Xenophobia in the Western music industry

By Ellie Mulvaney and Irene Cohen

Music is often called a universal language; something that ties people together without bounds. Throughout history, genres have been passed through people and geographical groups to spread different traditions, dances, and instruments through the music they originate from.

With this history, it’s hard to imagine that modern society is sometimes extremely intolerant with music, and the culture that’s associated with it, sometimes resorting to racism or xenophobia to hate on unfamiliar forms of media.

K-Pop is a genre of music thats name is a direct conjunction of its meaning: Korean pop. It’s typically associated with bright colors, vigorous dances, energetic songs, and is usually performed by groups.

The genre has spread west in past years, led by worldwide sensation group BTS. The group kicked off their first US tour in 2015, and since then, has only grown, getting their first Grammy nomination in the “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” category in November of 2020. However, the road to this accomplishment was anything but easy, and to this day, they still are on the receiving end of countless amounts of unjustified hate.

The stage makeup and outfits they wear are beaten down for being too feminine, while their songs are often branded as shallow, despite the language barrier that many Americans don’t care to overcome when looking into their music.

On a professional level, they have been void of some opportunities that many theorize could be due to where they’re from. At the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, the group received a nomination for “Best Collab”, which was won with regards to their song with an ​American​ artist, rather than a nomination for their solo music video that broke the record on YouTube for the most views in 24 hours.

This lack of Western recognition for the current, biggest, boy band in the world seems to run deeper than just simple coincidence, and bleeds into the xenophobia in America.

Some argue that BTS even being included in award ceremonies is the representation of East-Asian music groups that is needed in the award ceremonies. While BTS is able to get some representation from mainstream Western media, this is the first step in a very long journey to be more inclusive in award ceremonies.

Even when foreign groups are included in these ceremonies, they have special award names like “Best in K-Pop” instead of simply “Best in Pop.” They have these categories to make it seem like these groups are good but cannot be compared to our Western music artists. It is almost demeaning to have these categories.

This doesn’t just happen to K-Pop idols, either. In many music award ceremonies they have “Latin Pop” for Latinx artists instead of giving them just the “Pop” award.

We have seen countless times that when a song isn’t in English, it does not get the same representation in the award ceremonies that English songs receive. Many a time, songs not performed in English have performed extremely well worldwide to get beaten out by some English pop songs only known in the Western world. And that’s the best case scenario. Most of the time these songs aren’t even nominated for an award.

The Western music industry needs to be more inclusive in their coverage of music. Too long the Western music industry has not recognized the success or impact of a song, album, or artist just because it is foreign. The mindset of this music industry needs to change so that products of Western artists will not always be considered better than that of different regions.

Music should surpass language and culture, not be judged on it.

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