Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Dear Recording Academy: We Aren’t Stupid
Nov. 24, 2020:
BTS’s joyful reaction to their Grammy nomination, accompanied by a video of them cheering together on their couch, was posted on Twitter. ARMYs, the BTS fan base, around the world shared their excitement, even if that joy was intertwined with trepidation, given the GRAMMYs’ history.
The GRAMMYS have long been an institution that has thrived on exclusivity, secrecy, and corruption. It’s no secret that they’re known for their mysterious nomination and voting system, which has no criteria that are available to the public, aside from the vague “music quality” statement they offer. Zayn Malik tweeted about it on March 9, 2021, five days before the show:
“Fuck the grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there’s no nomination considerations. Next year I’ll send you a basket of confectionery.”
For BTS, being a part of the GRAMMYs has been a goal they’ve held onto for many years. Breaking through the wall that is the GRAMMYs is historical for a Korean artist. Notably, BTS are history-makers. BTS is the first Korean group to be nominated and to perform a solo stage.
The GRAMMYs are known for relegating non-white artists to genre-specific categories and shutting them out of the major awards, as well as exhibiting bias against women and BIPOC. This year, they seemed to be loosely trying to make amends for their past issues, but the veil was thin. They have a reputation for treating non-white artists as if they’re only including them to fill a diversity quota, or appease the audience against rightful outcries of racism and the senseless snubbing of deserving artists (see: The Weeknd). They’ve made it clear: if you don’t play by their rules, you won’t be included. And BTS was no exception.
So for as much as BTS’ nomination and performance was groundbreaking and highly-anticipated—beneath it all, those who have followed the GRAMMYs and are fans of BTS approached with skepticism. The chances of them winning were slim, given the GRAMMYs’ track record, but the real issues arose while watching it all play out.
For weeks, the group was used in promo, and the Recording Academy’s social media accounts shamelessly interacted and baited fans into drumming up more anticipation for the show. During the show itself, they continuously teased BTS’s performance to keep viewers at attention, even though they were, in fact, not up next. The treatment of ARMYs was out of touch and secondhand embarrassing. They are not the oblivious teenage girls the Academy thinks they are—they’re fans of an artist spanning generations and gender, most adults like BTS. They recognize inauthenticity and disingenuous marketing tactics when they see them. (Note: if you’re a woman who’s ever been a fan of anything, you’ll understand. Our society loves to discredit anything girls like as unworthy of genuine recognition).
Despite all this anticipation, the award BTS were nominated for wasn’t even presented during the main show, instead being cast aside on the pre-show livestream. The pre-show ended up with 12M viewers, in comparison to the actual show’s record low of 8.8M. I wonder why?
The proof is in the numbers: BTS don’t need the GRAMMYs, but the GRAMMYs sure need them.
As a music fan in general, I’ve personally followed the GRAMMYs since I was a little kid. I’ve watched the show to see if my other favorite artists would win or perform, I’ve participated in GRAMMY ballot party games, conversations discussing who should win, and looking at the data behind the songs and albums commercial performances. In this case, if we look at the stats behind “Dynamite,” the song BTS were nominated for, the numbers are astronomically larger than any of their competition. Just based on that, the song should have won no question. If you take into account the mysterious “quality” aspect that the Recording Academy perpetuates, that begs the question: why this song, then? BTS submitted other music besides “Dynamite,” and while by no means is it a bad song, it only brushes the surface of the expansive, introspective, genre-bending discography of BTS. And that’s just accounting for what they released in 2020. With Map of the Soul: 7 and BE, 2020 saw BTS reach new peaks musically, creatively, and commercially. The Academy could’ve chosen to nominate any of their other work, but they didn’t. They specifically chose the only song in English. And that speaks volumes.
This isn’t to say that “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande didn’t deserve to win, or that any of the other songs in the category didn’t either. But it’s everything that went into this experience for BTS and the blatant use of their popularity and power for the GRAMMYs’ personal gain, without giving them the respect they deserve in return. Even when it came to their flawless performance on a Seoul rooftop.
The GRAMMYs have a long way to go and a mountain of work to do in terms of progress, but if they could do it in the future without insulting the work of the top-selling artists on the planet and the intelligence of their fanbases, that’d be a great first step. If they don’t change, they’ll continue to fade into irrelevance as the rest of the world moves on without them.
As Zayn continued on Twitter: “@recordingacad are moving in inches and we need to move in miles. I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating “creative excellence” of ALL. End the secret committees. Until then... #fuckthegrammys.”