The Community Speaks #4: The VMAs — Embrace or Backhanded Compliment?

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As we’re all aware at this point, MTV has decided to fall back on its history as the trendsetter in American (now global) popular culture. This time they’ve hopped on the newly trending interest in K-pop in the United States in particular, the “West” in general, by adding “Best K-pop” as a category at the annual Video Music Awards (VMAs).

With this revelation, MTV has attempted to set itself as the first globally recognized organization to embrace K-pop wholeheartedly — seemingly contrary to other award shows who mainly see it as a viral commodity to exploit for clout. However, the reactions to the new category have been … mixed at best.

With us we have Ashley, Cy, Jess and Wendilynn to discuss what’s become a very heated debate.

Wendilynn: There are certainly pros and cons to the move. K-pop now has a seat at the table. I think the big worry is that it would be the only seat at the table. That they are being given a courtesy section so nobody has to consider them for the other major awards. Shunting them to the side, so to speak. I don’t think that’s true, but considering a couple of the videos picked for this first time aren’t the best out of the last year’s choices, I can understand the concern.

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Jess: I definitely have mixed feelings about it. Yes, it’s still better than the typical “Best Fandom” or hodge-podge of “International Artist.” It feels like they’re accepting K-Pop isn’t just a fad but something with staying power. With that said, it does feel like they’re separating K-Pop from the main categories to ensure fans won’t try to dominate the votes. If that was their hope, it’s naively optimistic of them.

To borrow Wendilynn’s comparison, it does feel like they’re giving K-Pop a seat at the table, but they’re still giving K-Pop a smaller portion than the “big kids” there. 

Ashley: Playing devil’s advocate here: this genuinely could be the first time that an American award is presented to Korean artists solely because they’re Korean and that doesn’t come off too authentic. We know how talented many of these entertainers are and the overall capabilities of the scene (both good and questionable), but this good intention might be as good as it seems. What’s so wrong with having the groups compete within other categories? This isn’t the only inaugural award for the 2019 VMAs, but this one seems more cash cow and less long-term interest.

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Jess: I think it’s going to take a while before American awards stop treating K-Pop like a money grab. Not until they integrate the artists into Best Artists or Best Albums categories and not just more outlier categories. It’s a step in the right direction, but they’ve got a long way to go.

With that said, this is still leagues better than Billboards’ limp attempts. That really felt like a sleazy back alley deal. “Hows about this: I set you for an award you’ll clearly win and I get the boasted viewers. Win-win, right? I mean, it won’t be for music, but hey, it’s better than nothing, right?” Just icky!

Wendilynn: I don’t have an issue if K-pop was being targeted as a genre, but where is the Mandopop category? Where are the other specialty music genre categories that also get released in the US? European artists don’t get a separate category; they are lumped with everyone. Latin and rap have their own categories, but they also took time to get recognized and treated properly.

K-pop is really a blend of pop, R&B, hip-hop, rap and even Latin, and it’s a unique musical blend. As a specific genre, it should be appreciated as its own category. Of course, the VMA’s are supposed to be about videos, and I just don’t understand why they would have picked TXT’s “Cat & Dog” video.

Boy with Luv” (BTS) and “Kill this Love” (BLACKPINK) are kick-ass videos. “Tempo” (EXO) is a good video. Monsta X’s video (“Who Do U Love“) is good, but there were some other really outstanding videos from K-pop artists. So this just really feels lackluster. One of the areas K-pop really shines is in their music videos, and they are doing it better than just about anybody else in the industry in any country right now, yet the pick was just … Not solid across the board.

Jess: Yeah, no offense to TXT but how did “Cat & Dog” get on the list and not, say NCT or Twice? I’m not saying that they didn’t have a successful debut, but I’d hardly call them a monster rookie group, and it hardly seems fair to put them against big senior groups. 

Cy: I’m more in league with Ashley’s thinking (or “devil’s advocacy”). This, to me, reeks of jumping on the current trending thing. K-pop as it pertains to a mainstream audience in the West (the States in particular) is a viral commodity. That’s it. MTV, in an attempt to reclaim their former glory as the voice of the “Now” generation, the influencers and trendsetters, has decided to do it bigger than anyone else first.

It’s clear no one on staff actually knows much of anything about the K-pop scene (or the Korean music scene in general). Because if they did, they’d realize there are videos outside of the “pop” in K-pop that are just as worthy (though probably not as viral because they’re lesser known).

One example of what some fans consider the best K-pop videos of 2019.

Also, I’m going to go a step further and say there isn’t anything inherently unique about K-pop. Despite what might seem like a unique blend of genres, it really isn’t. The combination of musical styles has been around in pop, hell in R&B, jazz, soul, etc. for as long as black people have been making music. Ain’t nothing new here.

Considering the vast majority of producers and songwriters in the last three to five years have been from the West, the argument could definitely be made that this isn’t musical styling unique to Korea … since Korean producers aren’t actually making the music itself.

With that being said, it does beg the question: why isolate these artists from the rest of the list if the music itself isn’t even Korean in nature? The VMAs have recognized videos with a cornucopia of visual aesthetics. In the past, videos were recognized for what they brought to the visual landscape, and that has never been one thing. Whether the videos are “good” or not is a matter of opinion not fact. Since that’s the case, again, why sanction these artists off (save for BTS because, again, the trend now)?

To me, this isn’t a seat at the table. This is an obligatory invitation to a “Westerners Only” party so those who threw the party can point at everyone and say, “See! We did it first!” The proverbial “One of my friends is black” anecdote they can wave around like an accomplishment without actually having to let their “Asian friends” mingle with their other guests.

Wendilynn: You make some really good points. The song picks really do feel like an obligatory set instead of someone knowing what they are doing. I believe that is the underlying problem with this and why it feels as what you are describing. When MTV congratulated just French Montana, it smacked of complete disrespect and ignorance. 

You know, until RM did the “Seoul Town Road” remix, I had not been much aware of the hoopla surrounding Nas X and his song. I don’t listen to a lot of American music anymore, and so it had escaped me. I’ve had a lot of fun this week discovering this fun tune and its many remixes. What really caught my attention this week is the freak-out over whether it’s a hip hop or country song, as if it’s not possible to be both. As if there has to be a division in the ranks, because heaven forbid it be both. As if a country-hip-hop tune is somehow abnormal.

It made me reflect on the hoopla over K-pop. Music is music. It has no borders. It doesn’t stay in neat, pure packages. It blends, morphs, changes, expands and becomes so much more than its parts. It’s great to pursue pure forms, but when you blend it with other styles, it’s even more amazing. We need to get over what country it comes from and just celebrate good music as good music without tucking it away in neat little categories to make ourselves feel better or confine it in some way.

MTV really needs to get their condescending stick out of their butt and recognize that good pop music doesn’t just come from America and Europe.


For what it’s worth, voting for the VMAs has opened. If you’re keen on seeing your favorite K-pop act (or any act for that matter) take home the legendary Moon Man, click here. You’ve got 10 votes to push your fave to the top!

(Instagram [1][2], MTV, Billboard, YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6], Twitter.)

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About MACG Staff 138 Articles
MACG Magazine is a digital hub for media on Music, the Arts, Creativity, and Gaming of our generation. We are interested in sharing engaging content with our readers and encouraging them to explore the world around them.

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