Review: ‘The Tonight Show’ hosts K-pop sensation BTS for a perfectly fine late-night stunt


Dear diary —

Monday, 11;15 p.m. ET. BTS are about to take over NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon!” So exciting! I have yet to knowingly hear their music, but it’s not everybody who gets an entire hour of “The Tonight Show” dedicated just to them. I can’t sleep! I have been assigned to watch and report on this thing and, literally, I can’t! Tuesday they’ll be doing Carpool Karaoke on “The Late Late Show With James Corden”; I may sleep then. (Or maybe not!)

Of all late night hosts, Fallon, who can sing and dance and is still basically a 16-year-old boy, is the nearest thing to the member of a boy band. So this all makes a certain sense.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, BTS are by many metrics bigger than the Beatles, a band from the 1960s I will tell you about sometime, and their appearance on “The Tonight Show” likely benefits “The Tonight Show” more than it does BTS, though it has been timed to the release of “Map of the Soul: 7.” As you may or may not already know, its members — Jungkook, Jimin, RM, SUGA, J-Hope, Jin and V, not necessarily in that order — range in age from 21 to 26; BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates from Korean as Bulletproof Boy Scouts, but also for Beyond the Scene, and they have been around since 2013; a fact that makes me feel not only old but out of it.

I can also tell you that the show we are about to see was assembled sometime earlier. But that is normal television magic! I may not know much about 21st century K-pop, but I know a thing or two about TV.


11:35 p.m. Where are BTS? Here’s Fallon in front of 30 Rock talking about taking the show “underground,” into the subway: “Nothing like this has ever been done before.” Here he goes down to the F train, to a car with a small audience and the Roots! Subway jokes follow: “The first time New Yorkers have ever been excited to see seven guys get on a packed subway.” We’ll be spending “one hour together, or as it’s known on the subway, two stops. It’s cramped, it’s loud and there’s no view — if this were a New York City apartment it would cost three thousand a month.” Then come the “thank you notes” (“Thank you, accidentally falling asleep on the subway, [the reason] every New Yorker has visited Coney Island at least once.”)

11:40 p.m. Freestyling with the Roots, “subway edition.” The “Tonight Show” house band makes up songs about audience members in New York styles: the Ramones, Billy Joel. The game’s third (surprise, planted) guest is Rev Run. (I guess BTS won’t bethe night’s sole guest.) A brief romp through Run-DMC’s “Here We Go,” with vocals thrown between Run, Fallon and the Roots’ Black Thought, closes the segment with “Tonight Show”-patented party vibe.

11:52 p.m. Finally! Here are BTS! They have the smooth glow of youth and the theatrical patina of a pop group. They’re friendly and polite. The lesson of this section is that it’s hard to interview seven people at once and get anything like an interesting answer. What do we learn? “Home Alone” is a classic in Korea. “Every day is a surprise.” RM, who was the first Bulletproof Boy Scout, and whose command of English makes him doubly seem the leader, was only wearing his underwear when Jungkoo first met him. (Apparently there was a lot of walking around in one’s underwear back then.) The “7” in the new album title stands for the seven members, the seven years they’ve been together. In some way that I don’t understand, it’s considered a “reboot.” (“On,” the title of a new song, is “No,” the title of an old one, spelled backwards.). The band is successful because they “send messages that people in their teens, twenties and thirties can all relate to.” Questions tweeted by fans include the classic: “Which comes first, the melody or the lyrics?” (It’s the beats.) Someone wants to know about the “black bean noodle incident.” (RM told the band he was going to the restroom, but went to eat noodles; he was back in a few minutes. It’s not much of a story.) What else did we learn? They would like to meet John Cena.

12:00 a.m. Tina Fey shoots a video selfie walking through the subway, talking about how she thought she’d be recognized on the train in her early “SNL” days. “No one cared then; no one cares now. That’s why I love New York.”

12:07 a.m. Fallon and BTS engage in “Subway Olympics.” (Maybe these games are regular features of “The Tonight Show.” It’s been awhile since I watched — you see, this BTS thing makes sense.) Round 1: Knock a rubber duck off the back of your opponent’s hand without dropping yours. Round 2: “Dance Your Shades and Gloves Off.” (What it says.) Round 3: Something to do with Post-It notes. I wasn’t paying attention. BTS wins!


12:10 a.m. Lin-Manuel Miranda doing that subway selfie thing.

12: 16 a.m. BTS are back! Around a table at Katz’s deli down on Houston Street. “We’re going to feed the crap out of you,” says owner Jake Dell. (No one asks why he has not changed his name to Jake Deli.) Fallon wonders if any of the band has ever seen “When Harry Met Sally…,” which has that famous Meg Ryan scene. None has, or has evidently even heard of it. RM is amazed by the portions. We learn that spicy fried chicken and beer are a popular late-night treat in South Korea. The band makes sandwiches, supposedly. Fallon serves them.

12:19 a.m. Fran Lebowitz, in another selfie interlude, recounts seeing a baby drop its pacifier on the subway floor and its mother putting it back in its mouth: “If I dropped the Hope Diamond on the floor of a subway car, it would stay there.”

12:25 a.m. Showtime! In an otherwise empty Grand Central Station — so clean! — BTS and a corps of dancers and drummers perform “On.” They sing their hearts out, with fashionable vocal processing, and break out moves that go back to Michael Jackson. They work hard and are breathing heavily by the end. Brotherly hugs. A reverberant silence unusual for television ensues, quickly broken by Fallon: “That was amazing, oh my God!” I have now heard at least one song by BTS! It was perfectly fine!

12:35 a.m. Under credits, the drum and brass group plays, and everyone dances freestyle, the least massaged moment of the hour. “New York City, we love you,” says Fallon, next seen getting back on a train, by himself, and waving through the window as it pulls away. BTS are presumably back at the hotel, or still dancing on the main concourse.

Final thought: An actual takeover of “The Tonight Show” by an Asian pop group would be pretty cool. But this was more a takeover of an Asian pop group by “The Tonight Show.”

Next stop: Carpool Karaoke! (I will watch it.)