"We're like aliens to the music industry, so we don't know if there's a place for us or not."
These words were spoken by Kim Namjoon, the leader of BTS, in a recent Reuters interview, one that felt like their most honest, revealing and rawest interview to date. When this dropped, it was clear how ARMY felt hearing these words. Sadness and upset, but also anger and a sense of injustice, that even now, with all their achievements, they still feel out of place in the music industry. So the question is, will BTS ever get a seat at the table?
First of all, we need to ask, why are they not accepted? They have a Billboard Hot 100 #1 single for two weeks in a row, a UK #3 single, #1 albums with gold and silver certifications across the globe and sell-out stadium tours around the world...so why are they not held to the same esteem as Western artists, when they are easily out-competing some of the biggest names in music right now?
We'll start with the US, one of the biggest music markets in the world. Billboard Hot 100 #1 has been their dream and their goal for a long time. In Korea, it most likely seemed like an impossible achievement, that a Korean act would sit at the top spot, let alone for two weeks straight. But that is BTS all over. Taking the impossible and making it reality, with the help and hard work of ARMY, walking side by side with them every step of the way. From performing at the AMAs, the BBMAs and the GRAMMYs, to America's Got Talent and Good Morning America, they've proven to be musical heavyweights, that deserve to stand and perform on such stages as the greatest artists within the Western world.
Yet, in what seems to be a final "goal", they have not been nominated for a GRAMMY award. Arguably one of the biggest accolades in music, the Recording Academy appear to continually snub BTS. In 2018, they were deemed ineligible for Best New Artist (even though they had been an act for 5 years), because their discography was too large. They just had too much music to be considered "new". However, in articles dated this month (September 2020), they were rumoured to now be slated for this same award, seven years into their existence, with an even more expansive discography than when they were "ineligible". Even down to their GRAMMYs performance debut, they were not permitted to have a solo stage. Seemingly not "worthy enough" at every turn.
It is not just the GRAMMYs that seems to be an issue. When crowned as #1 on the Hot 100 with 'Dynamite', in what was their most engaged with Hot 100 Top 10 chart announcement, Billboard Charts did not tag BTS, only doing so when the track dropped to #2, two weeks later. Checking the statistics on all their Hot 100 tweets, the #1 artist(s) is always tagged. This seemed to be a first, as once again, only applicable to a group, such as BTS.
Now to the UK, where they face equally the same issue. Towards the end of 2019, the BRITs announced it would scrap their "International Group" award, the only award BTS would have been eligible for. Months before this, when the nominees of their final ever International Group award were announced, the replies were full of ARMY saying that BTS deserved a nomination, and rightly so. They had just sold out the O2 for two nights in a row and the British GP (general public) were starting to take notice of them. News of their first ever UK shows filled popular newspapers and were reported on various news channels. They then went on to perform at Britain's Got Talent last year, just before their two-night stint at the legendary Wembley Stadium.
Their presence has shaken up the British music scene, just as they had and continued to do so in the US. The BRITs scrapping the only eligible award for BTS seemed to be a way of preventing their achievements being highlighted in Britain, where in comparison, a lot of artists cannot boast the same feat.
Their radio play in the UK is almost non-existent. With a few exceptions that have BTS on regular rotation, they also do not get the radio play they are entitled to, meaning that UK ARMY have been truly alone in their fight to get BTS on the charts. DNA was the very first BTS track to be played on BBC Radio 1. It followed on from an incredible interview by Adele Roberts, one that to date, I still believe was one of the best interviews they've done.
As a UK ARMY, I was excited by the prospect of finally hearing BTS played on mainstream radio. But it was often coupled with rude remarks slated as "banter", aimed at BTS themselves or at ARMY, who were constantly labelled as teenage girls by radio hosts, when anyone that is ARMY knows that the fandom is full of diversity: people of all ages and genders, all different colours, cultures, religions and walks of life. The “teenage girl" stereotype is something that, I feel, is used to belittle BTS' achievements. Something to chalk up their success to nothing more than teenage hysteria. BTS have often been compared to the Beatles, accomplishing similar impressive feats with their music and art. Fans of the two groups regularly seem to be classed in the same box when both groups are discussed. Although the Beatles were before my time, I feel this characterisation undermines their fans' talents and understanding of the world and its issues, in a similar way to how ARMY are reduced to something lesser. Young people are often the driving force of a generation, their fingers on the pulse of the present; it's something that is clear now, more than ever before. Regardless of age, and from what I know of ARMY, we are sharp, focused, and driven. Creating fan-bases, funds and charity accounts, translation accounts, educational accounts, even producing our own music, ARMY are completely different. We are sadly reduced to a stereotype in order for certain sceptical people to attempt to understand or make sense of why BTS are such a phenomenon. But until their minds are open, and willing to look past what they think BTS is, people will never truly gauge their value.
As a POC and a black ARMY myself, I'm all too familiar with the way BTS are being treated. It seems that no matter how high they climb, they need to do more, work harder and have more success. You have to work twice, thrice, quadruple the amount that a non-POC has to work because you are ultimately and immediately seen as lesser. But to what end? I certainly believe that it is their Korean roots that seem to hinder their ability to progress in the Western world. Their "K-Pop" label is a source of division even within the fandom, but the term is often used to limit their standing in the charts, on radio, and when awards season comes around.
After their shift from being labelled as the BBMAs Top Social Artist to then winning Top Duo/Group in 2019, it felt like a change was coming. But this year, in 2020, the MTV VMAs sidelined them as K-Pop once again, denying them nominations in big awards, such as Best Artist and Best Video, and (a new category for this year) Best Quarantine Performance, even though their BANG BANG CON - The Live concert broke the Guinness World Record, having "the most viewers for a concert live stream".
It boils down to what I believe is xenophobia. The dictionary definition is a "fear or hatred of foreigners and people from different cultures". This feels all too correct to describe the music scene's rejection of BTS. I feel that in terms of American and British culture, even Western culture as a whole, the idea of having a group that doesn't sing in English (and isn't from Europe or the US) that is able to top the charts with Korean songs and albums full of Korean lyrics, is possibly baffling and unexpected. This is something, I feel, that explains why in so many interviews, BTS are asked who they want to collaborate with. A collaboration with a Western artist is something that is easier for people to digest, a way to make BTS appeal to the masses.
I will never forget the moment when Simon Cowell himself announced he would create a "UK-Pop" band, after seeing them perform at Britain's Got Talent. As a Brit, I was embarrassed and upset for BTS, that rather than them being accepted as they are, the UK market still needed a palatable version of them, that delivered their charisma, choreography and charm, but with English voices and faces. The one saving grace is that there is no formula for BTS; no magic combination of people, training, vocals and talent will ever reproduce them. As hard as Simon wants to try, you cannot make another BTS. They must be accepted as they are or not at all. But, I do believe, just as they broke the mould in Korea, from being underdogs from a small company to becoming the prides of Korea, propelling Big Hit into the biggest Korean entertainment company thus far and wiping out the previous "Big 3", the underdogs will continue to rise up and create their own place in the Western world.
One thing is for certain, whether they will or won't get their seat at the current music table, they deserve it. They have paved the way for K-Pop and Korean music to compete with international artists on a global scale, something which Korean greats, such as Seo Taiji and Psy have said themselves. They even have the South Korean President's seal of approval.
Not only have they carved their own BTS-shaped space in music, but they have all individually proved why they are incredible artists and musical talents in their own right, through their mix-tapes, covers, and self-produced, self-written tracks. They are already legends, even if the West continues to deny this. But if and when they do get a seat at that table, make it seven seats. And add one more for ARMY. Because wherever they'll be, at this table or even at their own, we'll be right there with them. Let us know what you think about this article. Follow BTS Radio UK for more articles, and stay up-to-date with BTS.
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