South Korean pop phenomena BTS have made history as the first K-pop act to be nominated for a major Grammy award, with their 2020 hit single Dynamite in the running for best pop duo/group performance.
Despite the historic achievement, the Recording Academy that runs the annual music awards faced criticism for its failure to nominate BTS in the Grammy’s main song categories: song of the year, record of the year, album of the year.
“Thank you to everyone who listened to and sympathised with our music,” BTS wrote in Korean on their official Twitter account. “Above all, it was [our fandom] Army who made the miracle of being a Grammy nominee possible. Thank you and love you, always. Thank you Recording Academy for this great honour!”
They also shared several videos of BTS members Jimin, RM, Jungkook, and V reacting in real time to the news of the nomination on their Twitter account.
Apart from being the first K-pop act to receive a major nomination from the academy, BTS were also the first South Korean act recognised in a performance category since Sumi Jo won the award for best opera recording in 1993.
BTS’ 2018 album Love Yourself: Tear was nominated in the best recording package category at the 2019 Grammys, with design team Huskyfox up for the award. Willo Perron eventually won that award for St Vincent’s Masseduction.
For Jiye Kim, who runs one of the most prominent fan-run translation accounts dedicated to BTS, the Grammy nomination is just the latest chapter in BTS’ story of successes in the West. Kim told the Post that the BTS story was like a fairy tale.
“They perform one year, they’re nominated the next, they win the year after. Or, they present, they perform, they’re nominated,” she said, referring to how the outfit presented the award for best R&B album at the 2019 awards and performed with Lil Nas X at the 2020 Grammys.
“Each action has been a firm, sure step that succeeds the previous year,” said Kim, who is often known by her Twitter display name Wisha or her handle @doyou_bangtan. “There have been difficulties, but they are always overcome. The Grammys did feel like the natural next step. The members spoke of it as their dream.”
However, there was disappointment at the sole nomination in some quarters, as BTS had also been a hot tip for the bigger categories, including record of the year, thanks to the success of Dynamite – the band’s ’ first No 1 single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Paul Grein, awards editor of US magazine Billboard, said the nomination was a “huge accomplishment” as more than 330 entries were in the running to be nominated in the 2021 pop/duo category.
Although he was one of the American industry insiders pushing for BTS to be nominated for record of the year, he thinks the Academy opted out of it because of its history of undervaluing commercial pop.
“The Academy should recognise that a great straight-up pop record is worth celebrating too,” he told The Post. “They may not be ‘hip’ choices that will impress critics, but that shouldn’t matter. That anti-pop bias also seems to have worked against Harry Styles this year. But now that BTS have their foot in the Grammy door, maybe next time they’ll break into one of the big four categories.”
Grein also expressed disappointment that breakthrough K-pop girl group Blackpink weren’t nominated for best new artist, although he admitted the category was immensely competitive this year.
Kim, however, was happy to see BTS were recognised in an appropriate category. “I love [that] they received a nomination for best performance, because they do have the best performances around. It encapsulates the sheer scale of their stages, one that is a nod to stage directors, choreographers, producers, as well as staff involved with costume, hair and make-up, as well as the seven members. It’s a package deal, and BTS has always been that.”
Areum Jeong, assistant professor at Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, said she was “absolutely ecstatic” when she first heard of BTS’ nomination, but is still considering the impact.
“I believe many fans may feel bittersweet and think the nomination is long overdue after releasing several albums that topped charts,” she told the Post. “But as filmmaker Bong Joon-ho said, the Oscars are ‘very local’, and so are the Grammys.”
Jeong is concerned about the importance many South Koreans have placed on the Grammys, especially because of the Academy’s regular dismissal of diverse talent, especially Black artists. The 2021 nominations notably omitted the likes of The Weeknd and Rina Sawayama, upsetting many on social media.
“There is a tendency in Korean culture to seek acceptance and validation from societies outside of Korea, especially from the West. And this nomination will certainly fuel a sense of national pride, regardless of the results,” said Jeong.
“At the same time, I think we are at the stage where we don’t have to seek validation from the West or anywhere else because it is undeniable that K-pop is a global phenomenon and Korea is at the centre of it.
“That BTS got a nomination at a time when there is a major lack of Asian representation in Hollywood and the mainstream media in the US is significant. It is so moving to see how far BTS and [its fandom] Army have come, breaking barriers together.”
The 63rd Grammy Awards will take place on January 31, 2021.