Korea Was Snubbed at the Grammys, Insulting or Rightfully So?

Even the world’s biggest ‘ARMY’ was not enough to sway nominations for the globe’s most coveted music awards – an underlying problem might be to blame.

Arguably the hottest band since the Beatles, the Korean pop band Bangtan Boys (BTS) took the world by storm in 2018 with their global hit “Love Yourself: Answer.”

The unprecedented whirlwind that followed the K-Pop boyband included appearances on Saturday Night Live, the Billboard Music Awards, and even the famous Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year Celebration in Times Square.

What seemed like overnight, the group’s explosion of success seemed to hit all the right notes with eager listeners; their carefully crafted musical style and impeccable image which is the K-Pop industry’s hallmark was finally being recognized on the scale it deserved.

Unlike any other group, BTS left a huge mark on the hearts of music fans across the globe, effectively positioning K-Pop at center stage and catalyzing countless other groups in the genre to global stardom.

The boys of BTS still stand out among the numerous autotuned and dolled-up idols. The group was spreading self-love and philanthropy and even broke longstanding beauty standards along the way.

It was only natural for BTS’s die-hard fan group (calling themselves ARMY) with over 1.4 million participants, to have their hopes set high: a nomination for the 2020 Grammy Awards.

International media alluded to the possibility of the group’s biggest international stardom yet  by securing a Grammy to solidify the group as a household name.

Alas, after the candidates were announced, fans were left devastated when the boys did not receive a single nomination.

The outrage came pouring out on social media mere seconds after nominations were announced, accusing the Grammys of racism and hypocrisy.

The diplomatic game of “political inclusion” and affirmative action did not save the Grammys this time – as the ARMY put it, only a racist and rigged system would deny boys their well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

While Grammy nominations are usually based on sales figures, music charts, global impact, and contribution of new elements to the music scene, BTS checked all the boxes yet still was left out of the running.

Why were they excluded? The general consensus is that the only plausible explanation could be the boys themselves. That is, they are non-Western, non-English-speaking, and too different from what the Grammy norms have traditionally been.

In short, BTS wasn’t white enough for the top spot.

This is unfortunate. Not only because music fans and citizen of the 21st century expect more diversity and representation in music awards, but also because the Korean population – especially K-Pop artists – already have an appalling obsession with looking whiter .

It is not a coincidence that the most popular K-Pop stars have predominantly Western features like slim noses, double eyelids, round eyes, pointy chins and fair skin – but these features are praised by strict Korean beauty standards, none of which are indigenous to the country’s ethnic population.

In Korea, plastic surgery to drastically alter appearance is commonplace. The reason for the craze is slightly more complicated than just trying to look white; overarching social and cultural elements are involved but Eurocentric beauty standards have a lot to do with it.

It is widely known that a huge number of Koreans, including K-Pop idols, have undergone extreme plastic surgery to fit these whitewashed standards. Seeing pictures of idols devoid of any trace of melanin is so common that most die-hard fans do not even notice the enhancements.

The glorification of unattainable facial and body features often causes Koreans to feel ashamed of their natural features, and this is damaging to their self-esteem.

Korean societal pressures to uphold noxious beauty standards is enormous, and most likely contributes to the country’s dismal record on mental health.

A 2015 survey reported that approximately one third of South Korean women between the ages of 19 and 29 have undergone plastic surgery – almost double the amount as those in the United States.

Considering this self-deprecating mentality of Koreans, the West should not contribute to their demise. Do we want to become accomplices of a culture that promotes self-hate?

We may not be able to change destructive consequences of South Korea’s extreme beauty standards, but a more inclusive music award community could mean that Koreans do not have to Westernize themselves to attain the global impact they so rightfully deserve.

Like the Bangtan Boys preach, Love Yourself.

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