On Sunday, BTS will be red-carpet-ready at the Billboard Music Awards. The first-ever K-pop act to be nominated for a BBMA, the boy band is a contender in the top social artist category. Being up for the fan-vote-driven award is no surprise, since the septet has the third longest run at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Social 50 chart, coming in second only to Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.
BTS’ attendance at the BBMAs — which will air live Sunday on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT — marks the first time any Korean act will appear at an American music awards ceremony where they’re up for an award. The boy band has broken numerous records and have the highest-ranked K-pop album on the Billboard 200, but along with their own achievements, the BBMA broadcast marks a milestone for Korean acts on American television in general. The BBMAs come after a decade of small nods — outside of news coverage — to K-pop on American TV, as Korean artists have attempted to break into the U.S. market.
The first time K-pop made a mark on American TV was in 2006, when MTV launched MTV K on satellite TV. Though the channel went defunct in 2007, MTV K was revamped in 2010 and became a major content purveyor for K-pop in the U.S. over the next few years, organizing several live performances by K-pop acts in New York City before it, too, went silent.
2006 was a major year in general for K-pop in the U.S., since it was the year R&B and pop singer Rain was voted first place in the Time 100, the magazine’s annual poll to determine the most influential people of the year. The next year, he took first place again, beating out The Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert for the top spot. The comedian hyped up the rivalry on his show and even released a parody of a Korean R&B music video, “He’s Singing in Korean.” The pair’s duel ended the following year, when Rain showed up for a surprise Dance Dance Revolution dance-off in 2008, marking the first time a K-pop singer appeared on American cable television. (Rain came in second that year, 2008, and then topped the Time 100 a third time in 2011.)
The next year, 2009, saw the Wonder Girls begin their admirable attempt at breaking into the U.S. market with appearances on The Wendy Williams Show and So You Think You Can Dance. The then-quartet would remain in the States for a while, touring as an opening act to The Jonas Brothers and releasing several English songs. Their career in the U.S. climaxed with their self-titled Teen Nick movie in 2012.
Between Wonder Girls’ first successes and their movie, K-pop’s presence on American television actually died down a bit. Things picked up again in 2012, when supergroup Girls’ Generation notably became the first K-pop act to appear on Live With Kelly and The Late Show With David Letterman, where they performed a remix of their 2011 song “The Boys.”
Girls’ Generation’s Late Show appearance was in January, but the Korean invasion of 2012 truly took off after Psy’s “Gangnam Style” went viral that summer. Even though Psy isn’t a K-pop singer by many standards, there was no denying that K-pop’s presence in the U.S. increased exponentially that year.
In September, the rapper performed his horsey dance with Britney Spears on Ellen, and after that he was everywhere — including Times Square on New Year’s Eve, where he performed “Gangnam Style” for the live broadcast of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. There were also those memorable pistachio ads. And though it didn’t feature any K-pop stars, Glee had an episode that year that featured both “Gangnam Style” and a snippet of BIGBANG’s “Fantastic Baby,” one of the boy band’s most popular songs.
Skipping two years forward, K-pop took a big leap on American TV in 2014. Not only did girl group 2NE1 get their song “I Am the Best” featured in a Microsoft ad — they had their collaborative track with will.i.am “Take the World On” featured in an Intel ad in 2012 — but also appeared on The Bachelor and on America’s Next Top Model, when both shows filmed in Korea. Other K-pop acts, including boy band BTOB and Korean-American hip hop artist Jay Park, were also featured on that season as Tyra Banks and the rest of the Top Model team explored South Korea.
Crayon Pop’s “Bar Bar Bar” also gained limited fame after a cover performance on Ellen by twins Yony and Zony. The song ended up being playing on ABC’s Selfie, when John Cho’s character questioned why people think that all Koreans like K-pop.
2015 was pretty quiet for K-pop on U.S. television, but 2016 saw some major movement, beginning in January when Family Guy featured Sistar and their song “Touch My Body,” and also had Peter and his bros parodying Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop.”
Later that year, Conan O’Brien went to Korea and filmed a music video with J.Y. Par, featuring Twice and Wonder Girls. 2NE1 frontwoman CL also hit up the late-night shows, performing her American debut song “Lifted” in September on The Late Late Show With James Corden.
September also saw Girls’ Generation teach the dance to their 2009 hit “Gee” to the Better Late Than Never stars when they made a stop in South Korea for their travel reality show. But things have been quiet since then on the mainstream television front — although Vice explored K-pop through a Viceland documentary in January.
BTS at the BBMAs will mark the first big moment for K-pop on American television in 2017, but hopefully it won’t be the last, as K-pop continued to grow in America’s pop culture consciousness.
PHOTO: Jessica Xie