If you’ve been paying attention to the Grammys, especially this past week, as noise about the Grammys’ lack of transparency and glacial rate of change were dominating the headlines, it shouldn’t have been a shock that BTS did not win on their first Grammy nomination. For the Recording Academy, BTS’s nomination was their win, almost as though they were saying to the biggest band in the world that they should have just been happy to be invited, the first Korean act ever to be nominated. It’s a bullsh-t, western-superior attitude, but this is how the western artistic community is like. Their sh-t is the best sh-t. And if outside art happens to disrupt their game, they behave like feudal landowners, lending out pieces of property, or nominations, like charity.
What’s ironic then is that in the end, not too long from now, when the bigger picture becomes clear, the reality might be the reverse – that it might be BTS being generous to the Recording Academy by gracing them with their performance quality and all-round professionalism.
During interviews, in the days leading up to the Grammys, BTS members RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook were pretty realistic about their chances. For them, their goal was to actually have their own performance stage, not as guests of other artists but to hold court with their own song and their own choreography. Because it’s not like they don’t know about the Grammys’ historical f-ckery, and it’s not like they don’t know they’re outsiders. How could they not know? They’re reminded of it all the time. That said, what’s so wonderful about them is that even though they’re well aware of how this business works, it hasn’t taken away their grace and the qualities that have endeared them to an entire ARMY – no matter what, they’re still hopeful, and they’re never too jaded to SHOW their hope. Which is why they posted, for their fans, a video of the moment when the winner of their category was announced:
that moment ðŸ˜‚ðŸ˜‚ pic.twitter.com/z6DquLPnYN— ë°©íƒ„ì†Œë…„ë‹¨ (@BTS_twt) March 15, 2021
I don’t know how you can watch this and not be charmed. There’s no artifice here: what you’re seeing is seven young men balancing their nervousness and their realism with hope…and then not being able to contain their disappointment. RM’s “told you” is particularly telling, because again, as per what I just wrote above, they have no illusions about how the system is gamed. And I wish we could hear more of the conversations that would have happened before this, in private, with their team, and what they really think of the Recording Academy. But still, they didn’t have to put themselves on blast. They didn’t have to share this. And you don’t have to understand Korean to know what this is – artists who WANT recognition and are undeniably disheartened when it doesn’t come, but who bounce back by embracing each other, and by being honest about what exactly they’re feeling: a complicated combination of wanting to believe in spite of themselves, maybe a little mad at themselves for letting themselves believe, and laughing at themselves for both, and then the comfort of not having to go through it alone. Also… a reset. The Grammys are certainly not the end-all and be-all of BTS.
Before we get to the MORE of BTS though, over and above the Grammys, let’s talk about the “scammys”, which is what was trending after the Grammys as ARMYs around world reacted to the one-two punch of BTS losing in the Best Pop Duo or Group Performance category to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me”. Which is a good song, no doubt. And it was definitely a big song in 2020…but I don’t know if it was the biggest song, or had the cultural impact of “Dynamite”. “Dynamite” was everywhere – they played it on reality shows, in competitions, they played it during football games, they played all over the place, and they even had award season contenders do a reading of it for W Magazine. George Clooney gave a dramatic rendition of “Dynamite”. LaKeith Stanfield, who just received his first Oscar nomination, actually sang it, mostly on-key (LOL). Leslie Odom Jr was grooving to it. “Dynamite” was international, from Korea to North America, and everywhere in between, a song in English sung by artists who don’t speak English as a first language. So it’s more than just a song; you could argue for its value as a movement, as a piece of music that transcends notes and bars, which is exactly the spirit of what music should be. So, even though the chances were slim to minuscule, the Recording Academy may have indeed missed out on relevance, and criticism from that perspective, by fans and culture analysts, is valid.
But ARMY wasn’t just mad about that. “Scammys” was also trending because BTS did not win a Grammy but were held to almost the very end of the show, making their fans wait over three hours before seeing them perform, arguably helping to sustain the show’s ratings. For ARMYs, then, it understandably felt like BTS was being used. They’re not good enough to win awards but you’ll exploit them to draw interest and viewership?
At the risk of getting doxed by BTS’s massive fanbase, I’m not entirely sure that’s totally what happened here. If you work in television, specifically LIVE television, the most volatile elements are the live elements, the performances that were taking place at the venue in LA. As someone who works in live television, I can tell you that if you have a taped performance (and we know that BTS’s performance was indeed pre-recorded in Seoul, impressively constructed to be exactly like the set in Los Angeles), it’s your safest show element. You’ve timed that segment to the exact minutes and seconds. It’s not going to change. It won’t surprise you. As soon as you hit play on it, you know how long it will run for, and you can prepare for what happens next, without any unpredictable factors.
Everything else, however, is up for grabs. Because it’s LIVE. So if you’re lining up your show, and you have a whole crew in place in LA, moving set pieces around, wrangling artists from various parts of the building, repositioning cameras for different shots, you want to frontload that work as much as you can. It’s like in figure skating, right? Higher degree of difficulty, your triple and quad jump combinations, for example, happen early in the program. There’s also the issue of timing. That show was already scheduled for three and a half hours, and your live elements will always push it longer. If you leave too many live elements towards the end of a show, it doesn’t give you much room to trim on the fly and cut sh-t out. Based on the producing realities alone, I can see why show producers opted to slot BTS’s performance later because it was their most predictable, in the sense that it was locked in and loaded. BTS would not give them any headaches in the last few blocks of the show.
This is especially critical because there’s a pandemic happening and there were already requirements for safety and how many people could be in the venue at a given time. They were rotating artists out in 45 minute blocks for live performances. So when you count band members and dancers etc and whatever, those are the live elements that are in play that make it much more complicated when you’re lining up and timing the show and anyone coordinating that would want to get that out of the way as early as possible.
And then, on top of that, there’s closing with what Sasha calls the “jizz” (haha). It’s not uncommon to save the orgasm to the end. Given what BTS delivered to the show producers, ending up on a f-cking helipad on top of a skyscraper in Seoul, that’s the bang you want to make people wait for. Of course it’s not an honour to f-ck them over by telling them they’re not good enough to win awards but they’re useful for ratings, but at the same time, I’m not sure any television producers would have made a different call, both from a technical standpoint and from a creative standpoint.
I’m not here to defend the Recording Academy. But what I’m here to do is at least provide another perspective on television production. The Academy and the show producers are, for sure, connected. But the team of professionals who were hired to simply make a good show don’t have a lot to do with the inner workings and the f-cksh-t of the Academy. Their job was to line up the best show they could with the talent they had on hand. And they held BTS to the end because they knew the band would deliver a banger of a finish and, yes, keep the audience around, but also because you want to spend the most energy on executing the live elements as early in the program as you can.
Imagine what the ratings would have been if there was no BTS though. Early numbers have just come out and they are, as expected, not good – an average of 7.88 million, down from 18.7 million in 2020. This is bad. They called for it, as the show’s executive producer Ben Winston kept talking about it in his interviews, but even still, it’s a real plummet.
And this brings me back to BTS, their generosity, and the bigger picture. BTS is only getting more and more influential. The Grammys, meanwhile, may be less and less relevant. Consider this: BTS did a livestream last night following the show, which is a tradition. They always broadcast to their fans after these kinds of big events and it’s an unscripted, hilariously messy opportunity for them to thank their supporters and give people a real-time sense of their emotions as they’re feeling them. At one point during the livestream, Jimin looked at the view count and noted that there were 6.7 million people watching. SIX POINT SEVEN MILLION people watching their livestream. That’s just a million less than the Grammys audience. They basically hit the red button on a tablet, without any other artists, no special effects, spoke in Korean the whole time, and generated that many eyeballs. As Beyoncé says, cultural currency is the real measurement. And BTS has so much more of it than the Grammys.