In the wake of the recently announced Grammy nominations, the excellent career of South Korean boy-band BTS reached its momentum as they became the first K-pop act to be nominated at the Grammy’s, earning a nomination for “Best Recording Package” for their 2018 studio album, Love Yourself: Tear. The album is nominated alongside HuskyFox, who is listed on the official Love Yourself: Tear credits for “artwork.”
This is a huge milestone for the group, as well as for Korean culture and foreign artists everywhere. K-pop is an intricate genre, which isn’t just about the music, choreography or matching outfits – it is about seeing past all of that, and BTS does an excellent job at portraying the style’s eclectic mix of modern pop and traditional sounds, of languages and cultures, as well as of various arts, from music to videography and illustration. Album artwork is a significant part of this mix, as it introduces the listener to the story they’re about to be told. The Recording Academy’s understanding of this concept, and their choice to celebrate the work that has been put into even the smallest details of what BTS is made up of today, is noteworthy in many ways. However, during the fight for representation which has been reflected particularly in this year’s albums and artists, we do have to ask ourselves whether a music-related award for BTS would’ve been a much more important, if not necessary, step for the community and message they represent.
BTS are a group of seven South Korean men who debuted in 2013. In the past two years, the group has been able to make their mark in the Western music industry, despite being from a small, unknown production company in South Korea. It was their different approach to what was previously regarded as a “bubbly and carefree” genre of K-pop that caught the attention of audiences from all generations, and all walks of life. As the band has been writing socially-charged songs since the beginning of their career, addressing issues such as materialism, a flawed educational system, unrealistic expectations from youth and the stigmatization of those topics, audiences – particularly those in South Korea – have been able to find sanctuary and comfort in their music. Even BTS’s name, which translates from Korean into “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” refers to the group as being a protective shield for their generation.
Now, BTS has what is arguably the biggest fan base in the entire world, recently taking the spot for the number one most mentioned account on Twitter. but in spite of their massive following, they manage to maintain an incredibly close bond with their fans, in a way that we haven’t really seen before. Fans do not just look up to the group, or idolize them – they share a sense of community, both among themselves and with the members, and they can relate to the messages in their songs. In a sense, the lyrics of BTS aren’t solely written by them but are rather a combination of voices from young people across the globe, who might not have the same ability to speak up. For this reason, many find support in their music that they were unable to find anywhere else, so a great level of respect is formed between the band and the audience.
Even so, from an outsider perspective, it might be difficult for someone to understand what truly sets BTS aside from the artists nominated in music categories, or from other artists in general. But what really makes the group special is not necessarily the overall sound, but what its lyrics and meaning represent, and how it has shaped those who’ve been following their work. Behind the colourful artwork of a BTS album cover lies the most important social messages. The band’s rise to fame across the globe especially in the West is not just another case of stardom, but a poetic war cry from young generations fighting for change and acceptance across all cultures and communities. Recognizing that is crucial. BTS isn’t a just a boyband anymore – they are the voice of the millions who count on them to speak for the silenced, to bring joy to the hurt, and to unite and seek comfort for those who share similar stories despite living half-way across the globe.
Their music represents diversity and unity. Especially today, when the fight for this is among the most crucial social battles that have been taken on, a symbol this powerful cannot simply be acknowledged – it must be celebrated accordingly. Despite their music being solely in Korean, it has transcended all borders and is now connecting millions around the globe.
People are rapidly embracing cultures completely unknown to them, and they’re willing to listen and learn without any judgement. Not just that, but they’re willing to support them as they work their way up to the positions they’ve been previously deprived of, but greatly deserve – a much-needed step during a time when, particularly in the US, an equal sign has been put between “foreigner” and “threat.” A Grammy win for the band is a win for those demanding diversity in everything from the workplace to our award ceremonies and beyond.
BTS’s music also represents this generations fight to de-stigmatize topics relating to mental health, and the pressures of being demanded everything in an ever-changing world where we all know nothing. Topics that have been buried so deep throughout history are hard to dig back up and put into words, but BTS manages to do so in a way that is both poetic and calm, and yet without sugarcoating any aspect of it. They bring a mirror to society and a microphone to the youth, and they don’t fight for a platform – they are the platform, igniting the confidence to speak up for so many who thought they’d lost that side of themselves.
Aside from it all, BTS’s music also represents the results of years of continuous hard work, and the belief that no matter where you are from, the language you speak, or what you look like, determination and authenticity will lead the way to wherever it is you want to go. As the group walked on stage at the 2018 Melon Music Awards in South Korea, dressed head to toe in traditional Korean outfits, performing traditional dances and songs in their native language, it becomes clear to young people across the globe that embracing your culture is nothing to fear, but something to celebrate and to be celebrated by others. BTS has remained exactly who they were when they walked in for their auditions in the halls of BigHit Entertainment as trainees, and they’re still just as – if not even more – grateful for their roots and their fans. When accepting awards, the most important thing for them to note is that they will work even harder to make their fans proud and that they’re thankful for the milestones they’ve allowed them to reach. A Grammy for BTS means, on top of everything else, appreciating artists who put in more work with each day that goes by, who remain grateful and grounded even when becoming arguably the most famous musicians on the planet, and who care as deeply about their fans as their fans do for them.
BTS’s music is part of a groundbreaking movement which will go on to not only change the music industry and the way international audiences perceive and accept foreign sounds but to change mentalities and generations alike. I have no doubt that the group, who has masterfully succeeded in hiding one of the most crucial platforms for social change among today’s youth behind catchy and upbeat K-pop tunes, is worthy of bringing home the first award of its kind. Their absence on the music nominations list, however, is further proof that our award shows, or more importantly our audiences, are not fully ready to accept the true meaning behind BTS’ global reign.
Congratulations to Husky Fox and BTS on this Grammy nomination. This is only the beginning.
Featured Image courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment