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Met halfway: why BTS cannot sing victory yet

By Robert Lucchesi

If you tuned in to the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s) for Lizzo, Taylor Swift, or Normani, then you tuned in for all the right reasons. If you were watching the VMA’s to see BTS at the award ceremony, you were probably more than a little disappointed by their absence, as well as the controversy surrounding their win in the Best K-Pop category. Several sources, such as Varietyand Refinery 29, weighed in on the topic. 

BTS, currently one of the most popular and widely known K-Pop groups in the world, was given the award for Best K-Pop at the VMA’s. This may seem relatively unimportant to most. Who would’ve thought an entire category for K-Pop? However, most fans and VMA viewers have found a big problem with this seemingly expected win. Why the need to make an entire category for K-Pop? Twitter went into an uproar about the award, getting the hashtag, #VMARacist, trending.

But why all the fuss? They still won, right? Yes, and it’s great that mainstream award shows are beginning to recognize more acts from different cultures.However, BTS was also nominated for Best Collaboration, Best Choreography, and Best Art Direction. The group was breezed past several of the main categories, such as Artist of the Year, Video of the Year, Song of the Year, and Artist of the Year, despite the group’s clear success in each of those categories. The group’s music video for “Boy With Love” hit over 500 million views, beating out Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down,” which hit just over 120 million views. They also surpassed  several of the Artist of the Year nominees in album sales, beating out iconic acts like the Jonas Brothers and Billie Eilish. 

It should also be noted that almost all of the nominees in the K-Pop category are  under American labels. So why even have the category in the first place? Fans have speculated that it’s an attempt by the network to capitalize on the success of non-western groups. This isn’t anything new though, award shows such as these have had categories like these for years; Best Latin being a historically popular category at the VMA’s. What makes this any different? Refinery 29 described the controversy as “a double standard within the awards so that unnecessarily segregates international- often meaning non-Western, non-White- artists.” 

The VMA’s Twitter account, in an effort to clean up the mess they’ve made, set up three new Twitter exclusive categories, including Best Group; BTS was included as one of the nominees. However, these categories were decided by fans, and not by network. MTV also took to Twitter to congratulate French Montanna on his nomination in the K-Pop category, even though he is of  Moroccan descent, and was only featured on a song with Monsta X, an actual K-Pop group. MTV quickly congratulated Monsta X on their nomination. 

Once again, the VMA’s calls to question the validity of award shows today. The controversy surrounding the concept has grown exponentially over the years, following the white-washed and largely male dominated 2019 Grammy’s, and the 2019 Oscars, with such notable snaphoos as Kevin Hart, it’s continued lack of female directors, and, of course, Green Book. As more groups continue to fight for more equal representation in the mainstream media today, the academies and networks responsible for this seems to be moving slower with the times than anyone in the industry. BTS’s win at the VMA’s was a  big step forward for Asian representation in the industry, but it was not an equal victory.

Robert Lucchesi can be reached at robert.lucchesi@spartans.ut.edu

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