MUSIC

The BTS ARMY's Allegations of Racism Are Misguided

Can someone remind the fandom that the VMA's have always been problematic?

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Fans of the K-pop septet BTS –known collectively as ARMY– have always had to vie for legitimacy. While the boy bands meteoric rise in the west has perplexed the general public, the "ARMY" has lived up to its name, taking to social media to launch a full-blown assault on the masses.

The fandom unifies against anyone – and I mean anyone – that may imply the slightest ill will or dislike towards the group, and even those with little social media clout are guaranteed a sudden influx of activity at a remote mention of the group. "I wrote [a] tweet, and then ARMY came," wrote The Atlantic. "People were like, 'Yeah, it's great, love it with us!'"

However, after MTV recently announced its nominations for the VMAs, members of ARMY deemed MTV racist. Aside from allegedly snubbing BTS for "Best Video," this year's award show will introduce a new category for "Best K-pop." As one die hard fan wrote, "For anyone confused as to why it's racist, they made the kpop category to limit bts and rob them from other awards."


ARMY has been monumental in BTS's global outreach and success, and they've fought tooth and nail to make the group distinguishable among mainstream circles. The fight is mostly warranted, as critics have continuously tried to dismiss the group. One writer at The New York Times said that "she wanted to 'gag' after learning some people saw both Madonna and 'a K-pop band of 20-somethings' as 'legendary,'" and an Australian news host was forced to apologize after making xenophobic comments towards the group. "It's common to see critics make snide comments about BTS because of their youth or their boy-band status," wrote The Atlantic. Variety published a take that The Jonas Brothers return was "just in time to show the BTSes of the world how it's really done."

With ARMY's pride and joy attacked from all angles, of course, they took issue with the recent MTV VMA nominations.

The allegations are valid, but frankly a bit late and obvious. From Miley Cyrus saying "my real mammy" in a backstage skit to Rebel Wilson openly mocking police brutality as she announced the nominations for "Best Hip-Hop Video," accusations of racism have forever plagued the VMA's. Nicki Minaj derided the awards as racist in 2015 after she was snubbed for "Video of the Year" for her work on "Anaconda," yet racked up nominations in Hip-Hop related categories. MIA similarly slammed the award show in 2016, accusing the VMAs of "racism, sexism, classism, and elitism" after her video for "Borders" – wherein she portrays the struggle of refugees – was exempt from nomination for "Best Video."


ARMY's fierce condemnation of the VMAs and sudden realization about the award show's racial biases portray a fandom focused solely on their beloved boys, rather than on achieving equal representation in media. The accusations are especially problematic considering the BTS fandom has regularly struggled to quell racism within their own ranks.

As powerful as ARMY is, the fandom has been historically quick to cancel and deride anyone that stands in their way. Last month, they deemed comedian Alex Williamson a "xenophobe" for introducing the group on his show as "the biggest band you've never heard of" and for expressing his surprise at the group's BBMA wins, because "only one" of them spoke English. While the latter joke may have been in poor taste, the statement about BTS' reach was technically accurate, and to deem him an outright racist for his remarks seemed like a massive leap. Still, ARMY demanded that Williamson be fired.

ARMY's expeditious sentencing of their foes makes their calls to "cancel" the VMAs seem hollow. It is also worth noting that many members still plan on participating in the show. "I love how we armys multitask," tweeted @BTS_0utsold. "I mean, we will drag @vma's by their racist, raggedy wigs but still vote for our boys BTS because they deserve every award and we'd love to give it to them." While ARMY is overall well-intentioned, fans seem to want to have their cake and eat it, too. Their calls to action aren't rooted in a socially conscious agenda or higher cause; they just love BTS and will attack anyone who speaks less than highly of them. In doing so, they often validate the very criticisms they try to overcome.

Even if the fandom's critiques of the VMAs are well-founded, the all-out assault on the VMAs seems misplaced, especially considering that the program barely pulls in viewers these days. Instead, ARMY's "ethos of inclusion" seems to only apply when the fandom's attention is directed towards BTS themselves.

But regardless, thanks to the ARMY's vocal support, BTS is now one of the most decorated pop groups of all time. While it may hurt to see BTS so easily dismissed by the mainstream, the haters don't lessen the group's massive accomplishments, which are more meaningful than any VMA award could be. Instead of picking a fight with every and any person who remotely disses or minimizes the group–which just promotes more criticism of BTS from outsiders– why not just let the boys' accomplishments speak for themselves? Eventually, the rest of the world will be forced to listen.

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2020 is on fire.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the racist police epidemic to freaking murder hornets, let's just throw 2020 out. Yes, the entire year.

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MUSIC

Look Out Ariana: Astrid S Is on Her Way to the Top of the Charts

The Norwegian pop singer's rise in the business began with a successful turn on her country's version of American Idol in 2013.

The young songstress, born and raised in the center of Norway, has been playing music since she was five.

Following her TV appearance on Norway's version of American Idol six years ago, she's toured with Zara Larsson, received over 1 billion global artist streams, and was named one of Vevo's 2019 artists to watch.

This interview found her on the tour grind, supporting, among other things, her new single, "The First One."

The First One


What are you doing in town?

I'm on a tour with Zara Larsson. We played a show yesterday at Irving Plaza!

How did it go?

Really good! I was a little bit nervous because New York crowds can be very "cool."

Like, standoffish?

Yes! I was a bit scared, but they were really into it.

Tell me a little bit about your journey from non-musician to musician, and from Norway to the rest of the world.

It started with me being on this Norwegian TV show when I was 16. Before that I hadn't done much music. It was more of a hobby. After that show, I decide this is what I'd like to do. So I quit high school and moved to Oslo, got management, a label deal…

What was that TV show?

It was the Norwegian version of American idol.

So you just put your name in one day, like, "What the hell, why not?"

Well, I remember the first season of that show back when I was only six. I had told my mom how I really wanted to be on the show, but she told me I couldn't do it until I was 16 years old, in ten years. And exactly ten years later, it made a comeback! So It was fate.

So you got an agent, and then what happened?

Before that show I didn't write music, but afterwards I started getting into songwriting, and finding producers. I spent a year doing that, and then my first single, "2 a..m.," came out. And after that everything just started to kick off.

How do you normally write? With a piano?

Yeah, I started playing piano at the age of five. And when I was 14 I started listening to John Mayer, so I got a guitar. But writing with a piano or a guitar is something I used to do a lot of at the beginning, but now I'm more inspired by a cool beat, or a track, or a cool synth sound.

Did you find, growing up in Norway, that artists and the arts are respected there?

Sorry, what do you mean?

Well, in the U.S. there isn't a whole lot of state funding or kinds of support for the arts. So is Norway a nurturing environment for an artist?

That's a hard question to answer, because I was so young. In general, I'm a naive and happy person. I was floating in this happy wave of having figured out my life at such an early age. My view on it is, yes, it's very nurturing in Norway. Again, though, I was so young…I had great people that I worked with me and who trusted and respected me as a musician, and always felt like my voice was heard and I was in control of my own music.

Speaking of your own music, do you work with a regular crew of musicians and/or producers, or do you change it up frequently?

Most of my songs are different producers and different songwriters. I'm still trying to find that one person who I feel like I was born to collaborate with. It's kind of like speed dating. [laughs]

Who would your dream producer be?

That's a good question. I've worked with so many great ones so far…I have no idea. [laughs]

How about somebody out of left field, someone who would take your music in a different direction. Like, I don't know, a Mark Ronson.

God, I would love to work with him! A producer that isn't just "pop," necessarily.

I was listening to and watching the video for "Emotion" and there's a depth and emotive quality to it, to the video especially - and the production is quite something. Who was involved in that?

It's been a while, but let me think. I was into a lot of 80s music while writing that, and listening to Elton John and Queen and Toto. A lot of songs from the 80s, you put them on and right away you know what it is.

The hook is right there at the beginning.

Yeah, exactly.

Fast forward to "The First One." What was the approach there and how did it differ from "Emotion"?

Lyrically, it stands out from the rest, it's more intimate. I got to work with Jason Gill, who I had worked with several times without releasing anything, and finally we did something that was released.

The single is dropping May 24, correct?

Yes.

And then you're touring in support of that. Are you supporting any other music?

Well, I'm also touring just to generally play my music live, be in the States, network, meet fans, etc.

Where is the tour taking you?

So far, I've been in L.A., Boston, New York, we're going to D.C. tonight, then Philly.

Are you getting to any smaller cities?

Not on this tour. It's just two and a half weeks.

I see you were on a Fendi campaign: did you get a bunch of swag?

[laughs] They gave me nothing, actually. All my friends think they I got so many clothes.

Are you a designer clothing wearer, or a thrift shop diver like me?

I'm more the former.

What was that experience like? Had you done any other high profile commercial work?

No! It was very outside my comfort zone, those kind of photo shoots.

Was it a stereotypical fashion shoot you see in movies, where the photographer is yelling at the models and gesticulating?

Yeah, I got yelled at all day. [laughs] No, but it is like you see it in the movies, with a big crew who speak kind of Italian/English..it's an experience.

One last question: If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing instead?

I would probably study…I don't how you say it in English. It's a very specific thing, studying different species in the water. [laughs] I sound so stupid!

Marine biology?

Yes!

For more from Astrid S follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to organgrind.com for more of his work.