BTS performing Butter at the American Music Awards on November 21, 2021. [Image: Carolin von Petzholdt / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)]

BTS is First Asian Act to Win Top American Music Award Prize, Continues to Break Barriers

Korea Asia

On November 21, 2021, the K-pop group BTS made history as the first Asian act to win the top prize at the American Music Awards (AMAs), the Artist of the Year award. Other nominees for this year's AMAs hosted in Los Angeles, California, included top artists like Ariana Grande, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift and The Weeknd. BTS also won two other prizes, Favorite Pop Duo or Group, and Favorite Pop Song for their hit song Butter.

At the show, BTS performed the song My Universe with the British band Coldplay, as well as Butter, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks earlier this year. The band originally planned to perform the remix of Butter with American rapper Megan Thee Stallion, but Megan had to pull out at the last minute due to personal matters. Nevertheless, these performances were still meaningful, as it was the first time BTS performed for a live audience since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. This performance came right before the group’s “Permission to Dance On Stage” concert series began on November 27 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, which was their first concert since the pandemic’s onset. The four-night concert series earned $33.3 million and sold over 200,000 tickets, the the sixth-highest grossing engagement in Billboard Boxscore history.

This is not the first time BTS has performed and won awards at the AMAs. In 2017, BTS held their debut American performance at the AMAs. BTS has performed and won awards at the AMAs every year since 2018 in categories like Favorite Social Artist, Tour of the Year, and Favorite Duo or Group.

Soon after BTS won the top AMA prize, the GRAMMYs announced their 2022 nominations, which included BTS’ Butter nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. In 2021, BTS became the first Korean pop act to earn a GRAMMY nomination with Dynamite in the same category. BTS might make history once again as the first Korean pop act to win a GRAMMY if they do win with Butter at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Their accolades this year do not stop there: in September, BTS was inducted into the Guinness World Records Hall of Fame for setting 23 records across music and social media categories. In July 2021, they were appointed special diplomatic envoys by South Korean President Moon Jae-In. President Moon cited BTS’ records, both in the United States and abroad, for raising South Korea’s worldwide profile as reasons for this appointment, along with the group’s previous work with the United Nations.

This award is another in a long string of barrier-breaking firsts for the group. BTS, along with other Korean cross-cultural successes like Squid Game, have shown that the Korean Wave—or “Hallyu—is poised to continue deepening the relationship between South Korea and the United States. BTS’ recent string of global collaborations with artists like Coldplay, Megan Thee Stallion, Halsey, Jason Derulo, as well as mega corporations like McDonald’s, indicate that the cultural exchange and cross-pollination between the Korean and American music industries will continue. Korean media, products, and culture will continue to have a deep impact on the United States’ culture for the foreseeable future.

Kimery Lynch is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa with her MA in Asian Studies