The past two years have been filled with milestones for K-pop recognition in the U.S. In April 2019, BlackPink became the first all-female K-pop group to perform at the Coachella music festival. In November 2020, three of the five nominees for favorite social artist at the American Music Awards were K-pop groups (BTS, Exo and NCT 127). That same month, BTS received their first Grammy nomination in the best pop duo/group performance category for “Dynamite,” their first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. And just last night, BTS won four awards at the Billboard Music Awards, including top duo/group for the second time in three years and top social artist for the fifth year in a row.
With BTS’ first Grammy nomination this past year, many fans of the group (and of K-pop in general) wonder whether a separate K-pop category in the Grammy Awards is plausible.
The Grammys add categories from time to time. In fact, on April 30, the Recording Academy announced that it will add two new categories for the 64th annual Grammy Awards: best global music performance and best música urbana album. This will bring the number of Grammy categories to 86.
“The way I see it, modern K-pop really started in the ’90s,” says Bill Freimuth, chief awards officer at the Recording Academy. “They took what was popular during that era [such as R&B and bubblegum pop] and made it their own.”
This past year, the Academy received just 14 K-pop submissions, which constituted less than 1.5% of the submissions in the pop field.
“What we’ve heard from the community is that they consider what they are creating to be pop music,” says Freimuth. “Some argue that it’s pop music from Korea.”
Korean music is vast and diverse, and there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable factor in these K-pop songs that truly defines Korean music. For example, although “Dynamite” is by a K-pop boy band, it is completely sung in English. This likely played a big part in making the song a hit in America. In addition, the song features pop attributes, which justifies it being slotted in the pop field.
“The general process [of adding a category] is quite formal,” says Freimuth. Every year, by a deadline of March 1, the Academy receives proposals from the music community. Those proposals — which often include adding a category, rewording/defining a current category and changing current awards processes — are presented to the awards and nominations committee. If the “A&N” committee passes a proposal, it is presented to the board of trustees, which will discuss and ratify the proposed change or not.
As a general rule, the Academy looks to see a potential field of 100 submissions for a proposal to have a strong chance of being added. This past year’s 14 K-pop submissions fell far short of that mark.
When asking K-pop fans about their opinion on adding a K-pop award category, they were enthusiastic about the idea.
“The [BTS] Grammy nomination, alone, is such a milestone for K-pop artists and fans,” expressed Catherine Jiga, a BTS fan. “For the Grammys to have its own category for K-pop would be an amazing opportunity for Asian artists, in general, to make it into mainstream domestically.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” voiced Devin Flanagan, a fan of BlackPink. “It would allow recognition — not just for the supergroups, but for the lesser-known artists. I think for old K-pop fans, it would bring a sense of pride as it would bring formal recognition that a lot of K-pop artists are not seeing right now. I think it would also create new fans due to the exposure it would create. I just hope they won’t put it as a pre-show award!”
“[What I can say is that] we’d love to see more,” says Freimuth. “We appreciate that the Grammys are so important to them.”
While the Recording Academy values and honors K-pop artists, it appears that there’s not enough demand for its own category quite yet. Until then, K-pop will continue to fall under the pop field, and the most fans can hope for is more K-pop representation within the Grammys’ pop and general categories.