BTS: Forever Miss Congeniality at U.S. music award shows?

By Nadine Kam  I  

BTS members often joke that whatever rapper Suga wants, Suga gets because of his privilege as a strong song writer and music producer. So when the group appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon on Sept. 26 and Suga said his next goal was to go to the Grammys, I considered it a done deal.

Given the global record-breaking successes of the group’s two albums this year, “Love Yourself: Tear” and “Love Yourself: Answer,” it could be considered a natural followup to this year’s Billboard and American Music Award wins as Top Social Artist and Favorite Social Artist, respectively, plus 37 awards in Korea (to date, the awards season continues into 2019), and 38 other American and international awards.

BTS performance of “Idol” at South Korea’s Melon Music Awards show Dec. 1 opened with a nod to traditional Korean dance.

So, yes, news of their Grammy nomination broke … but instead of a nomination for music, it was one for packaging. That’s sort of the equivalent to the Miss Congeniality award at beauty pageants. It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s far from being deemed the total package. Many of the awards they received outside of Korea were of this nature: Fandom of the Year at the MTV Millenial Awards, Choice Fandom at the Teen Choice Awards, Fan Fave Duo or Group at the iHeartRadio Awards. Only at the E! People’s Choice Awards did they win Group of the Year, and Song and Video of the Year for “Idol,” but that was due to their powerful, millions-strong voting Army.

I have noted before that part of the reason I started this blog was because of the xenophobic reaction of many Americans while BTS toured this country. It seems it’s not enough to make great artistic and popular music if you’re not from here. While garden-variety xenophobes might be expected to criticize BTS for not singing in English, that sentiment also came from well-meaning fans who asked them when we might expect an English album from them, without understanding the racist implication of suggesting we are the dominant culture that requires those from other nations to bow down to our needs and desires.

That is so ridiculous. Do they think that when American musicians perform in South Korea that it’s OK for Koreans to ask them when are they going to start singing in Korean?

It wouldn’t happen because there, it’s understood that language is the essence of their being and artistry, in which they are able to express their deepest thoughts.

If you have some time, this video shows their full performance at Melon, which included “Fake Love” and “Airplane Pt. 2.”

In light of the offense taken by fans on behalf of BTS—who understand their position as groundbreakers and have the fortitude to take the long view—Billboard wrote that it is indeed an honor to be considered for any Grammy at all. From this small step, a full nomination may come in years ahead. Certainly, BTS is on every conscious person’s radar and it showed that the nominating Recording Academy is aware of the group’s many record-breaking accomplishments this year.

But the problem of nomination comes from the whole caterogization of K-pop itself. To lump all South Korean groups together is easier than separating them into various genres, but what started as an identifier for the Korean music industry and culture now has become something of a liability. It has become a ghetto of a label for musicians who would otherwise be categorized as rap, hip-hop, pop, R&B or EDM artists.
BTS might be considered all of the above, which makes it difficult for old-school Grammy committees accustomed to checking off one genre per artist. Looking at the categories available at this moment the one that they would fit most easily is that of World Music. But though they sing in the Korean language, the music itself a thoroughly Westernized amalgam of the genres I mentioned above. 

Because of K-pop bands large number of members, they have expertise in many styles, making their music extremely sophisticated, diverse and hard to confine to any one particular genre. And, it would be impossible to add K-pop as a genre in itself without opening an international can of worms because every country has its own music style. People would start asking, how about J-pop or C-pop. Even as Americans, it’s been difficult to keep Hawaiian music as a genre.

As much as I would have loved to see BTS pick up a music nomination, they are breaking ground against some serious odds in a nation divided between the welcoming and the close-minded. If not today, maybe tomorrow will bring enlightenment.

From the Grammy website, here’s some information about their nominating and voting processes in the words of the Recording Academy:

Screening
Reviewing sessions by more than 350 experts in various fields are held to ensure that entered recordings meet specific qualifications and have been placed in appropriate fields such as Rock, R&B, Jazz, Country, Gospel, New Age, Rap, Classical and Latin, among others. The purpose of screenings is not to make artistic or technical judgments about the recordings, but rather to make sure that each entry is eligible and placed in its proper category.

Nominating
First-round ballots are sent to voting members in good dues standing. To help ensure the quality of the voting, members are directed to vote only in their areas of expertise; they may vote in up to 15 categories in the genre fields plus the four categories of the General Field (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist.) 

Special Nominating Committees
In craft and other specialized categories, final nominations are determined by national nomination review committees comprised of voting members from all of The Academy’s Chapter cities.

Final Voting
Final-round ballots are sent to voting members in good dues standing. The finalists determined by the special nominating committees are also included in this ballot. In this final round, Recording Academy members may vote in up to 15 categories in the genre fields plus the four categories of the General Field (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist.) 

BTS milestones 2018: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrolli/2018/05/31/bts-love-yourself-tear-10-records/#1f5fb7ddcd46

https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/8473971/bts-most-simultaneous-hits-world-digital-song-sales

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