K-pop artists took the U.S. by storm in 2020. Will an increasingly global Grammys recognize them — and their telecast-ready star power?
Over the past three years, the Grammys’ general categories have become more international in scope: Bilingual songs like “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber and “I Like It” by Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin scored nods for record of the year, while Rosalía became the first best new artist nominee for music recorded entirely in Spanish. That heightened emphasis on cultural diversity may help K-pop — a genre that smashed streaming records and spawned high-profile collaborations with American superstars in 2020 — finally receive a landmark nomination, or even a few, at January’s ceremony.
For the most part, the Recording Academy has ignored modern K-pop. Though the BTS album Love Yourself: Tear was up for best recording package at the 2019 ceremony, the bestselling boy band has yet to be nominated for its music. Yet the noise that K-pop groups — led by BTS, but also including acts like Blackpink and SuperM — have made during the past year may be too deafening for the academy to ignore.
“I just don’t see how this year’s not the year,” says Jeremy Lopez, executive vp business development at SM Entertainment USA. In 2019, SM partnered with Capitol Records for the U.S. release of SuperM’s self-titled “mini album.” With that project debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last October, the K-pop supergroup — which features members of EXO, SHINee, NCT 127 and WayV — has begun conversations with its U.S. partners about the most effective way to mount a best new artist campaign. “We all very much know the honor that comes with even a nomination,” says Dom Rodriguez, director of SM Entertainment USA, “and what it would mean to actually win.”