Last night, the world shook on its axis as BTS won the Billboard Music Award for Best Social Artist. As the the first K-Pop group to ever even be nominated for the BBMAs, there was little to no chance that BTS would win.
Oh no, wait.
Last night BTS won the Billboard Music Award for Best Social Artist, because they have a massive online following that they’ve carefully cultivated since debut. BTS won because they have literally millions of dedicated, Twitter-savvy fans who adore them.
Weirdly enough, it’s not shocking at all that a group with an online presence as big as BTS won an award for having a massive online presence. It’s not a question of whether BTS deserved the award – they’re hard-working and talented for sure, and they more than deserve recognition for both of those things.
But winning something at a music awards show that has nothing to do with music is… not really either of these.
There’s been some talk recently about BTS’ fame being used by other people for their own gain. Wale has been accused of it due to his collaboration with Rap Monster, and Perez Hilton (who is somehow just about still relevant) has been dragged for constantly tweeting BTS’ official twitter over the past few weeks since their BBMA nomination…among other things. As if BTS are pretty little figurines for him to lust over (stay classy, Perez).
— Perez (@ThePerezHilton) May 21, 2017
Even since the awards last night, a few different websites have been talking about BTS. Vogue posted about how well-dressed the boys were at the show last night, which is fair enough – but they know what they’re doing. I’ve never looked at Vogue’s website before in my life, and now I have because they talked about BTS. So, it’s effective.
But somehow a Billboard award is a more legitimate recognition of BTS than a rapper like Wale seeking out Rap Monster for a collaboration because…reasons? Wale somehow used BTS for fame but Billboard are talking about them because of some pure altruistic reason, no doubt.
Except Wale probably doesn’t need BTS for fame. Granted, the sales of his most recent album Shine weren’t anything ground-breaking, but his 2013 album The Gifted debuted at No.1 and went gold not long after. He’s also incredibly well-respected and well thought of in the industry, save for a fight with Meek Mill (which has since blown over). The man has been carrying a career for quite a few years, and has had the kind of ups-and-downs that K-Pop fans aren’t used to. What we’re used to, instead, is for a group to either bomb out after three years or get some huge hype hit and ride that for the next five years unless they don’t have a huge scandal somewhere along the line.
If anything, an individual musician wanting to work on a track with one of the members is a much more direct way of saying ‘I like your music and respect you’ than a huge organisation applauding a group’s fans for just being the loudest.
So then, what’s the difference between a single person or one website using BTS’ status for their own gain and Billboard nominating them for an award?
When Billboard nominated BTS for Top Social Artist, they knew exactly what they were doing. How many K-pop fans would have cared about the Billboard Music Awards if BTS hadn’t been there? Probably a lot fewer than who care this year – or will care in the future, since the Top Social Artist is now something that fandoms can fight over as a sign of their groups being better than others, just like music show wins.
Even the fact that Billboard are using pictures of BTS on their website to talk about the BBMAs instead of another artist is proof that they know how to play the game. K-Pop fans love other K-Pop fans outside of the typical K-pop environment, and now Billboard counts as a K-pop fan.
What’s most telling about the entire #BTSBBMAs experience is how little BTS’ fandom understands itself. Somehow it was shocking that BTS have a fandom big enough to even be nominated for an award that’s literally about having a massive fandom, let alone be nominated. This is despite the fact that several of their MVs have views into the hundreds of millions, and that you can barely go anywhere on YouTube without seeing a comment with a Bangtan-themed username or ‘any ARMYs here?’
Regardless of if ARMYs know how big their online presence is, Billboard knew it. K-Pop isn’t some super special secret that only a handful of people know about anymore, or if it ever even really was.
K-pop being recognised by big mainstream Western media sites doesn’t mean it’s somehow ‘made it’, and BTS winning an award at a music awards show that has nothing to do with music isn’t K-pop making it either. It means that mainstream Western sites have figure out that K-Pop is marketable, which of course it is. It’s not a bad thing to recognise this, and it’s not a bad thing to use it, since both sides get something out of it.
BTS, and BTS fans, now get to say that they won at a US award show as the first K-Pop group ever to do so. Billboard get a whole new section of fans, now that they get to demonstrate their chops when it comes to talking about K-Pop – even if they’ve actually been doing it for a long time.
The question is – will anyone who didn’t know about BTS remember that they won a week from now?
Production journalist, sociology grad and video games enthusiast. I really love Epik High. Tweeting at @hm_worthed
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