MAMA 2020 Recap: Predictable Awards, but Epic Performances

Ah, MAMA. Out of all the Korean music awards shows, MNET’s is probably the most talked about and the most divisive among the K-pop fandoms. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Much to my frustration, the awards have been getting more and more predictable every year. I’m proud of all the groups and artists who win awards, but there’s just no fun in trying to guess the winners anymore. And I find that a shame, because that’s always been a big part of my awards show experience. But putting that aside, the show itself is really entertaining. Most of my favorites are invited to perform every year, so I tune in every year to see all the amazing special stages (#thatmultifanlife). This year was no different; I happily sat through the whole thing eating fried chicken and FaceTiming my bestie Jess (Jei’s Kulture Notes) to compare notes. We didn’t expect the show to last SIX AND A HALF HOURS, but we made it through to the end and it was totally worth it. But since there was so much to recap, it predictably took me two weeks to make my write-up. As you can probably guess, this is going to be a looooooooong post. (I broke it into several pages to avoid endlessly scrolling.)

MAMA and COVID-19

The most recent wave of COVID-19 has hit South Korea hard, and the situation is worse than ever. (I currently live there, so this is coming from experience and is not just a sweeping general statement.) MAMA actually happened right before things took a really serious turn, but MNET still had to put together a whole awards show while taking precautions. From what I can tell, the solution was to have all the performers come in and pre-record their stages in the days leading up to the awards. I assume that’s so the staff could have a decent amount of time to clean and disinfect everything in between performances. Then, everyone showed up again for the live show to do the red carpet and accept their awards. I didn’t actually realize any of this at the time, so I was very confused how some female idols’ hair was short in one appearance and then long in the next.

The artists wore masks when making their acceptance speeches, but the actors presenting the awards weirdly did not… I’m not quite sure of the logic behind that. Maybe it was just really important that we see the presenters’ whole faces when they announced the winners. Also, there were these women in face masks and metallic silver spandex suits who had to come over and spray disinfectant over the microphones every single time new people came out to talk. I’m sure they were supposed to be those tall pretty women you usually have at award shows to hand out the awards and guide the winners off the stage, but this year they also were on sanitizing. I found it pretty bemusing because I doubt that was actually effective, but at least they had those precautions in place.

It’s worth mentioning that after the awards, there were reports that the idols present at MAMA were mistreated compared to the actors. Apparently, the major issue was that most groups had to spend the majority of the show waiting in their cars in a cold parking lot, while the actors were able to have their own indoor waiting areas. While I was disappointed to hear this, I do wonder how much of this was unfortunate circumstances resulting from having to work with COVID-19 regulations. Though those pictures of NCT (and others) in the parking lot and in their cars make me really sad, I’m going to give the staff the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to an all-around uncomfortable situation. Definitely not ideal, but hopefully not intentional. (Though I do wonder why they had to film it a venue that was under construction.)

The Awards

There are plenty of articles out there with the list of this year’s MAMA winners, so I’m just going offer my own thoughts on MAMA overall.

As most people probably could have predicted, BTS totally and completely swept everything. Not only did they win all four daesangs (Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, and Worldwide Icon of the Year), but they also won in every category that they were nominated for. Seeing as BTS continually breaks their own records and surpasses their own achievements, it’s only fitting. I’ve thought they’ve deserved major awards since like 2016, and that conviction grows stronger every year as their list of accomplishments grows longer and longer. However, I just wish that BTS taking all the awards didn’t mean that there’s very little left for pretty much every other K-pop group out there.

The phrase “BTS is not K-pop” gets thrown around a lot, and that’s actually starting to become true in a sense. Whether you like them or not, the fact is that no one else is out there doing it like them. Their global notoriety, massive popularity, giant fandom, and high amount of sales (literally millions more than any other K-pop group) make them the obvious choice for any major award. But because of that, now we’re in this space where BTS is going to automatically win everything since they’re just in a different class than anyone else. And because of that, all of these other groups who also work hard and have a lot of success in the K-pop industry end up with what are essentially consolation prizes.

There are Korean music awards shows who try to spread the wealth (within reason) and give significant prizes to several different groups. Not MAMA. For the past few years, they’ve basically been making up prizes with vague meanings and giving them to the performers who don’t win any of the major awards. As a longtime GOT7 and Monsta X fan, it frustrates me to no end that this is their FIFTH year performing at MAMA and they have never ONCE gotten any of the big prizes. At least SEVENTEEN was able to snag Best Dance Performance once or twice, though they also deserve more than that. That being said, I do appreciate that MAMA has started adding “Favorite” awards alongside their “Best” awards. (Although I still don’t know what the criteria for “favorite” is because it doesn’t seem to be based on the fan vote, but whatever.)

While MAMA’s attendance awards are not a new revelation, I do think they are getting worse. For example, TWICE – who is normally treated very well by MAMA – missed out on the big prizes but got some brand new random award called “The Favorite Artist.” What does that even mean? The title is just clear enough that it sounds like a superlative, but it’s also vague enough that the true meaning is ambiguous. I love TWICE – they’re one of my favorite girl groups right now – but if MNET really wants to recognize their accomplishments, just give them a real award! They could have at least gotten Best Dance Performance for a female group!

On one hand, I know that I shouldn’t get so worked up about this. All longtime K-pop fans know awards shows can be shady with how they give out prizes (especially MAMA), and that’s not going to change. So when I’m voicing my frustrations, I’m essentially just shouting into the void. And the groups seem perfectly happy with the awards they get whether I think they’re “real” or not, which is what’s most important. Plus there were groups who didn’t even get ANY awards (I’m still shocked that Stray Kids wasn’t even one of the Worldwide Fans’ Choices.) But as a multifan, I just always want everyone to get the recognition they deserve and awards that don’t have such transparently made up meanings. I miss MAMA a few years ago when three different artists won the major daesangs and everyone still had a decent shot at most of the other categories.

Anyway, enough of my complaining. Let’s get to the fun stuff!

Up Next: Revisiting some of our favorite songs of the year.

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