Here's Why The MTV VMA Best K-Pop Category Is Controversial

Many fans feel that segregating Korean artists from the main awards is xenophobic.

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If the only reason you’re tuning into the MTV Music Video Awards on Monday 26th August is to catch the star-studded performance lineup, that’s understandable — Bad Bunny! Normani! — but you’d be missing out on the most interesting drama of the night: the award show’s shiny new Best K-pop category.
The category, added this year, recognises the videos of five well-known K-pop acts: BTS, EXO, Blackpink, Monsta X, NCT 127, and rookies TXT. But while MTV likely hoped that these nominations would be cause for celebration among their passionate and vocal K-pop fandoms, it instead has largely sparked intense backlash — particularly from BTS fans, called ARMY. They believe that this is recognition is poorly disguised xenophobia that ghettoises the South Korean artists so that they can’t compete for the top awards of the night.
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Despite gaining four nominations — Best Collaboration (with Halsey), Best Art Direction, Best Choreography, and the aforementioned Best K-pop, fans took to Twitter to trend the hashtags #VMAsRacist and #VMAsAreOverParty in protest.
Many of BTS' accomplishments not only rival but supersede those of the artists nominated in the main award categories, including Video of the Year, Artist of the Year, and Song of the Year, giving fans further reason to question the reasoning behind the band's omission. BTS not only became the first South Korean band in history to debut an album at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, but the first band since the Beatles to land a total of three No.1 albums in a single year. Their video “Boy With Luv” saw the biggest 24-hour debut of any music video on YouTube in history with 74.6 million views — Taylor Swift’s “You Need To Calm Down,” which is up for Video of the Year, came second at 65.2 million. Halsey, who received only one nomination outside of those with BTS, was nominated for Artist of the Year, along with Billie Eilish and the Jonas Brothers, who BTS outsold in album sales of Map of the Soul: Persona and in video streams for "Boy With Luv."
Notable also are that nearly all the nominees in the Best K-pop category are all repped by U.S. record labels, calling into question MTV's arbitrary-seeming selection process. And while we’re here, one could argue that Monsta X’s “Who Do You Love,” featuring French Montana, isn’t even technically a K-pop song, as it’s sung entirely in English and doesn’t stem from a Korean version. Fans feel that it all boils down to the network looking to boost its viewership rather than giving respect and recognition to these talented non-Western artists.
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Of course, this kind of classification of foreign acts at the VMAs certainly isn’t new — “Best Latin” has been a category at the event for nearly a decade. MTV even has an entirely separate show, the Europe Music Awards, that recognises international artists (with many awards separated by country). But this controversy highlights what many feel is a double standard within the awards so that unnecessarily segregates international — often meaning non-Western, non-White — artists.
The VMAs have kept tight-lipped despite the rebellion waged online (Refinery29 reached out to MTV for comment but did not immediately hear back). In a statement, Bruce Gillmer, Head of Music and Music Talent at MTV International, said the addition of the K-pop category was meant to “reflect the rich pop music landscape.” Just a few days before the show, however, they announced they would add three new fan-voted awards: Best Power Anthem, Song of Summer, and Best Group, of which BTS and BLACKPINK are nominees. This could be an attempt to further ingratiate themselves with ARMY, but it comes a little too late. And more importantly, it’s not recognition from MTV itself, but fans.
ARMY also point out that awards ceremonies appear eager to capitalise on BTS’ popularity without actually recognizsng the group for their work, among their American peers. The Billboard Music Awards faced a bit of the same backlash in recent past, as for two years BTS beat out the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande for Best Social Artist (fan-voted categories) without seeing any nominations in the major categories, which would signal recognition from the larger music industry. The BBMAs eventually caught on, and last year BTS was nominated for and won Best Group, along with the Best Social Artist award for the third time. At the Grammy Awards last year, BTS was nominated for Best Recording Package, which isn’t even given out at the main ceremony.
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Given all this, it will be interesting to see what transpires on the night of 26th August. Because BTS have been taking a few weeks off, they won’t be attending the event. In fact, it’s unlikely many of the acts will show up at all — K-pop idols don’t usually like to attend events together outside of Korea, especially when they aren’t a shoo-in to win. Ava Max will be performing in the pre-show, though, and given that NCT 127 recently jumped on a remix of her track “So Am I,” there’s a chance they will join her on stage. In the end, BTS will likely win the Best K-pop award, and when they do, ARMY will support them — an award is an award, after all.
Whatever the outcome of the battle at the VMAs, one thing is for sure: the war isn’t over.
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