our first real problem: getting to the Airbnb. After a very long time and a $39 Uber ride, we got there and started to unpack and wait for our groceries to be delivered. Then, we faced our second and biggest problem: LA has no drinking water.
We tried ordering a pack of bottled water multiple times from several grocery stores, and they were all out of stock. So, in the meantime, we decided to buy Capri Suns — they didn’t have those either. Gatorade? Nope, out of stock on all flavors. But they did have a 30 pack of thick, sour, throat-damaging Sunny D…Perfect.
I won’t lie to you; I did get on a phone call and sobbed out of frustration while my saliva was thick, and my lips burned from the bottle of Sunny D I had to drink.
We woke up the next day at 7 a.m. and we went to a nearby 7-11 to buy water. As soon as we got home, Sara made breakfast and I chugged down water while getting ready.
Once we were done and looking cute, we headed over to the venue. It was 1 p.m., and considering that we had soundcheck tickets, we were already late. We got to the venue and saw the huge crowd of people all lining up in different areas around the outside of the stadium. Now things were getting real. Some people were lined up for photos, others for merch, a few were already in line to get in, and then there was the two-hour long bathroom line, which we joined right after we got our VIP badges. After that, we didn’t have time for anything else so we just got in line for soundcheck.You’d go inside the venue (not the seating area, mind you) to then sit on the ground, because there was no other option until you were called to get seated. So, we just sat there and waited.
There was no reception the entire time.
Later than sooner, it was time to go in. Walking inside felt surreal, and I’m saying this mostly because I don’t have any recollection of the 15-minute process to get our free gifts and walk down six stories to our seats. We got to the floor, and at that point I was dizzy. I know I had several moments where I thought the whole experience felt real but walking to my seat — that was too real. Sitting down and watching the time get closer was overwhelming. My heart was racing, my head was pounding, and then the soundcheck started.
Seven boys come out onto the stage. As soon as I saw them, all events that led to this moment seemed so irrelevant. It didn’t matter that my feet ached and that the air was getting colder. It didn’t matter that my mom could’ve called me at any moment saying, “Where are you? Send me photos.” It didn’t matter that my eyes still stung and felt puffy from sobbing all night because we had no water.
The planning, the stress, the trip, the overwhelming number of firsts we encountered all before this moment felt so insignificant, and I had forgotten all about them. Because BTS were a few yards in front of me, and they were real. They were real, and I saw them. Not behind a screen, not through videos that other people took, but with my own eyes.
They were all there, and I could see them so clearly. They were singing their songs and having so much fun, and they looked so amazing and so beautiful and so…tall?!
I mean they were giants. I tried to keep track of seven giants running around a stage while trying to adjust to the loud sound of the music and still trying to convince myself that they were real.
And then, they were gone.
My eyesight turned liquid immediately. Were three songs really over that fast? Did they actually perform three songs? Why could I not remember a single thing? Did I not fully experience it?
I knew nothing other than the fact that my cheeks were soaked, and Kim Seokjin was the most beautiful—….
“MELISSA, WE JUST SAW BTS,” Sara’s grip on my shoulder could’ve broken a bone. She was crying too, or maybe those were just my own tears confusing me. I’m not even sure I replied, but I grabbed my phone immediately after, and FaceTimed my best friend, sobbing.
“Britney, they were REAL. I saw them. They were right there. RIGHT THERE. Britney, they were real, and I saw them…Okay, we’re gonna go eat now. Bye.”
So, $13 chicken tenders.
Reality check hit fast. We had just seen the dreamiest men on earth, and now Sara was getting us four chicken tenders with tater tots to share for $13…plus tip.
Sara was the first to break the silence, “Do you remember anything?”
After we had eaten, we went back up the six stories to attempt to get merch, and we unsurprisingly failed, so we went back down again to rest. After soundcheck, we had over an hour until the concert actually started, and we spent it all eating two chicken tenders each and going up then down six stories until we were back to our seats.
Next thing I knew, I was standing up with my lightstick–ARMY bomb–shining bright, and I was screaming at the top of my lungs while trying to retain a steady grip on my phone that was recording.
I’ve never heard sounds so diabolical come out of me before. I was screaming like I was responsible for the cheers of everyone in the stadium. Every now and then, however, I would take a moment to let it all sink in, and I would look at the boys on stage, and then I would turn around and look at all the other 50,000 people in the stadium. I would stare at how pretty all the lights looked when they were synchronized, I would listen to how loud everyone was.
I was overwhelmingly happy that as soon as the final song, “Permission to Dance,” started playing, I got so emotional that I called my best friend once more.
It was a bittersweet moment. I had lived the best night of my life, but sometimes throughout the night I would feel a bit sad that I wasn’t able to turn around and dramatically squeeze Britney’s hand to yell in her ear, “THAT’S THE SONG YOU LIKED.”
The most I could do was FaceTime her, and show her the pretty lights and the confetti, or maybe just colorful pixels— the reception was awful.
When the boys were gone, and the crowd had quieted down, my sister and I were showing Britney the confetti and attempted to decipher what she was saying over the loud background music.
“ I [inaudible] con—”
“OH, YOU WANT CONFETTI?”
“OKAY, WE’RE GONNA GET YOU CONFETTI. BYE.”
After we were done picking up confetti and everything was really over, we went up the ramp one final time. I won’t lie, it was not a sentimental experience at all. My feet were about to fall off and the hunger I felt was unbearable.
My sister seemed to be doing worse than me and repeatedly said, “Good thing we didn’t get multiple floor tickets because I wouldn’t have been able to do this again.” I mean, is it really that difficult to have an escalator?!
We were going up those damned six floors just to aimlessly walk around outside in the cold while trying to find our travel buddy to then stand in line for an eternity just to take a shuttle back to our car.
We were outside in sketchy LA trying to get food at ungodly hours, and by the time we were home, I gave up on looking at the time. It was a nightmare, and I felt like I was ready to die — but no, that didn’t matter because I did it all over again the next day, and I honestly can’t remember any of the issues we faced before the second show.
Was it a struggle? Yes, but would I do it again and again and again each time just to experience the show once more? Of course.
Each day was magical in its own way, and whatever problems I had before or after just disappeared as soon as the lights in the stadium went down and all the ARMY bombs lit up in their mesmerizing colors. Each show was unique, and being able to experience it all with my sister after years of being in the fandom made it so much more worth it.