To no one’s surprise, BTS – one of the world’s most famous boy bands – won the MTV Video Music Award’s inaugural award for Best K-pop group for their song “Boy With Luv.” The septet didn’t attend the ceremony to accept their Moon Man trophy.
While the new category appears to be a nod to the popularity of Korean music in mainstream U.S. pop culture, fans have been vocal that the category is suspicious at best and borderline racist. None of the Korean nominees – not even BTS – were nominated for marquee awards like Video of the Year and Artist of the Year. (BTS were nominated for Best Collaboration (with Halsey), Best Art Direction and Best Choreography.)
It’s not hard to see why the move generated controversy. After all, BTS’ accomplishments have matched or outpaced many American, Canadian and Australian nominees, who weren’t exiled to a nationality-based category. BTS outsold the Jonas Brothers, who’re nominated for Artist of the Year. And not only is the septet the first Korean group to debut with a No. 1 album on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, they’re also the first act since the Beatles to have three No. 1 albums in a 12-month period. That aside, “Boy With Luv” broke all kinds of YouTube records, besting even Taylor Swift.
When the K-pop category was announced last month, many fans pointed out that the inclusion of the award seemed like MTV’s sneaky way of being exclusionary, while trying to ingratiate themselves to the groups’ contingent of loyal fans. (The other nominees were Blackpink, Monsta X, EXO, NCT 127 and TXT.)
Based on the haphazard list of nominees, the organizers didn’t seem to have a solid grasp of Korea’s musical landscape, throwing in random artists who are ethnically Korean. One of the most critically-acclaimed acts, the hip-hop trio Epik High, didn’t even make the list of nominations. Epik High had preceded Blackpink’s Coachella performance with their own benchmark 2016 concert at the music festival, making history as the first Korean group to ever perform there.
Then there’s Monsta X, who were nominated for “Who Do U Love?” – a song sung entirely in English. To add insult to injury, MTV congratulated French Montana – Monsta X’s collaborator – on his nomination without even mentioning the Korean group that made it all possible. MTV did send out a second tweet paying homage to Monsta X shortly thereafter. Oddly enough, the Moroccan-born Montana’s only nomination was in the K-pop field, thanks to his association with Monsta X.
MTV wasn’t unaware of the criticism. A few days ago, they announced a trio of trophies to be voted on by fans: Best Power Anthem, Song of Summer and Best Group. But fans weren’t fooled by the attempt to appease them. Fan-voted awards don’t have the same prestige as awards voted by critics and peers.
This isn’t the first time an awards show embarrassed itself in an attempt to appear hip. The Grammys created the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category in 1989. Instead of awarding the trophy to Metallica or AC/DC, the Grammys awarded the very un-metal progressive rock group Jethro Tull. Metallica would go on to win the following three years.
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