I Watched the AMAs Specifically for BTS and I Feel Cheated

I can’t remember an instance where I’d willingly watched the AMAs, and sitting through most of the performances this time around only served as a reminder as to why. Nick Jonas was groped by ghost hands as he sang while Selena Gomez sleep-walked through her bit. Even former One Direction member, Niall Horan, couldn’t command the room, his snore-inducing act being completely forgettable. Still, there were some musical numbers that didn’t disappoint, such as the Imagine Dragons and Khalid collaboration and P!NK‘s Cirque-du-Soleil-esque routine.

But none — and I mean none — compared to the literal eye-candy that is a BTS performance.

For many Americans, this was the first time they’d truly witnessed Korean Pop as K-Pop fans would have them see it — not the goofiness of PSY or the watered down, K-Pop-lite that was the Wonder Girls’ opening act for the Jonas Brothers back in their heyday. No, this was the band smashing records and breaking barriers, taking names (and hearts) as it rode the Korean wave, washing up on American soil.

And for a loyal fan of Korean pop for at least a decade, it was a polarizing experience of both validation and frustration — mostly the latter.

To start, the influential, international boy band was introduced by The Chainsmokers, with whom they have previously collaborated. The Chainsmokers made headlines earlier this year for joking about Chinese people eating dogs, followed by a transparently-pandering tweet to Korean pop fans regarding BTS  a mere eight minutes later. The same, inescapable feeling of being pandered to carried through their quick speech, where they, perhaps unintentionally, condescendingly mentioned feeling nervous about introducing BTS. Was it because they were acutely aware of their standing with ARMYs? Or because they were told to pretend to be excited about their act?

Was it perhaps… they legitimately understood that, the minute they uttered the K-pop band’s name, the crowd would erupt for them in a way that they never would for the duo?

Whatever the case may be, the performance began, the first few notes of “DNA” reverberating across the auditorium amidst the eardrum-shattering screams and tears of fans — Korean Pop had officially come to prime-time American television.

BTS’s number wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for them; as always, they gave it their best, singing and dancing flawlessly, despite RM (formerly Rap Monster) being given a faulty microphone and sub-par camera work throughout. In comparison to the other on-stage acts of the evening, theirs was the most in-sync, complexly choreographed, and best coordinated; standard for a group that practices longer, harder, and more intensely than any of their American counterparts.

Throughout their performance, audience members screamed, cried, and danced along with their boy band bias — many sang in unison, showing the dedication it takes to actively learn the lyrics to a song in a language not their own. As the number concluded, the crowd chanted their name, something that previous acts failed to elicit.

And just like that, the buildup of what seemed like a lifetime was over; Jared Leto approached the stage, making a comment about “needing a moment to recover” from their “incredible performance”, the show quickly continuing on schedule.

The way it all unfolded felt…hollow.

That was it? I sat through hours of television that I otherwise wouldn’t have for shoddy camera work and poor audio for what was supposed to be a groundbreaking moment?

Turning to Twitter to see if netizens had enjoyed BTS’s set, I realized that the same feeling of being pandered to carried through to social media. The AMAs and other entertainment accounts had tweeted about the evening, but the most viral tweets were anything and everything pertaining to the Korean pop sensation. Niall Horan’s win? A thousand likes. Selena Gomez’s outfit? A thousand and some change. Even P!NK’s death-defying performance had only managed to gather 1,500 likes an hour or so after it had been tweeted.

But BTS, yet again, stole the social media show, with some tweets earning upwards of 100,000 likes within a couple of hours — the AMAs’ best performing tweets of the evening. Tweets about other headliners, such as Portugal. The Man, failed to receive even 2% of the likes that BTS tweets gained quickly; as such, the official AMAs account milked them for all they were worth.

As I scrolled through to gauge general reception of the band that Hallyu dreams are riding on, I couldn’t help but feel used. Time and time again, diehard BTS fans, ARMYs, have proven the boy band’s relevancy to the world. These devoted fans spend countless hours voting for BTS in the ridiculously few categories they’re allowed to be in, watching their videos on repeat until they break records, and showing up in full force to support the band in person. They’ve even helped BTS win two Guinness World Records! Rain or shine, these people deliver, making their voices heard like it’s their full-time job.

And I couldn’t shake the feeling that this AMAs performance, faulty mic and all, was nothing more than an AMAs’ board room decision to grow their Twitter following — an effort to retain even a small fraction of the overwhelming power that is the BTS fanbase.

Netizens seemed to agree — BTS was treated poorly.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been around the block a few times with Asian musicians in American media that I’m not surprised; I watched the original “Fantastic Four” just to hear the few seconds of Orange Range’s “Kirikirimai”, conquered my fear of movie theaters in time to see Jay Chou in the “Green Hornet”, and played Se7en’s American debut song “Girls” enough to make my ears bleed just to get the view count up on YouTube. I’ve waited for the day that my beloved biases like Miyavi and Big Bang would be recognized in American media, validated for their amazing music and hard work by an audience from which they were trying so hard to gain acceptance; nothing, of course, would ever come of their valiant efforts. Eventually, I grew tired of being baited to support something I otherwise wouldn’t simply because my faves were present, too jaded to get excited about U.S. debuts of Asian musicians who I knew would be treated as an afterthought.

But the stars seemed to align for BTS — ARMYs having a major hand in their success of course — and they were positioned as the most likely to do well in the States; watching them being carelessly handled, with minimal effort being given to ensure a stellar performance, was therefore frustrating. How much more do they need to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with? When will they be treated with the same care that their American counterparts are given unquestioningly? I mean, for Christ’s sake, the AMAs had to mute the audience’s fanchants just so viewers at home could hear their song, the irony being that the stands of the American Music Awards were filled with Korean pop fans.

I’m sure there will be a lot of hopes and dreams riding on these guys long after they fly back home; there will likely be talks of American record deals, collaborations with more American artists, and maybe even promises to play Korean BTS songs on American radio. Historically speaking, it’s always been like this, but nothing ever comes of it, and if the half-assed excuse of a welcome the AMAs gave BTS are any indication of how things will be in the future, I remain skeptical that things will ever change.

Will American media ever take Korean pop seriously? Doubtful. And we as Kpop fans need to recognize when we’re being treated fairly and when we’re being tapped into for our overwhelming Twitter activity.

Last night?

BTS was disrespected.

ARMYs were used.

And without Hallyu, the AMAs were an otherwise lackluster, forgettable evening.

Feature Image via Twitter / idolator

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