South Korea Takes the Stage

If there’s one thing that stands out from the 2020 awards season, it might just be the successes and historic firsts emerging from South Korea. Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In the music world, BTS made history as the first Korean group to perform at the Grammys on January 26th. For both Parasite and BTS to be recognized at two of the biggest award shows in the US is no small feat. The inclusion of non-Western and (predominantly) non-English speaking artists in American pop culture is a notable moment of increased representation.

With more diversity in pop culture, there are more unique perspectives being shared and incredible stories being told. Parasite follows the relationship that develops between two families, one wealthy and one poor. It’s a powerful and refreshing film that analyzes class politics, oppression, and wealth inequality. Bong Joon-ho has stated that his film resonates with audiences all around the world, not just in Korea.

Meanwhile, BTS writes and produces music that touches heavily on mental health and self-love, an important message given the magnitude of their platform. They spark social change and conversation not just from their music, but their style – their clothes and makeup prove the fluidness of masculinity. Though they were not nominated for a Grammy, their performance of “Old Town Road” is still a significant accomplishment.    

It’s no secret that America is traditionally Western-focused when it comes to pop culture. At the Oscars, non-English films are usually narrowed down into one oversimplified category: Best Foreign Language Film (which for the 2020 ceremony has been renamed to “Best International Feature Film”). In all of Grammys history, only one non-English song has ever won Song of the Year: the Italian song “Volare” in 1959. While there is still a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to acknowledging a wider array of artists, the successes of the Parasite crew and BTS are a start, especially as they themselves are advocates of appreciating diversity in art.

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong Joon-ho said at the Golden Globes. The same, it turns out, goes for music. “Music and performance transcends language and countries and races,” said BTS member Kim Namjoon. The representation of Parasite at the Oscars and BTS at the Grammys is a defining moment for pop culture. These artists are helping open the doors to a wider range of representation that ultimately benefits us all. 

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