In April, BTS released Map of the Soul: Persona, an instant commercial smash. The seven-piece K-Pop ensemble outsold Beyoncé’s surprise live album, Homecoming, by an enviable margin, and earned their third chart-topping album in less than 11 months. The last group to earn that many number ones as quickly was the Beatles.
But on Wednesday, when the Recording Academy announced the nominations for the 2020 Grammys, BTS were nowhere to be found.
This demonstrates the ongoing challenge for K-pop acts: They consistently outsell — not to mention out dance — their American counterparts, and they are just as consistently ignored at major American awards shows. Even when K-pop is acknowledged, it is siloed off — the MTV Video Music Awards introduced a new K-pop category in August. This allowed the program to tap into BTS’ massive and wildly enthusiastic fanbase while also keeping the group out of major categories like Video of the Year.
The failure to acknowledge K-pop at awards shows stands in stark contrast to the music industry’s day-to-day reality: Seemingly every American major label has scrambled to scoop up a K-pop act in the past 12 months. Columbia now works with BTS; Interscope nabbed Blackpink; Epic went after Monsta X; Republic grabbed Tomorrow X Together; and RCA signed Ateez. Just last month, Capitol released an EP from SuperM, a K-pop group that unexpectedly beat out the heavily streamed R&B singer Summer Walker to earn Number One.
Meanwhile, BTS continue to lead K-pop’s expansion into America. In addition to their collection of number-one albums and sold-out U.S. stadiums, they have managed to slug their way into the conservative, highly competitive world of pop radio — not once but twice. And BTS continue to play the Grammys game: Last year, the group presented the award for Best R&B Album. (Their Love Yourself: Tear album also earned a nomination for Best Recording Package.)
Still, they didn’t get a nod from the Recording Academy on Wednesday — not for Album of the Year, not for Best Pop Vocal Album, not even for the vague catch-all Best World Music Album. While voters may have thought Map of the Soul: Persona was too short at seven tracks, they still nominated Lil Nas X’s 18-minute debut EP, 7, for Album of the Year.
The problem extends beyond BTS: American listeners are ranging more widely than ever before, increasingly enthralled by singers from South Korea, but also by artists from Nigeria, Colombia, and Spain. The music industry is historically slow to adapt, but it’s beginning to acknowledge that it must think globally — listeners in Indonesia or India might be every bit as important for breaking a new artist as listeners in Illinois. But the Grammys, as per usual, lag behind.