By Nadine Kam I
You never have to guess how the BTS ARMY is feeling. When winners of the Grammy Awards 2021 were announced on March 13, leaving the South Korean pop idols empty-handed, ARMY was quick to dub the awards show The Scammys, which quickly began trending on Twitter, drowning out the Grammys own hashtag.
In a first for the awards, the Kpop group was nominated in the category of “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” for “Dynamite,” a category eventually won by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s performance of “Rain on Me,” a song BTS fans complained they’d never even heard of. As one fan tweeted, “What I’m most upset about is that they lost in a PERFORMANCE category … think what you want about the song, but no one could outperform BTS.”
Others complained of the Grammys using BTS for clout, accusing the organization of making a big deal over the group’s nomination to bolster the award show’s falling ratings, down about 8 million, or 53 percent this year from last year after fans tuned out in droves after learning BTS did not win. Those who wanted to watch BTS’s performance were additionally irate that BTS performed at the end of the show, which forced ARMY members to stay through the end.
Fans of other artists also joined the chorus in calling the Academy out for perceived snubs and biases.
It has long been BTS’s dream to win a Grammy Award, the final grail in their remarkable seven-year journey. So it was most heartbreaking for me when, in learning of their defeat, Suga said they would just have to try harder next year. As much as I would like to be optimistic for them, knowing they are hard-working and fully capable of writing and producing blockbuster songs that blow the competition out of the water, I have no faith in a system that only serves to protect the status quo. Among the gatekeepers are the scores of singers, songwriters, performers and musicians, who are not likely to open their arms to welcome foreign upstarts who can rightfully displace them.
They are right to be wary of South Korean songwriters, performers and producers who can dance circles around them. Why is this so? In a 2008 The Violinist discussion of the high numbers of Chinese and South Korean students filling American music institutions, a Philip Yang, who grew up in South Korea, wrote, “The vast majority of Korean kids start to take piano lessons by 4-5 years of age, and as they get older many of them pick up another instrument or two. General music education in public elementary schools is quite intensive compared to that in the US; by the time they reach middle school, they’re expected to read music, know basic music theory, and become reasonably proficient on an instrument. The intensity of secondary school education usually prevents many people from becoming professional musicians, but the musical background is usually solid.”
Although Kpop idols are often perceived in this country as singing, dancing automatons trained to do one thing, nothing is further from the truth. Many are symphony-quality musicians versed in playing two, three or more instruments. They write and produce their own music. Americans have every right to be fearful. Kpop’s popularity is not contained to South Korea, but reaches every corner of the globe, threatening Western hegemony.
If there were real interest in awarding BTS a Grammy, I think it would have started with nominating “On,” a powerful and meaningful song with an equally dynamic performance aspect that would have been impossible to beat. In comparison, “Dynamite” was a popular song, but to the trained, critical ear, a mere trifle.
So how to overcome these slights and biases? I happened to be watching a livestream of DKDKTV’s reflections on the Grammys, and at one point, show host David Kim raised a tantalizing possibility. He asked, “What if Google or Apple started their own music awards?
“Wow! If I had any knowledge of the inner workings of computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, I would be on it. There could be two awards, one that measures popularity through pure numbers, sales, downloads, etc. On sheer popularity and numbers, BTS can’t be beat. The other award would gauge something harder to be objective about, artistry.
But certainly the technology exists to do that. Through A.I., a computer could learn to sort through good and bad with the input of a 100-year history of pop music, music theory, music criticism and weigh originality and the juxtaposition of lyrics and mood as established by mathematical theory to come up with “winners.” The idea is so intriguing to me as a means of eliminating any human bias, racism and favoritism. There could be awards in every country, as well as global winners.
With the computational ability available to us today, I think this could happen and I would love to see the results. Unfortunately, I don’t think this day will arrive before BTS must enter the South Korean military, and what happens after their term of duty is over is anyone’s guess.
Thanks for indulging my thoughts!
Top photo: Jungkook is front and center during BTS’s 2021 Grammy performance.