Music Nerdery Time: Why BTS Fans Are Anxious About The Grammys
Okay guys, I know you're probably not that invested in this as a whole, but there are some of you who might like a bit of explanation.
I'm sure you've seen on the news and in entertainment sites time and again about this whole BTS thing. Particularly lately in the last few weeks, and for the next few days, there has been and will be a lot of coverage. I know also that a lot of you don't get it, or why your kids like it, or why the dude in Human Resources likes it, or why I like it. That's okay. You don't have to "get it" to understand what's going on.
First of all, let's establish a few terms, just so we're all talking about the same thing. BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan (which is the romanization of the Korean 방탄소년단). They're also known as Beyond The Scene, or The Tannies, or Bangtan. Their fanbase is known by the acronym ARMY. They're a seven member group that writes, produces, and sings their own material with some mean dance moves and a stylish flair.
The Grammy awards are this weekend in Las Vegas. BTS are up for an award this year for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It's an untelevised award, and the group is planning to perform during the televised portion on CBS. How that will look, however, may be changing by the minute, as two of the members have currently tested positive for COVID. The other five have already had the virus and made a complete recovery (hooray for vaccinations - again, just my opinion).
Last year, BTS were nominated for the same award for their song "Dynamite" . The song came out in the summer of 2020. You probably have heard it, as it's still being played all over the place (I just heard a Muzak version of it a few weeks ago).
They did not win that award, but did make history as the first K-Pop group to make it into a major category at the Grammys. They're nominated again this year, same category, for another song you heard a ton this past summer, "Butter".
Again, this award won't be televised. But ARMY are already boycotting watching the streaming ceremony before the awards start, when that award will be given. Why? Well, to simplify it quite a bit, and again, I'm dumbing this down because I'm not that smart myself, ARMY are mad at the Grammys. And not just because they didn't win - although IMO, they should have.
Last year during the stream that aired before the show, millions of people were watching online. Once the Best Pop/Duo award went to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande (no shade against them, they're great), viewership plummeted to less than 100,000. The Grammys and CBS noticed this. Of course they did, they want maximum viewership for their programming. So someone, somewhere, made a call. This is what angered ARMY. Here's what happened.
BTS pre-taped a performance from Seoul because of COVID restrictions. That performance was scheduled to air about half way through the ceremony, right after Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak performed. However, because of That Call, someone decided to push back the BTS performance and keep ARMY watching. In fact, before they went to every commercial break, they kept promising that "Performing Next: BTS!".... and again, and again, and again. BTS did not perform until the very last slot of the night, hours after they were scheduled. Literal hours. The group had gotten up at 2 a.m. Seoul Time to film interviews and live reactions for the program, and were going to continue being filmed until after their performance aired. So even they were unsure of when their performance would air after the change, and had to wait for it.
ARMY felt like the group had been used by CBS/The Grammys for viewers, and frankly, they were. But that's television. Of course they were going to do that. They wanted high ratings so they could charge more for ads the next year. It makes sense, but that doesn't mean the fans have to like it. The fans feel like it's unfair to use the group for ratings to such an extreme measure (more so than any other nominee or performer) without any respect or recognition for their musical achievements.
This year looks to be a repeat of last year, with the award non televised, and the performance most likely to be later in the show. Again, however... that may change, as J-Hope is still in quarantine, and Jungkook was just diagnosed with COVID as soon as he got to the States on Monday.
I know what you're thinking, though - "Why do they care about an award? Most people don't really even think about the Grammys, it's something for that industry, not the fans." You'd be right to think that, for the most part. Win or lose, BTS is still going to be laughing all the way to the bank. In fact, they've got four sold out shows in Las Vegas in the stadium across the street from where the Grammys will be held the week after the show. A quarter of a million tickets right there, four nights sold out. So...why?
ARMY wants BTS to win for two reasons: The first reason is simple. Tannies (in particular one member known as Suga or Yoongi) have stated they want to win the award. That's good enough for ARMY - there's a recurring joke in the fandom that says, "What Yoongi wants, Yoongi gets." The second reason is conscription.
This is where it might get a bit more complicated. So again, I'm dumbing it down, and oversimplifying, so that I understand it. Some nuances will be left out, obviously, and I'm not claiming that all of this is 100 percent accurate, but my best understanding of it. Conscription is a huge issue to ARMY fans, and to a lot of other fans of the music genre. So what is conscription? It is, in short, mandatory military service. Technically, North and South Korea are still at war. So every able man between the ages of 18 and 28 is required to serve up to two years in the military. And for two members of BTS, time is ticking.
First of all, we should note that several other singers and entertainers have gone into their military service and come back to their careers just fine. Some of the wind might get punched out of their sails, but groups like Shinee and EXO have survived the separation. It's a big deal to the general Korean public that everyone has their turn, and you're not allowed to get out of it just because you're famous. In fact, there are several singers and entertainers who have TRIED to get out of it... only to have their careers ruined by public perception and in some cases, the law. All of the members of BTS have said they will serve their country without hesitation (However, all the BTS members are under contract to their company HYBE Entertainment, and that's important to note as well, for later).
However.... their government doesn't seem to want them to. Again, my idiot opinion here. Let's break down why. Last year was actually when members Jin and Suga were supposed to serve. The Korean government passed a law allowing them specifically to defer for another year - coincidentally, around the first time they were nominated for a Grammy. Now, time has run out, and the two oldest could be leaving as soon as this December and next March. Why doesn't the government want them to serve? Well. They're a cash cow. While the government recognizes that about half the public wants BTS to serve like everyone else, they still want and need that money. Billions of dollars, in fact. While BTS would still perform as six or five or whatever incarnation just fine, the fact is they work best as seven, which the group has often acknowledged. Nobody who is getting the benefits of that gravy train wants to disrupt any part of it, meaning they don't want to the group to separate.
And honestly, I don't even necessarily think this about Jin or Suga - it's about RM. Most of the members could leave in incarnations of one or two and the group would still be able to function...as long as they still have RM. RM is a member of the group who is a couple years younger than the two who are set to go to service. If Jin and Suga have to go, then J-Hope has to go soon after, and RM will follow. RM is the primary lyricist of the group (the majority of their songs have his credit on them), a major producer, and the leader. If he's gone for two years.... that's two years of songwriting integral to the group that is just unavailable.
So how can the government keep their money coming in while appeasing the public? Exemption. However, the South Korean government has to have a good reason to exempt BTS, not just "well, you saw the money...they're on TV all over the world... come on, guys." No. While the government has awarded them some of the highest commendations you can receive as a civilian, and even been used as UN special diplomatic envoys with their own recognized passports, it's not enough. The older generations in particular will not accept exemption unless it is deemed truly special. Exemption is real, though, and accepted by most of the public on very specific circumstances. If you win a Nobel Prize, win an Olympic Medal, if your team goes to the World Cup, you're granted exemption from service with the public's blessing. A major international award that brings pride to the country, you understand.
You see where I'm going with this. If BTS wins a Grammy, that's the biggest award that can be won in the music industry or the recording industry. And to be the first Korean group to win a big category Grammy... well. Exemption wouldn't be guaranteed, but it would be acceptable by most people's standards. If BTS wins the Grammy, I think the Korean government would happily grant them exemption, and continue to encourage them to perform for their millions of fans all over the world without interruption. After all, if they're allowed to keep going, that money keeps coming in. If they win, the government can give them that special status without the public's scorn.
Of course, there is one little part of this that's being glossed over. The members themselves. It's a point of pride for men in Korea to serve in the military. In some circles, you're not considered a "real man" until you do. And while all the members have said they will serve... if the government says they don't have to, then their company, HYBE (remember them?) has them under contract. We don't know the terms of the contract, but a heavily rumored stipulation is that HYBE will force BTS to accept exemption or violate the terms of their contract.
So you see, that's why ARMY cares. They care because firstly, BTS have worked hard and achieved so much, broken so many records and sold millions of albums, singles, concert tickets, etc for eight years. And because, well, it could mean something to the group's future.
Wow, I knew I was a music nerd, but dang. If you read through all this, thanks. Again, it's not 100 percent accurate or detailed, but that's the general gist of why the fan base is testy, and why they're so on edge about this weekend. Either way, I know I'm in whether they win or lose.