By Beth Lindsay
Are the Grammys a true indication of success? If so, why have they ignored the world’s biggest boy band for years?
Whether you knew it or not, BTS is one of the biggest bands in the world. Since their debut in 2013, the K-pop group has seen non-stop success, particularly in their home of South Korea where they have been inundated with awards and recognition (they are the youngest ever recipients of the prestigious ‘Order of Cultural Merit’ award).
They have the most viewed music video in 24 hours with ‘IDOL’(gaining 45 million views in a day), as well as being the first K-pop group to perform on a major US award show, be nominated for a Billboard music award, and hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their album ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ was the first foreign language No.1 album since 2006, and to top it all off they are the first group since The Beatles to have 3 Billboard No. 1’s within a year.
These are just a few of their achievements, so it is fair to say they are pretty big. Back in 2018, when the boys were asked what was next for them, Min Yoongi (more commonly known by his stage name ‘Suga’) said “Maybe…Grammy?”, and at that stage of their careers, it seemed like a natural progression.
So, it was no surprise when they were asked to present an award in 2019, performed in 2020, and were finally nominated in 2021. Although fans were happy to see the boys come close to achieving one of the only goals they haven’t yet reached, the experience ended in disappointment when they lost ‘Best Pop Group/Duo Performance’ to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande.
There’s no doubt that the winners are extremely talented and inspirational women, however, it was slightly disheartening and lead to many questions regarding what the Grammys really represent.
This year at the Grammys
The Grammys have been around since 1959 and are one of the biggest award ceremonies in the music industry. A Grammy is a recognition of an “achievement in the music industry” and the winners are chosen through a vote amongst the Recording Academy members, “all involved in the creative and technical processes of recording”. To decide the nominees, members can vote only within their area of expertise. The fact that the public has no say and rather people with knowledge of the craftsmanship of music may contribute, is the reason why many are unhappy with the results.
For example, for Best Engineered Album, voters may vote with more of the technical aspects of an album in mind, whereas the viewers and general public tend to rate an album based on their personal preference of the artist and their aural liking of the songs. It could be said that leaving voting in the hands of professionals ensures that the most deserving artists win, however this year has shown that this does not always happen.
The bigger issue at the Grammys
BTS’ loss has re-sparked the conversation about racial bias within the Grammys. It has highlighted the fact that the only other Asian artist to win an award was soprano Jo Su-mi, something that was rarely noted or questioned before this year’s ceremony. She performed in the album Die Frau Ohne Schatten, conducted by Georg Solti, which won best opera recording in 1992. However much the Grammys and other awards ceremonies continuously preach about equality they are far from it. Firstly, the method of voting is said to be in place to prevent lobbying, but the system is what has actually caused much of the racial bias to begin with. Studybreaks.com says the voting system is “problematic as listeners and artists alike are left in the dark to wonder if there is adequate diversity and representation among those that decide”. A small group of voters, 53% of whom are white, surely is not representative of the wide and varied general population of music listeners?
One fact that highlights this racial bias, called out by The Weeknd and Tyler, The Creator to name but a few, is that out of the seventeen non-white artists nominated for Album of The Year in the past 10 years, only one has won the award. This was Herbie Hancock in 2008, whose album was a collection of cover songs of Joni Mitchell. At first glance, The Grammy’s may do a good job of highlighting non-white artists, but when you actually look deeper, that is not the case. Many artists who excel in sales and fly to the top of the charts seem to be neglected, The Weeknd’s hit album ‘After Hours’ didn’t even receive a nomination this year, despite debuting at number 1 on the Billboard charts and having every single song on the Hot100 list.
Changing the industry
It is true that we do not need The Grammy’s. The music industry would continue without it and sales/streams would showcase who is at the forefront of the industry. But there is no denying that they have an impact on the careers of their nominees and winners. Winners can see their success shoot up dramatically, for example, the past few winners of Best New Artist are now some of the biggest names in the industry; Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Megan Thee Stallion to name a few.
It is clear why BTS have yearned for a Grammy all these years. It would be an amazing entrance into mainstream western media. They have done extremely well themselves to get to the point they are at now as the first K-pop group to see major success overseas. However, there is still a long way to go, when radio stations do not play their songs despite their success and popularity.
Commercial radio stations, such as KDKA, KIIS-FM, and WBZ in America, have a music director who is in charge of choosing which songs will get played on their station. There are many different factors that come into consideration, the main one being what they think will be popular. Therefore, taking into consideration the fact that nearly all of BTS’ songs are in Korean, radio stations tend to stay clear of playing their songs, and almost any song that is not in English.
“If we’re being real, BTS isn’t being played on the radio simply because of the prejudice against non-western artists in the radio industry. BTS has played by their rules, but radio hasn’t returned the favor in kind”.
Radio stations may need to rethink their thought process regarding song choices, considering K-pop is only going to become more popular, and more listeners are opening their minds to non-English music and media.
Success isn’t measured by the amount of Grammy’s an artist has
I have a huge admiration for BTS. Their music spreads a message of immense positivity, which in times like these should be welcomed. Simultaneously, they’ve never shied away from touchy subjects. Reading their story has inspired me, reminding me that I should never give up. To many, their favourite artist winning or losing a Grammy isn’t such a big deal, but for the fans of BTS, who know the hardship they have faced over their 7 years together, it hurts. The boys themselves spoke out on social media after the ceremony saying that it is okay, and they will work harder this year; a bittersweet message, but comforting nonetheless.
The Grammys have never had a perfect track record. They have been criticised many times over the years for their racial bias, lack of female nominees, and generally questionable nominee and winner choices. For example, Kendrick Lamar didn’t win a single award for ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d City’, losing against Macklemore who even admitted afterwards he was undeserving, and there are numerous artists considered legendary (Tupac, Nicki Minaj, Dianna Ross, Queen) who have never won an award. So, we can hope that the members of BTS will be recognised for their work in 2022. But even if that doesn’t happen, nothing, not even an awards show, can take away the fact that they are and always will be a truly special act.