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K-pop, Mandopop and other Asian pop

BTS gets its first Grammy nomination for Love Yourself: Tear, but it’s for album art

  • Best album Grammys are not usually given to groups that play pure pop music
  • Some say that K-pop should be given its own genre at the awards
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 2:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 4:24am

The past year was a banner one for K-pop in the US, with boy band BTS becoming the first South Korean act to land atop the Billboard album charts.

Love Yourself: Tear hit the chart milestone in May for an album universally applauded as a sleek, inventive statement piece for contemporary K-pop. If K-pop were ever to get Grammy acceptance on its own terms, this would be the album to do it (even if Grammy is terminally reluctant to award pure pop that appeals to young audiences).

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Grammy voters are probably due to reckon with K-pop as a genre sooner or later. So it’s a little curious and a little obvious that they chose best recording package as the way to get BTS (and the attendant social media deluge) into the ceremony without having to grapple with what its music means in a Grammy context.

And certainly, Love Yourself: Tear is a lovely, modern piece of album artwork. The design comes from the Seoul-based firm HuskyFox, which chose an atypically austere colour palette and typesetting for this instalment of the Love Yourself trilogy (which itself came in several versions).

K-pop is usually known for saturated colours and elaborate, futuristic set pieces, but the restraint on Tear emphasised that this emotional album was playing for different stakes. To judge by the chart success, it worked.

In the award for best album art, Tear is up against St Vincent’s Masseduction, Mitski’s Be the Cowboy, The Chairman’s The Offering and Foxhole’s Well Kept Thing.

But there’s likely a long way to go before a K-pop act gets top category recognition at the Grammys, given voters’ historical reluctance to reward pure pop, especially when not sung in English (give or take a Despacito), and in a scene that’s still perplexing to many older Grammy voters.

But this nomination does prompt the question: is it time for a dedicated K-pop Grammy category?

It would be tough to define as a genre. Is all K-pop made in Korea? Does it have to be at least partly Korean-language? Is Korean rap K-pop? But it’s no vaguer than some other micro genres at the Grammys.

Plus, one wonders what kind of collaborations might come out of a BTS live set during the ceremony – Janelle Monáe could slot right into a “Fake Love” floor routine.