January 31st of 2021. A date marked down by fans of K-Pop group BTS as they wait in anticipation for the night. The annual Grammy Awards had announced their nominees for each category and fans of the K-Pop group had been nothing but prouder to see that BTS had been shortlisted as a possible winner under Best Pop Duo / Group Performance with their 2020 single Dynamite, making them the first K-Pop group to receive a Grammy nomination.
BTS have seen an abundance of success dating back in 2016 with their May release Fire, leading them onto the ever-flowing Hallyu Wave, making them a staple household name not only in Asia, but in the West as well. Performing at both the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards in 2017, as well as making appearances on multiple talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as well as The Late Late Show with James Corden, BTS have gained a wider audience and peaked enough people’s interests with their music and personalities, that it earned them multiple invites over the years- allowing for fellow K-Pop groups NCT 127 and BLACKPINK alike to make appearances too.
However, with that much success and a strong fanbase backing them, some fans expressed that they wished for the Academy Awards to introduce a category solely for K-Pop acts. But, with that suggestion, a clear divide in opinion amongst fans has been made: if the Grammys created a K-Pop category, would it not only marginalise K-Pop acts, treating them less than their Western competitors, despite doing just as well- if not better- than them in the global charts? The tweet that sparked this debate from Los Angeles Times questioned:
“Will the Grammys ever get a dedicated K-pop category? It is, after all, a perennial complaint in fandom.” @latimes
Despite the suggestion being made, it is completely valid to see why there wouldn’t be a K-Pop category at the Academy Awards. K-Pop’s success in the west has served a purpose of showing Asian representation in a world of media that hasn’t accepted it positively. Asians in the West have been stereotyped severely for decades, not only in music, but in the world of film alike- a famous example being of the “Dragon Lady” stereotype placed upon Asian women dating as far back as the 1930s.
Within the world of music in the West, there have been very little prominent Asian musicians that have garnered this much attention, which is surprising when you remember that Asia is home to 48 countries which itself has a diverse range of media to view and cultures to appreciate. Asian music outside of K-Pop have been breaking into mainstream media recently with the company 88rising being at the forefront. Homing artists such as Dumbfoundead, NIKI, Joji, Rich Brian and many more, the company has gained a lot of popularity with the founder Sean Miyashiro expressing that he hopes it (88rising) can bridge the gap between Asian and American music.
With that being said, if Music Academy Award shows started introducing K-Pop categories, what would that mean for these rising Asian musicians- knowing the history of racism across the board of entertainment media? Artists such as BLACKPINK missed out on nominations at the 2021 Grammys when eligible for Best New Artist whilst Rina Sawayama had been completely disregarded by the Academy under multiple categories such as Record or Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Rock Song / Performance and even Best Alternative Album. Even if these snubs weren’t a race issue, there has been a blatant disregard towards their hard work, making it hard to believe whether there is a true space for Asian artists within main categories of western music award shows. What would that mean for fellow K-Pop groups alike, when there are groups such as GOT7 and LOONA winning Best Worldwide Act and Best Korean Act at the MTV EMAs respectively? It only becomes a question as to just how much are the West willing to take Asian artists not-based in America- into account when choosing nominees for major categories when they do just as well in international charts and sales.
Creating K-Pop categories at Western Academy Award shows could dismally work parallel in the same way it did at the 2018 Golden Globes, with Jordan Peele’s Social-Thriller Get Out being nominated under the Musical and Comedy Motion Picture category. The nominations finding themselves lost in categories that don’t best fit their work nor their potential or achievements- marginalising and underestimating their successes as well as the weight of their impact. If there has to be categories made for specific minority groups, whether it be Black Film or Asian Music, it not only defeats the sole purpose of representation, and further reinforces the idea that People of Colour have to work twice as hard to be able to be nominated in categories that are universal. Proving the point that there is no room for real representation for minorities at the Academy Awards.
Whether K-Pop categories are introduced at award shows in the west or not, it is evident that there are many factors to consider with the possible effects and outcomes with fellow Asian nominees in mind. Despite all of this, it is an incredible achievement that BTS have accomplished as the first K-Pop group to be nominated for a Grammy, the members themselves saying back in 2018 that it was one of their goals as artists to win such an award- making a statement on behalf of the K-Pop industry.
By Nicole Ndlovu