The past year was a banner one for K-pop in the U.S., with 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).
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 color palette and typesetting for this installment of the “Love Yourself” trilogy (which itself came in several versions).
K-pop is usually known for saturated colors and elaborate, futuristic set pieces, but the restraint on “Tear” emphasized that this emotional album was playing for different stakes. To judge by the chart success, it worked.
The album 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 more vague than some other micro-genres at the Grammys.