By: Mai Vabo
moonROK Guest Editorialist
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us once again. Twinkling lights, music, bright, sparkly confetti everywhere, people forcing their personal opinions on one another in the name of love… No, we’re not talking about Christmas festivities. It’s Kpop award season.
Every year, December through January is a time of high tension in the Kpop fandom. With multiple award shows, grand performances and special collaborations between groups, it’s one of the very few opportunities we get to see groups interact and enjoy the splendor amongst themselves. Unfortunately it is also the time of year when fan wars and drama between fandoms becomes the most prominent. It is understandable enough, there is a lot on the line. It is difficult to not get swept up in the excitement that surrounds the year-end events.
It’s always interesting to note the differences and similarities between Korean and international fans of Kpop, and award show season is no different. Over the past few months, is has been difficult to enter any social media Kpop circles without reading about MAMA voting or some sort of unfair or faulted selection system for winners of one award show or another. Meanwhile, in Korea, the Mnet Asian Music Awards are practically unheard of. Living here, there is not a single poster, hardly any TV commercials and barely any promotion at all for the show.
Mnet has over the years built an amazing international presence, and is becoming increasingly popular amongst international fans. MAMA has an open voting system, a big presence on social media, and English translations for every bit of information they release. This all makes it many times easier for international fans to feel like they are contributing to the end results, without having to wait for directions to be translated or figuring out Korean voting systems (as is the drill for most other award shows). In addition to these things, the Mnet Asian Music Awards show has an increasingly international presence via its collaborations with famous Western artists, and is streamed live all over the world.
Meanwhile, award shows like the Melon Music Awards offer opportunities for international fans to vote, but have far from as successful a marketing strategy, and as a result garner far less attention, whether negative or positive. Only after the event did controversies appear, with both EXO-Ls and ARMY’s clashing, and fans of rookie groups I.O.I and BLACKPINK disagreeing over who really earned which trophies.
Here is where bigger problems in the Korean award show systems become apparent. Despite years and years of complaints from fans about the voting systems, few award shows have deemed it relevant to reveal actual data from their shows, often leaving fans in confusion about results. This year I.O.I fans were left disappointed at the MMAs as BLACKPINK walked away with the esteemed award for “Best Rookie Group,” despite loud complaints and claims that the criteria had been changed at the last moment to allow BLACKPINK to win.
Similarly, EXO fans were left unsatisfied after the award show, claiming that EXO should have won the award for “Best Album,” which was instead given to BTS. Despite the fans’ apparent clear case and even some proof (think publicly available Melon streaming numbers), the award show’s representatives still refuse to reveal the method to the madness, leaving fandoms to blindly fight amongst themselves without any concrete criteria to back their claims.
MAMA has also come under fire year after year for showing favoritism to their winners, doling out trophies only to artists who agree to attend and perform at the ceremony, despite fan votes and apparent results. This criticism was yet again strengthened by this year’s results, which saw most every attending artist receiving at least one award each. Of course, it is impossible to say for certain whether these accusations have any grounds when Mnet won’t release any information on how the final results are calculated.
The consistent absence of criteria or weight when it comes to the calculation of votes seems very convenient. Mnet markets fan votes as having the heaviest weight in their final decision, but it is glaringly apparent that there are other factors that come into play. If the system isn’t rigged, does no one else find it more than a little strange that only the artists who end up winning awards are the same artists that just happen to have time in their schedules to attend each year?
Furthermore, mistakes are unavoidable when it comes to live shows of this scale, but Mnet consistently manages to outrage fans with small, completely avoidable errors. Following this year’s MAMA broadcast, GOT7 fans took to social media to air out their frustrations after Mnet labeled the group wrong, crediting MONSTA X as the artist performing “Hard Carry” live on screen. Additionally, GOT7 fans claimed that the group was not only shortchanged when it came to stage time, but that their performance was also disregarded after the fact, as it was uploaded nearly 10 hours after every other performance was on Mnet’s official YouTube channel.
The mistake was one of several minor incidents during the show (let’s not even get into the Wiz Khalifa and Taeyeon debacle), just another addition to the long list of technical difficulties which seem to befall the MAMAs each and every year. From faulty sound systems to poor organization and stage malfunctions, through the years the Mnet Asian Music Awards have been at the receiving end of international fan fury.
The hosts of the award shows are not alone in being the subject of fandom fire power though. Every year, fandoms seem almost too eager to jump at each others’ throats at any and every provocation, accusations flying and fingers pointing in every direction. Despite the unanimous strain that they cause fandoms across the board, award shows continue to grow in scale and between each year it’s almost as if the Kpop world forgets the controversies of previous years, and the whole cycle starts again.
While international fans are arguing amongst themselves, within Korea the Mnet Asian Music Awards are, if not ignored, politely overlooked. Here, the greatest honor comes from winning the grand prizes at the Golden Disk Awards and Seoul Music Awards. MAMA holds little importance in Seoul, ruffling few feathers aside from those of the most avid fans.
It is only natural for the grand prizes (designated “Daesangs” — Best Song/Album/Artist of the Year awards) to create a ruckus amongst fans — an award like this might decide a Kpop group’s entire future. Looking back, groups are deemed legendary, truly accomplished, and a leader of an established Kpop generation once the big awards start coming into the picture. The GDAs and SMAs are the Kpop big leagues that separate the good from the great.
BIGBANG, EXO, 2NE1, SNSD, TVXQ, Shinhwa: these are the names of artists turned Kpop royalty thanks to Daesang award wins. And at the start of it all? “Rookie of the Year”. Receiving this award during your debut year is an omen of success, an indicator of public expectation, and proof of an already powerful fandom. Ironically, it relieves a group of the “Rookie” title, propelling them to new career heights and setting the stage for fame, prosperity, and likely, an eventual Daesang win in the following years.
Last year TWICE took home a “Rookie of the Year” award, and they’ve already taken home one Daesang for “Song of the Year” (albeit from MAMA) this year, a feat rarely accomplished in the year immediately following a rookie win. It makes one wonder just how far the group will go, especially with Kpop rapidly expanding its reach to become a more global genre than ever before. Despite its yearly controversies, Mnet and its annual MAMA show have become the most important gatekeepers to a Kpop group’s international status, and this is exactly why fans all over the world are so passionate about the transparency (or lack thereof) of voting results.
Meanwhile, Korea’s biggest awards shows are yet to come. Both the Seoul Music Awards and Golden Disk Awards are coming up in Korea, and with YG artists likely to be back in the running, the addition of several prominent groups will intensify the already stiff competition that we saw at MAMA. The 26th Seoul Music awards are set to be held on the 19th of January 2017, with the Golden Disk Awards following on the 24th of January. These two awards ceremonies will very likely make or break the careers of your biases, so hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and remember: in the end we have no idea how the votes are counted anyways, so it’s not your fault if your favorites don’t bring home the hardware.
For more pictures of your favorite artists returning from MAMA 2016, head to the Official moonROK Facebook page!