It’s now year-end award season in South Korea and this weekend there were two music award shows, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The one on Sunday is referred to as MAMA, the Mnet Asian Music Awards, a major event in Asia, comparable to the MTV VMAs in North America. And just as it is in the western arts industry, there are certain categories at these award shows that are considered the top prizes. At the Grammys, there are the big four: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist. In Korean, a major category award is called a “daesang” and yesterday at the MAMAs, BTS swept all daesangs. They also won multiple daesangs on Saturday at the Melon Music Awards. Not that that’s a surprise. What might be a surprise, to some, not their fans, obviously, but to those who might not be as familiar with the band and their ethos, is that they still bother to care. Especially now that they’ve been nominated for a Grammy, seen by western cultural gatekeepers to be the end-all-and-be-all of music industry recognition, no matter where you’re from in the world. BTS has said on multiple occasions that they’d love to win a Grammy – and that remains true…but it doesn’t mean that Grammy validation is the prelude to them turning their back on where they’re from.
Which can happen. Here in Canada, it happens. There are artists from Canada who no longer show up at Canadian award shows and, to be fair to them, it’s not as simple as saying they’re dicks who can’t be bothered with the small Canadian market anymore; in many cases there are complicated reasons for how they’ve distanced themselves. There are status gatekeepers in Canadian arts and entertainment too – and there are for sure Canadian artists who are now worldwide superstars who were unsupported by those Canadian power players at the beginning.
To go back to BTS though, over the last few years and especially this last year, we have seen them showcase their work on a massive scale in America with technically sophisticated performances from airports to Olympic stadiums, and going so far as to recreate James Corden’s set in South Korea for a five minute performance on a late night talk show. They put in the effort for the American audience and if you didn’t know better you might say they’re doing it to impress those cultural overlords. But the thing is…
They put in the same EXTRA for the shows at home too. In South Korea, for the East Asian music fans, it wasn’t like they dialed it down. No, they went as hard and big on the production as they did for the Americans. They kept the energy cranked the same. RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook maintain the same high level of quality, whether it’s for a western audience or an eastern audience. In other words, they value both audiences equally – and I’m here to tell you, that is not always the case where artists are concerned. It should be, but it’s not.
For the MAMAs, BTS took over Seoul World Cup Stadium for another performance that could have been a halftime show at the Super Bowl, undoubtedly borrowed from Beyoncé’s halftime show. Don’t get mad, ARMY. It wouldn’t be right to not credit the Queen. That doesn’t mean that BTS’s stage here wasn’t electrifying – because it was – but it’s also OK to cite inspiration, as we’ve also seen in the band’s multiple Michael Jackson homages throughout the course of their career.
What I liked most about this performance was that it was likely live-to-tape and you can tell the difference in the energy. Because of the pandemic, many of their performances this year (and they’ve all been exceptional) have been filmed in advance – and this one was as well. When you film in advance, you have the advantage, most of the time, of multiple takes. Because this one was so involved though, especially with all that pyro, even though it was shot ahead of time, it’s not like they could do it over and over. I’m guessing that they probably could only go full out once and for performers, this is added pressure and adrenaline. That makes a difference for the viewer: the tension is there… and it’s much more fun that way. Because this way it’s not perfect. Even Beyoncé had a moment at the Super Bowl when she had to rein in the adrenaline when she overjumped during the dance break and then, in true Beyoncé fashion, recovered by staying on beat and carrying on, no problem. That moment only adds to the legend of that performance and this is the magic that happens when a show goes live. That’s exactly the appeal of doing sh-t live. Which is what we saw from BTS at Seoul World Cup Stadium. They’ve done this choreo a lot cleaner before… but maybe not without this much charge.
That’s not to say that BTS’s pre-taped performances weren’t outstanding this weekend, however. And here’s another example of how the band always tries to keep it fresh, no matter the audience. By now, knowing that they’ve done “Dynamite” over and over again since August, here’s how they mixed it up in their velvet suits at the Melon Music Awards on Saturday – by adding a brand new Michael Jackson “Billie Jean” dance break. Hobi really crushes this one:
So that’s two new dance breaks so far in this post alone. The third one is my personal favourite. Also at the Melon Music Awards, they actually opened with new choreo for “Black Swan” and, well, this checks all my boxes. This is ballet and figure skating. Suddenly Jimin and Jungkook are the Virtue and Moir of pop music, lol. Does it matter that they’re doing these spins and lifts and they’re both men? F-ck no. Why would it when it looks this good? As I’ve been saying, BTS consistently challenges gender expectations in how they perform masculinity. This is how it started, and there’s still almost a whole month of award shows to come in South Korea.