Most of us know by now, but Bangtan has been invited to attend the Billboard Music Awards, in which they have been nominated for the Top Social Artist award. The last time I checked statistics, they’re leading in terms of votes. Like, by a lot. They have 373.8 million votes, compared to second place (Justin Bieber) with 89.3 million. That is a gigantic difference I don’t think many of us anticipated. However, it is true that K-pop fans have a huge Twitter/social media presence, so I guess it makes sense if you think about it.
From what I can tell, the Top Social Artist is a fan-voted category only, meaning that fan votes on Billboard’s website and Twitter votes are the only two numbers that count. For other awards, sales are a factor, but this Wiki page notes that Top Social Artist is fan-voted. (My apologies if this is misinformation, but it’s the best I can find so far). If fan votes are really the only criteria, then we actually have a really great shot at winning this. I was surprised when they were nominated, and even more surprised when they were invited. But of course, if they win, they should be there to accept the award.
Lots of fans spammed Twitter to try and get Bangtan invited to the show; it’s unclear if Billboard planned to invite them on their own, or if that mass tweeting had an impact. But regardless, BigHit confirmed they’re going (and before they were invited, indicated that they’d love to attend). Namjoon mentioned he was thankful for the nomination on the Channel+ chat, so it’s pretty clear they view this as an honor and an accomplishment. And really, they should. It will be their first American red carpet, and they’re the first non-Western artists to even be nominated for the award. I’ll be completely honest, I had never even heard of the BBMAs before Bangtan was nominated, but apparently it’s a fairly big deal. I mean, it’s a big deal because it’s a first for them and a first for K-pop, at least. I’m still not clear on what value/prestige the award show itself holds. (Like I said, I had never even heard of it).
But regardless of how prestigious of an award show it is, it’s an honor for a non-Western artist to be nominated, because that shows they have enough sway in the West to be noticed by an outlet that normally never really notices non-Western stars. I’m on board with that part.
After it was confirmed Bangtan had been invited, fans started to tweet about wanting Bangtan to perform at the show. But there is where it gets a little complicated for me, personally.
Yes, it’s a great accomplishment, and yes, they might actually win. I am not trying to devalue that at all. This is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean that we all want (or feel comfortable with) Bangtan actually performing on stage at the awards. It hasn’t been confirmed yet whether they will or not, and most likely they won’t. But there’s still the “what-if” scenario, and if it doesn’t happen this time, will it next time?
The problem is: America is not ready for this. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud. I’m excited for their accomplishment. I’m happy that they seem happy to have been nominated and invited. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be concerned where there is reason to be concerned.
Let me lay the concerns out in a little more detail:
1. American reactions to K-pop in the mainstream music world are likely to be bad.
America has proved as a whole, time and time again, that it is not open to anything different or foreign. K-pop as a genre and Bangtan as a group are still small niches in America. They sold out their 5-night arena tour last March/April, but that is still a long stretch from being mainstream. Bangtan performing at the BBMAs would move them from niche to mainstream, at least for that moment, and that’s just not a place that’s ready for them. Americans are by and large ignorant. Most reaction videos on YouTube show them making fun of K-pop and not taking it seriously. The general public is likely to be offensive by mocking and disrespecting them not only as performers but as people.
2. Lots of Americans are rude and racist.
I don’t want any arguments on this. That lame excuse of a human being you elected as president is proof positive. Notice I didn’t say all. Obviously, not all Americans are rude, and not all of them are racist. But, a large number of them are. And that’s just not something I want associated with Bangtan any more than it already is. They get enough hate without random Americans who know absolutely nothing hating on them because they’re not white.
3. Potential for bad/offensive press coverage.
Honestly, I’d just rather them (and the fandom) be spared the potential (but likely) bad or offensive press coverage. It will likely stem from reasons one and two above. Some of the press coverage they’ve had so far, which was spawned by the American tour, was…well, not that great. It wasn’t particularly bad either, for the most part. But it also wasn’t super. But let me say this: Bangtan doesn’t need to be recognized by any Western media (whether that be news outlet or award show) to be validated. It doesn’t determine their worth as performers.
4. No one will do any research or take it with an open mind.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say “no one.” But most people. Most people, whether they are at the awards show, involved in media/press coverage, or just in the general public watching at home, they’re likely not to do any research or take it with an open mind. For many Americans, whatever is perceived as “The Other” is treated as something negative, like a disease -infested rat. That’s part of history. And it’s not just America, but the West in general. This can lead in to poor/offensive media coverage and just a general regard for K-pop (or BTS in particular) as something “weird,” “stupid,” or “too out there.” Americans have made it clear they don’t like anything different. How many times have you heard someone complain about having two language options on the telephone when they call a service? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or seen people actually complain about having to press one for English (as opposed to two for Spanish). Like, I’m sorry. Maybe you should try moving to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and no one will help you. Maybe then you’d learn. How many times have I seen/heard Americans telling immigrants to “go home,” whether they are in America legally or not? No, America is not ready for this in the music industry.
5. It will increase the band-wagonners and trend-riders.
Just in case it’s not obvious, Bangtan doesn’t need fake fans. The fandom doesn’t want you, either. There has been (and will continue to be especially with mainstream coverage and potential mainstream performances) an increase in the amount of people becoming a “fan” just because it’s trendy, or because they want YouTube views. Get over yourself. Stop using other people’s careers for your own gain, and stop trying to wedge yourself into a dedicated fandom that you don’t belong in. Jumping on the band wagon is never a good thing, and participating in trends specifically because they are trends just makes you look superficial.
Let me say it again in case it wasn’t clear: I’m not trying to devalue what Bangtan has accomplished. Nor am I saying all of this because I think they couldn’t handle the backlash; they could, but why go through it unnecessarily? I’m proud, they should be proud, the entire fandom should be proud. But attending the award show and performing are two different things. Performance means the potential for a lot more negative outcomes than what we’ve seen already. If they were to perform, yeah everyone should still be proud. But we also have to be aware of the potential consequences; those always rise in correlation to rising recognition. So not all of us want them to perform, at least not yet. Not everyone has been able to understand why, but I hope that this post made it a little more clear.
(image credit SBS Inkigayo)