Is MTV’s snub of BTS xenophobic?

Photography via DawBell | Big Hit Entertainment

In the past, MTV has found creative ways to rattle people of colour (PoC). Nicki Minaj was denied a Video of the Year nomination for ‘Anaconda’, despite it being one of the most influential videos of 2014. Who can forget the 2009 VMAs, when Kanye West snatched the mic from Taylor Swift because she won the Best Female Video award over Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’? Well in the year of our Lord 2019, MTV took their creativity to new heights – not only did they snub BTS out of the Best Song and Best Video categories, but they created a whole new category just for K-pop artists. This action has caused a huge backlash, with BTS fans calling this an act of xenophobia. I am inclined to agree.

BTS holds the Guinness World Record for the most-viewed YouTube video in 24 hours (74.6 million views). They are the first band since The Beatles to get three chart-topping albums on the Billboard 200 chart in 12 months. How does it make sense to exclude them from the major music categories? I guess it’s easy to justify exclusion when record holders don’t come in Eurocentric packaging.

“I guess it’s easy to justify exclusion when record holders don’t come in Eurocentric packaging”

Yes, the seven-man group was nominated in four different categories – Best Choreography, Best Art Direction, Best K-pop & Best Collaboration. However, these nominations are barely reflective of the strides that the group have made in the music industry. In the last year alone, BTS has gone on a sold-out stadium world tour, become members of the Grammy Recording Academy, while their track ‘Boy With Luv’ was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. It was their second song to do so in less than six months.

The same can be said for the ladies of BLACKPINK who became the first K-pop girl group to perform at Coachella. Their music video for ‘Kill This Love’ also generated 56.7 million views in its first 24 hours, meaning that BLACKPINK beat out Ariana Grande, whose ‘Thank U, Next’ video held the top spot by earning 55.4 million views in the first day. Yet, like BTS, they too have been excluded from the Video of the Year nomination.

“Most PoCs are familiar with the phrase ‘you have to work twice as hard to get half of that they have'”

Most POCs are familiar with the phrase “you have to work twice as hard to get half of that they have.” Therefore, it does come as a surprise that Korean artists are taking the Western music industry by storm. As PoC, we are simply not afforded the luxury of mediocrity that is so freely given to our white counterparts. Think about the fact that Taylor Swift’s video for ‘You Need to Calm Down’ has been out for a month but hasn’t even cracked YouTube’s 100-million mark, yet she is nominated for Video of the Year while BTS’ un-nominated ‘Boy With Luv’ is sitting comfortably at 460 million views. The gatekeepers of some of these award shows are well aware of the fact that if they were to put Korean artists in the same music category as the Western artists, they would easily win. They will not allow the status quo to be broken.

I am intrigued to know what the parameters for this “Best K-pop” category are? Do the songs nominated have to be sung in Korean? MONSTA X’s ‘Who Do U Love’ is sung entirely in English so you can understand my confusion. The only logical conclusion is that the nominees for Best K-Pop were chosen based solely on the ethnicity of the artists.

“If music awards are now being based on nationality, we need to create a British category for Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Sam Smith; a Best Canadian category for Drake, The Weekend and Justin Bieber”

If music awards are now being based on nationality, we need to create a British category for Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Sam Smith. There would also need to be a Best Canadian category for Drake, The Weekend and Justin Bieber. However, these categories will never exist – so why does this level of segregation currently only apply to South Korean artists? Is it because their music is not seen as real music?

What I can say for sure is that something sinister is at play here. One person on Twitter noticed when you vote on the VMAs website, the photo accompanying the nominations for ‘Boy With Luv’ originally focused on featured artist Halsey, and only showed two members of BTS. This has recently been changed. MTV did not help their case when the official MTV Twitter account congratulated French Montana for his nomination in the K-pop category – but he is just a featured artist on MONSTA X’s song.

All-in-all, the xenophobia really jumped out of MTV this year and it is ugly to see.

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