Nov 23, 2009

MAMA: the credibility, the controversy and the future

Posted by Nez
Mnet's new year-end award ceremony MAMA was no doubt a success. Although the show's rating clocked in at only just over 3%, today, the entertainment section of every media outlet in Korea was plastered with pictures and stories from this controversy-filled ceremony.

While most of us have learned to focus more on special performances by artists rather than the awards themselves, the awards are still the meat and potato of the ceremony. Star-studded nominee lists, the nervous faces, drum roll getting louder, your heart beating faster, and of course, the winners holding their trophies so dearly while they thank their parents with teary smiles.

So has MAMA's distribution of major awards been understandable, or using a word that is so highly debatable, fair? Although many of the results produced hot reactions, let's objectively examine the daesang (main award) winners of MAMA 2009.

Best Song of the Year: I Don't Care
The honor of the best song of the year went to 2NE1's I Don't Care. 2NE1 is a group which can be labeled as super rookies and deserved to win the best new female artist award more than any other groups who were present. However, did I Don't Care really deserve to win the song of the year?

Going back to the 2007 MKMF, we came across a similar situation as this year's MAMA - this year, we had 2NE1 as the super rookies, and in 2007, we had world famous Wonder Girls. They had taken the nation by storm with their massive hit single Tell Me, resulting in thousands of Koreans dancing to the song and posting the video online. There was no doubt that Tell Me had become something close to a national syndrome, but the award for the best song of the year went to Big Bang's Lies and the girls ended up with the Best New Female Artist Award. Why? It has been unheard of to give one of the daesang awards to a rookie group. Even legends like H.O.T. have not achieved such a feat. The only artist who has ever won a main award as a rookie is Seo Taiji. For those who are not so familiar with him, he simply started Kpop.

Now, back to 2NE1. I Don't Care was no doubt a popular song, but it is hard to say that it was as popular as Tell Me, yet the song somehow managed to push 2NE1 to a level that nobody has managed to reach since the creator of Kpop did. The only explanation that appears to make sense is that I Don't Care was given the honor only because SNSD's massive hit Gee was not there to claim the title.

Album of the Year: Heartbreaker
More controversial than any other recipients of the awards, G-Dragon's Heartbreaker was given the honour of being titled the best album of the year. For reasons that most of our readers are already aware of, Heartbreaker has been under criticism of not only the public and figures in music industry, but also from government officials. It was also found to be inappropriate for younger audiences and was rated R.

It appears that the reason why Heartbreaker received the award was the number of sales; the album sold over 120,000 copies as of late last month, making it one of the best selling albums of the year along with Super Junior's Sorry Sorry and Seo Taiji's two albums. If the album of the year award was based solely on the number of sales, then Heartbreaker deserves it. However, one must also take other factors into consideration. Heartbreaker has been received negatively by the public and the critics for plagiarism issues, and giving such an album the honour of being named the best of the year appears to be a little out of line. The problem is that Super Junior and Seo Taiji both did not make an appearance at MAMA, making it impossible to award the title to an album that is both high in sales record and free of negative criticism. Again, SM Entertainment's boycott plays into the award.

Artist of the Year: 2PM
The Artist of the Year, while not as fiercely contested in public opinion as the other two main awards due to the sympathetic view Koreans hold regarding Jaebeom, is being debated over as well. There is no doubt that 2PM rose to immense fame - or notoriety - this year, but in order to qualify for the artist of the year award, it is implied that the artist must have made some musical achievement during the year. Has 2PM made enough musical progress to be named the artist of the year over many other talented nominees? Or, have they been given the award solely based on either the sympathy the nation feels for their loss or the drama value of them crying for Jaebeom?

Intentionally headline-grabbing award results?

If you have forgotten, MAMA had been claiming that they will have Jaebeom appear at the ceremony. Controversy is what they have been aiming for. While we're on the topic of drama value, the appearance of three TVXQ members and their acceptance speech for the award of Best Representative of Asia best represents what MAMA aims to do with this ceremony. The three members appeared to accept a seemingly meaningless award, then gave "heartfelt" lines that no news reporter would pass up if they were in their right minds. The appearance of TVXQ members had nothing to do with giving an award to artists that have contributed to the Korean music industry; it was to create more controversy and attract more attention.

As discussed above, the reason behind the credibility of MAMA being under criticism is possibly due to the fact that its uncomfortable relationship with SME stopped SME's artists from appearing at the ceremony, combined with the ceremony's focus on more controversial, attention-grabbing content rather than fair and credible distribution of awards.

So what can Mnet do in order to improve MAMA? In my opinion, MAMA should minimize or get rid of the award ceremony format and stick to what it does the best: featuring special performances. Artists have put in lots of time and effort into preparing once-in-a-lifetime stages for the fans and it is unfortunate to see them being buried by controversy and drama surrounding awards. With their credibility down to the ground, perhaps Mnet should just focus on a concert-esque celebration rather than controversial awards that result in debates and boycotts. That way, we might get to see SME artists and trot singers perform in next year's MAMA.

Take out with full credits.

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