Warning : this article may contain traces of bias and fangirling
By now, you may (or may not) have heard about Korean group, BTS breaking a myriad of records, winning the top social artist award and becoming the first Korean group to win a billboard music award, beating out artists like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes.
There is no doubt that this award is a great feat and while I could talk about how far BTS have come, from being a group hardly anyone knew just 5 years back to a group now being recognised on an international stage, I think the significance of this achievement is part of something much bigger.
Having been a Kpop fan since middle school, I've seen so many artists try to penetrate the American music scene with not much success. It did make me wonder why Asian artists aren't deemed "good enough". Is it the language barrier, the music style or the way these groups were produced ? Why isn't Asian music on the same playing field as the rest of the world?
Sure, I've heard so many criticisms regarding Kpop; "they're just part of a big marketing ploy", "they don't even have talent", "they're all manufactured" ... the list goes on. I heard these criticisms so often that there were times I was embarrassed to admit I was an avid Kpop fan. Why is Asian music seen as inferior just because it's different? Why do we start judging before we even begin to understand the inherent differences between entertainment industries around the world? Yes, you could say that Kpop groups are largely manufactured as opposed to Western music, but at the end of the day, different is just different and we can learn to appreciate the talent, perseverance and grit of these groups without undermining the whole Asian music industry through thoughtless, ungrounded remarks.
Wait, did I just say Kpop stars are in fact talented? Well, let me use BTS as an example. The members, whilst being professional performers, also play a large role in the producing stage of their songs as well as the choreography. Just go watch one of their music videos and tell me they're not talented. Just because these groups are "produced" doesn't mean they lack talent. If you could make it in this industry without talent, I would have tried my luck long ago instead of toughing out my commerce degree.
This brings me to why BTS winning the Billboard Music Award is so important, not only for the Asian music industry, but for the younger Asian generation growing up inside and outside of Asia. Growing up as an ABC (Australian-Born Chinese), the entertainment industry I was exposed to was always predominantly American/Caucasian. Finding Kpop meant that I could finally relate to the successes of a group of people with a similar cultural background to me.
On top of the award being a celebration of their hard work and talent, BTS receiving the award is indicative of a much larger change in the music industry. The power of technology and social media has allowed BTS to compete on an equal, language-less playing field, showing the younger generation that they are in fact good enough and worthy of attention and recognition, regardless of race and background.
What is really admirable to me is the fact that BTS never changed their style of music to fit what is deemed mainstream and popular in America. And the fact that they won the award while still staying true to themselves sends us an important message regarding identity and representation.
The record breaking 300 million votes for BTS also shows how Kpop is becoming a widespread unifier for young people all over the world. It is a testament to how influential Asian pop can be, despite the language and cultural differences.
If you look closely to the lyrics of a lot of BTS songs, you can tell that through their music, they aim to spread a message about the struggles youth face in today’s society, which is perhaps why so many young people can relate to them. Through their lyrics, BTS are able to act as a voice for youth all over the world. Even as I am writing this article here today while I'm on my exchange in Japan, I can see how important Kpop is, especially to the migrant students I work with, who struggle to integrate into Japanese society and connect with other youth.
So yes, BTS winning the award is important. It's important for Asian representation on an international scale, important for the younger Asian generation and important for the future of the entertainment industry.
This might be a small win for the Asian music industry, but I think it is a big step towards a more inclusive and harmonious (pun intended) worldwide music industry, free from barriers, bias and stereotypes.
I know this is just the tip of the iceberg and I can't wait to see what is to come :D
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