I’ll Never Get Over Seeing K-Pop Artists At The VMAs
It truly wasn’t that long ago that K-Pop was very much a ‘foreign’ realm of pop music. Yes, it’s still foreign in the sense that it’s based in a different country to Western pop charts and entertainment culture. And while there’s enough English lyrics to get non-Korean fans by, tracks are still mostly written in Korean.
By ‘foreign’, I’m really referring to the blank stares I used to get when I mentioned my then-unknown favourite K-Pop groups, like 2NE1 and Epik High. I’m talking about the uncomfortable feeling I’d get when people discussed popular music and I’d have nothing to contribute because I was deep into the K-Pop SOTY discourse. It’s the phase in my life where I stopped listening to K-Pop altogether because I didn’t want to be a stereotype and forced myself to like other kinds of music instead.
Sure enough, the allure of K-Pop eventually pulled me back in with a vengeance. Only this time, I didn’t feel quite so lonely. (Cue ‘Lonely’ by 2NE1.)
It feels like it happened really quickly but in hindsight, it took years. The Twitter fandom was growing and getting noticed by mainstream media, albeit often in a negative light . K-Pop fancams were unavoidable. YouTube views were breaking records. It was getting harder and harder to ignore the popularity of K-Pop, and the fans demanded justice. And not just in the form of record-breaking views, or recognition of the community, or a rapidly growing fanbase.
No, fans wanted award shows — and thanks in large part to the sheer power of BTS and their fanbase ARMY, we got them. 2019 was the first time the VMAs had an award for Best K-Pop, won by BTS, and in 2020, BTS made history by scoring the first-ever Grammy nomination for a K-Pop group. (There’s a reason why ‘BTS paved the way’ trends when award show season comes around.)
The next few years felt a little like the BTS and BLACKPINK show, as the two groups became the unofficial faces of K-Pop on the international stage. While it was glorious to see them dominate the landscape, it was a little awkward if you were a K-Pop fan who didn’t stan them. People knew what K-Pop was, at least, but knowledge was limited.
Which is why seeing more groups like TXT and Stray Kids at the VMAs this year reminds me of the same joy I felt when K-Pop first started to make its way to the mainstream. Not only have we maintained this recognition of K-Pop as a valid genre with a huge audience, but it’s expanded, too. I can fangirl about TWICE and NewJeans without feeling like I’m yelling into the void.
There’s still a ways to go: including, but not limited to, my rogue pet peeve about how K-Pop performances on US shows always look a little lacklustre compared to the flair of Asian music shows with their top tier videography and stage set-ups. (Compare the pair below and tell me you don’t see a huge difference.) But hey, one step at a time.
Lia Kim is a writer and producer at Junkee. Follow her on Twitter @ellekaylia.