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Instead of filling stadiums to the brim, millions of fans all around the world huddle in front of TVs, phones and laptops. Donning sweatshirts and holding lightsticks, some waking up in the dead of night, they wait in anticipation for what is to come. Finally, it starts. Seven men come into view as the music from the opening number blares in the background. It is the 2020 BTS Map of the Soul Tour, reimagined. And while the online format is unlike anything that could have been foreseen, it still showcased the incredible talent and star power of the septet and their deep connection to their adoring fans.
According to the Recording Academy, the Grammys are “music’s only peer-recognized accolade” and are a celebration of “artistic excellence.” BTS has repeatedly shown artistic excellence throughout their discography, and with the recent releases of their critically acclaimed singles “Dynamite” and “Life Goes On” from the album BE, the time is right for a Grammy win.
Signed under Big Hit, a South Korean entertainment company, BTS first arrived on the scene in 2013. Their name stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, or “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” and conveys their stance as advocates for youth and social justice.
BTS started as a hip-hop group but the versatility of the seven members has allowed them to experiment and produce a variety of hits. The three rappers, RM, SUGA and j-hope and the four vocalists, V, Jin, Jimin and Jung Kook, blend seamlessly on every group track. While the rappers mainly perform on verses, the vocalists — from light, airy Jimin to powerhouses Jin and Jung Kook and deep, grounding V — thread sections of songs together. The hip-hop influence takes center stage during their first albums – 2 COOL 4 SKOOL, O!RUL8,2?, Skool Luv Affair and Dark & Wild. In subsequent albums, other influences begin to surface in their music, resulting in tracks taking inspiration from various genres, such as “Airplane pt. 2”’s Latin rhythm, “So What”’s EDM beat and emotional ballad “The Truth Untold.” This progression shows BTS’s dedication to expanding their boundaries and achieving musical excellence.
BTS’s musical expression works in tandem with the impactful messages conveyed in their lyrics. Each member of the group contributes to the emotional depth and social commentary contained within their words. The single “N.O” criticizes the South Korean school system and the immense pressure on students. The album Wings, based on Nietzche and Hesse, is about darkness and temptation. The song “ON” highlights the power of perseverance in the lyrics “Can’t hold me down ‘cause you know I’m a fighter” and “bring the pain on.” The track “Louder than Bombs” includes a promise to the world: “Whatever wave may sweep over us, we will endlessly sing to you.” “Life Goes On” and “Dynamite,” both born out of COVID-19, include positive messages to spread happiness during difficult times.
Drawn in by BTS’s messages of inclusion and love, fans all around the world help boost the popularity of the group. ARMY, BTS’s fanbase, has been a large part of BTS’s journey throughout the years. These fans are as socially involved as BTS. ARMYs have matched BTS’s donation to the Black Lives Matter movement, organized charity groups, contributed to rainforests preservation and raised awareness about issues around the world. BTS and the stories woven through their lyrics motivate and inspire their fans. UNICEF has recognized this bond through the BTS Love Myself and #ENDviolence campaigns. The Recording Academy should also recognize the inspiration inherent in BTS’s music.
BTS has been met with some skepticism, from U.S. consumers in particular. Critics claim BTS’s music sounds manufactured and that BTS lip sync during live performances. Some critics also seem unwilling to look past the language barrier. However, it should be noted that BTS has had artistic freedom throughout their career and all songs are co-written by the members themselves. Member RM has writing credits on almost 170 tracks, and members SUGA and j-hope have each written at least 100 tracks. With BTS often experimenting with styles and themes, no two songs sound exactly alike. When they perform live, they may use a backing track, but never lip sync. The members practice tirelessly to ensure that their vocals are stable enough to perform their intense choreography and sing at the same time. During performances, one member might even add in an extra ad lib or change a line entirely. The language barrier seems to hardly be a deterrent -– one only needs to look at BTS’s tremendous international following. The diversity of ARMY truly proves that BTS’s music transcends language and evokes emotions in a broad swath of people across the globe.
BTS’s popularity is best seen on the charts. “Dynamite,” BTS’s first all-English single, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for a second week. It is only the 20th song in the history of Billboard Hot 100 to debut at #1 and remain there for two weeks. In its fifth week on the charts, it returned to the top for another week at #1. The music video recorded 101.1 million views in the first 24 hours, breaking a Youtube record.The success of “Dynamite” was quickly followed by the record-breaking release “Life Goes On.”
The Recording Academy cannot continue to ignore this phenomenon in the music industry. The single nomination BTS received this year for “Dynamite” in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category is a step in recognizing their impact, but their exclusion from other major categories such as Record of the Year and Song of the Year is puzzling. BTS produces the same quality of work as other Grammy winners such as Billie Eilish and Bruno Mars, and should not be treated differently. It is true that the Recording Academy nominates artists without taking album sales or chart positions into account, but BTS are extraordinarily popular and have achieved their success for a reason: they make good music. We can be assured that they will continue to do so as they experiment with music styles, write meaningful and impactful lyrics, and strive to improve every time they release new music. To say that they show artistic excellence is an understatement.