Yet again the 2022 Grammys concluded without any awards being issued to K-Pop artists. It has come as a surprise to many, particularly with regard to the boy group BTS. In fact, the Grammys is the only major international music award the group has yet to claim. The decision has left many wondering if K-Pop can ever win a Grammy and if there is racial bias at play.
Asian Artists at the Grammys
In 1963, Larry Ramos became the first person of Asian descent to win a Grammy. He was an American citizen from Hawaii of Philipino decent. Ramos was a member of The New Christy Minstrels which won the award for best performance by a chorus. He was one of 14 members of the group.
Since then there have been multiple Asian artists who have won awards at the Grammys. However, there is an obvious systematic gap when it comes to the representation of Asian artists at the Grammys. In 2020 only 3% of Grammy members were of Asian descent. And, as far as I can tell, while the Grammys does keep track of demographics related to other groups, but there are no official statistics available for the nominations of Asian artists.
However, even without official statistics, there is a clear pattern when it comes to the type of awards Asian artists win at the Grammys. The overwhelming majority have belonged to the Best Opera and Global Music categories.
Korean Disparity at the Grammys
As an American who has been living in Korea for the past six years, I find it odd that the only categories Koreans have won Grammy awards in are Best Opera Recording (1993), Best Choral Performance (2016), and Best Classical Instrumental Solo (2022). Those genres aren’t very popular here. And honestly, I can’t help but notice how much they align with the racial stereotypes I grew up with.
The gap becomes even more obvious when you compare South Korea’s Grammy nominations with virtually any European country. For example, Polish artists have received 20 Grammy nominations in categories ranging from Best Album of the Year to Best Contemporary Composition.
South Korea, a country known around the world for its modern and cutting-edge music industry, shouldn’t just have 3 Grammys over a 30-year span. All of which, are in classical categories. Internationally, Korea is famous for its success in pop and hip-hop/rap. Without bias, it simply doesn’t make sense that they have gone this long without winning awards in those categories.
BTS aside, South Korea is long overdue for a Grammy in a popular music category. However, I think the Grammys has a long history of being biased. There are systemic hurdles that need to be overcome for K-Pop to win at the Grammys. Many of the award categories seem like they were actually put in place to exclude international artists and people of color.
What is ‘ World Music’ and what defines categories like ‘Latin Pop’? If there are categories like ‘Gospel Album’ and ‘Contemporary Christen Music’, where are the categories for music inspired by Islam?
If the Grammys wants to stay on the map as an internationally acclaimed awards show, it really needs to check its biases and reassess how it categorizes music.
Fortunately, the Recording Academy has put increasing diversity at the forefront of goals for the coming years. Of course, it was as a result of the Recording Academy becoming the target of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Nevertheless, if bias at the Grammys bothers you as much as it bothers me, you can write to them on social media.
With enough public outcry, who knows? We might just get the chance to see a K-Pop artist with a Grammy next year.