This Three Country, Four Night Asian Music Awards Show Is A K-Pop: The Record: NPR Promotion Machine


BTS members attend the 2017 Mnet Asian Music Awards at Asia World-Expo in Hong Kong.

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VCG / Getty Images


BTS members attend the 2017 Mnet Asian Music Awards at Asia World-Expo in Hong Kong.

VCG / Getty Images

The beats of the Mnet Asian Music Awards, known as MAMA, resemble American ceremonies such as the Grammy Awards – a program to which the former CEO of his namesake television network compared the event. Despite its name, the event mainly celebrates the best acts in the K-pop industry over the past year, handing out joint awards such as “Album of the Year” and “Artist of the Year,” with some awards for achievements. mixed (mainly reserved for artists from Asian countries other than South Korea), primarily in the service of helping to cement K-pop’s central place in the culture of the continent. A mix of online voting, expert opinion and sales measurement to determine the winners, the event itself featuring a relentless parade of performances that grab the attention of most viewers, enthusiastically sharing clips on Twitter and gushing over every screenshot. Notably, MAMA is owned by CJ E&M, an entertainment company that operates a K-pop label and management division.

What separates MAMA from the other, seemingly interchangeable award ceremonies, is the scale – Mnet has spread this year’s edition over four nights and three countries. It premiered in Vietnam on November 25, before moving to Japan for a night out in Yokohama, then Hong Kong for the final two nights on November 30 and December 1. dedicated to K-pop awards show – has turned into a godsend celebration of the global ambitions of the K-pop industry, characterized in recent times by the international success of BTS (the group recently performed on The Ellen Show).

The awards began in 1999 on Mnet, a music and “youth culture” channel that began broadcasting in South Korea in 1993. At first it was analogous to MTV in the United States – all the more so. that Mnet made a deal with the US broadcaster to broadcast its content in Korea, which lasted until the early years. Mnet’s grand prix gala was first reflected after MTV’s Video Music Awards, which premiered as the Mnet Video Music Awards, with the two biggest prizes of the night going to videos. The first years, it was a matter of introspection, making room only for a category “best international artist” (first won by Ricky Martin).

By the mid-2000s, K-pop’s ambitions had changed. Korean musicals and television series were becoming incredibly popular across Asia. Aided by the support of the Korean government, a “Korean wave” spread across the continent in the following years, with music playing a central role. Mnet has gained more attention from countries in the region, especially their weekly countdown show Countdown M.

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As the wave spread, MAMA also pivoted, shifting from a national music video extravaganza to an event with bigger ambitions. Video awards became secondary and a trio of Artist, Album and Song of the Year awards became the top awards of the event (daesang, in Korean). More artists from across the continent have been invited to perform, with Mnet citing special awards as an excuse for their release. More importantly, as of 2010, MAMA moved entirely out of Korea, hosting the show in Macau, China. He has not returned to Seoul since.

Over the past decade, K-pop has become the sound of Asia. While local musical groups tend to take the top spots when it comes to overall sales in the national charts, Korean artists have knocked American pop from pole position when it comes to overseas sales in the world. region. Many saw “Gangnam Style” as something new, but the worldwide success helped push K-pop further into the mainstream throughout Asia. The mainland’s history and political situation often present obstacles – nationalist groups in Japan have protested against Korean television series, while China has banned all Korean entertainment for about a year following the installation by Seoul THAAD Missile Defense System on behalf of the United States. But catchy pop numbers and impeccable choreography top it off.

In recent years, MAMA has learned to play with this. “We need to increase the Asian market itself in order to prevent the Korean wave from flowing in one direction and stopping there,” former Mnet CEO Park Kwang-won said ahead of the 2010 show in Macau. “There has to be an exchange of Asian culture as a whole in order to develop the Asian wave. Just like the influence that the American Grammy Awards have on the whole Western market, we hope to develop the MAMA in order to influence the global Asian music market. “

MAMA 2017 took this to its logical extreme, with its pan-continental strategy, stopping in a booming market in Southeast Asia (Vietnam), the second largest music market on Earth (Japan). and at the gates of China (Hong Kong). Local artists and members of the industry have appeared there, from the 100-plus-member pop group AKB48 in Yokohama to famous Chinese performer Karen Mok in her hometown of Hong Kong. But, despite the CEO opening in 2010, all were secondary to K-pop. This is, of course, on purpose – in a clever branding move, MAMA is positioning K-pop as the center of the Asian music scene. As the sounds of this continent gain more attention, Korea will be at the forefront.

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Whether MAMA is the most important awards ceremony in Korea, let alone Asia, is debatable, however. After Mnet’s Hong Kong show ended, another major awards program, the Melon Music Awards, itself owned by LOEN Entertainment, a leading K-pop label and talent incubator, took place in South Korea. The stakes for LAM’s rewards seem quite low; the top three awards went to the three biggest Korean groups of the year – current international darlings BTS (named Artist of the Year), zippy girl group Twice (winning song award for “Signal”) and EXO (taking the price of the album). Lower honors were distributed more democratically, with few repeat winners. Like almost every episode of MAMA, the results seemed evenly distributed – so no agency or label, no institution that wields almost all power over the media (let alone their own actions), could get mad at Mnet.

Don’t tell fans that, though. They screamed every move in BTS’s high-energy performance of “Mic Drop” and turned on Twitter when it appeared that the image of popular group Blackpink’s faces was smeared on the screen (they didn’t. were not). Most notably, fans of boy group EXO crashed the country’s Blue House server after their favorites failed to win the award for best male group, falling to Wanna One, a group created from a Mnet talent competition. Supporters petitioned for the closure of MAMA. The anger at the channel continued even after EXO won Album of the Year, one of the show’s three grand awards.

All this online drama may not be good for government websites that have been inundated with EXO fans demanding action against the series, but it’s a good sign for MAMA that it can generate so much of frenzy. This is, after all, the reason it exists – to solidify Seoul’s status as the center of Asian pop.


Lyle L. Maltby

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