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Is the Western Media Industry scamming K-pop?

As of writing this, the Cannes Film Festival is winding down in France after it kicked off in the French city of Cannes the previous week. In attendance were plenty of Hollywood big names like Natalie Portman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Harrison Ford. Since its beginning in 1938, The Cannes Film Festival has been an open field where filmmakers from all over the world could submit their films to be viewed by people from the movie industry. Because of this rule, it has been a place where many of today's Hollywood power players like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh got their start.

This year, a considerable number of Korean Pop artists attended the international film festival. There was the girl group Aespa, Rose from BLACKPINK, K-pop soloist BIBI, Krystal off(x), and Hyunjin from the boy group Stray Kids. But the K-pop Idol that completely stole the show was Jennie from BLACKPINK.

Jennie was there for the premiere of HBO's The Idol, her acting debut is directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson. Wearing a Chanel minidress, Jennie walked the red carpet alongside her costars Lily-Rose Depp and Abel 'The Weeknd' Tesfaye. Jennie was one to watch out for as shown by her being the most mentioned person on Twitter during the Cannes Festival where the first two episodes of The Idol were screened and by when Cannes photographers chanted her name to summon her for a solo photo. Something that was meant for only the main characters and the director, but Jennie's sheer star power made her a shining, glittering exception.

The Idol's premiere at Cannes reignited the online discussion around its production and what a Rolling Stone article had to say about it back in March. The Rolling Stone article featured sources from The Idol's production who described how the upcoming series was initially supposed to be a searing critique of how the entertainment industry treated women directed by Amy Seimetz was transformed into 'torture porn' when the helm taken by Levinson. Among the many significant changes made by Levinson was Jennie's role in the story. According to allegations made by the sources in the article, Jennie was treated like eye candy and was only given a few lines an episode. According to the sources, Levinson's rewrites reduced the role of Jennie's character in the show.

When this article came out, Blinks (BLACKPINK fans) were angered at the news and felt like Jennie was being used. It's not hard to see why as despite her role allegedly being greatly diminished in the finished series, Jennie is still at the forefront of The Idol's promotions. A promotional image of Jennie was the very first thing to be posted on the Instagram page for the show.

HBO and the crew from The Idol would not be the first people from the Western entertainment industry to seemingly use K-pop stars for shameless promotion and K-pop fans for views. In the past, music award shows like the Grammys and American Music Awards consistently used BTS in their promotions. In the lane of American late-night shows, it is becoming more common to see K-pop groups like NCT 127 and TWICE make appearances as guests and perform. The Big Mouse isn't above this as seen by the Disney+ streaming platform hosting a growing number of content featuring K-pop stars like Snowdrop-which stars Jisoo of BLACKPINK.

All of this is the result of K-pop gaining more traction in the global mainstream over the last few years. It doesn't take a genius to see the interest sparked by K-pop stars and figure out that it explodes into mountains of profit due to the support of devoted K-pop stans. So, it is no surprise that the Western media industry is engaging with the K-pop industry. They are simply following the money. But then comes the question of who benefits.

Ideally, it is the three parties involved in this transaction: the K-pop artist, the Western media, and the K-pop fans. In most cases, it is. But there have been situations where it has been felt that both K-pop artists and fans are receiving the short ends of the stick. One particularly huge example is the history that BTS has with the Grammys. The Grammys have been accused of using BTS and their fans-BTS ARMYS- for views while snubbing BTS out of actual awards and nominations.

BTS first attended the 2019 Grammys, where they were nominated for Best Recording Package for their studio album, Love Yourself: Tear. 'Best Recording Package', a non-main category award. While the nomination technically belonged to the art director for BTS' Love Yourself album trilogy, HuskyFox, and Will Perron would take home the Grammy for Masseduction, BTS still made history that year as the first K-pop group to present an award. At the next Grammys in 2020, the K-pop septet made history again as the first K-pop group to perform at the Grammys when were a part of Lil Nas X's performance of "Old Town Road," but weren't nominated for anything.

The 2021 Grammys were where BTS was officially nominated for a Grammy. They were nominated for 'Best Pop Duo/Group Performance' for their song, "Dynamite" but didn’t win the category, They performed their nominated song on the show that year and were the second-to-last performers that evening, something that would have devoted BTS ARMYs tuned into the Grammys for practically the entire ceremony. At the next Grammys in 2022, BTS was once again nominated for 'Best Pop Duo/Group Performance', performed, and lost to another nominee. That time their nominated song was "Butter," which they performed that night with an aesthetic heavily reminiscent of spy films. BTS ARMYs felt particularly stung at this loss, especially since the ceremony's host that evening-Trevor Noah-called BTS the 'biggest band in the world'. At the Grammys earlier this year, BTS received two nominations: 'Best Pop Duo/Group Performance' for their collaboration "My Universe" with Coldplay and 'Best Music Video' for their song, "Yet to Come." Once again, they did not win.

In this history between the Grammys and BTS, we see a Western media institution like the Grammys seemingly prop up BTS for views while never acknowledging their talent by rewarding them. This dynamic has the Grammys treat BTS as accessories rather than artists while finding themselves in disharmony with the intended audience-the BTS ARMYs.

When it was first announced that Jennie would be acting in The Idol, Blinks were excited and eager. Now they're afraid that the show's drama will drag her down and her worth will not be fully appreciated. As of writing this, The Idol has yet to premiere for general audiences. Perhaps, the allegations made by the Rolling Stone article (which Tesfaye, Depp, and HBO have disputed) were wrong. Perhaps, Jennie's character does play a significant role in the show. Perhaps, she and Blinks are not being used for easy views. Perhaps, The Idol will take Jennie seriously as an artist and will cause more in the Western media industry to follow suit with other K-pop stars.


We will all find out on Sunday, June 4th, when the clock hits 9 at night.

Edited by Katya Venkateshwaran

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Tags: #BTS #HBO #BLACKPINK #Jennie #TheIdol #SamLevinson #K-pop


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