MAMA 2017: Predicting the Winners

The MNET Asian Music Awards are finally upon us!  The week-long awards started in Vietnam this past weekend, with another show in Japan and the main event in Hong Kong.  After over a month of online voting, fans all over the world are waiting to find out which K-Pop acts will come out on top. Many categories are a head-to-head battle between EXO and BTS, but there are so many other questions to answer: Will all the recent hype over BTS in the US affect an Asian awards ceremony?  Will EXO manage to grab their fifth daesang for Best Album? With three comebacks each, will TWICE or Red Velvet be named the top girl group of 2017? And after enjoying years of favoritism, will any YG artists get recognized at all?  This year’s definitely going to be an interesting one.

I mostly went by the listed criteria for making my predictions: fan voting, digital/album sales, how I think the panel will decide, etc.  But there are other factors that I took into account like previous winners in the category, MNET’s favoritism towards certain groups, and the lineup. MAMA seems to somewhat tailor their results based on who attends, which makes the results even harder to call because I don’t know which awards will be announced when.  I’d assumed most of the major prizes would be on the final night, but many of the groups I expect to win something are spread out between Japan and Hong Kong. So I tried to consider all of these, but I mostly stuck to the official information to keep it simple.

I’m proudly multifandom and not usually overly influenced by one group. But for the sake of professionalism, I will try to be as objective as possible. For each award I will  who I think will win, and who I think should win.  If there’s another group or artist who I like but think is unlikely to win, I might add a special mention too.  I’ll be giving less detail on some genres that I’m unfamiliar with, and probably some soloist categories too. Since I don’t regularly listen to those artists, I don’t think I’m qualified enough to weigh in how it will turn out.  So in these cases, I mostly rely on the online vote.

Also, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who voted in the poll that I made a while ago!  It’s nice to see what other people think and how it matches with my own opinions, and it definitely helped me make this post!

Table of Contents

Artist of the Year Categories

Song of the Year Categories

Special Categories and Daesangs:

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Artist of the Year Prizes

Criteria: Online Voting 30%, Professional Panel 30%, Music Sales (Digital) 30%, Record Sales (Albums) 10%

BEST NEW MALE ARTIST

Best New Male Artist

Okay, this is probably the one major category that’s a no-brainer.  Four out of five of these acts have ties to Produce 101 – MNET’s wildly popular survival show – but only one of them really had an incredibly popular debut.

Who Will Win: The answer is easily Wanna One.  First of all, there’s no way that Produce 101 favoritism won’t come into play in some shape or form. I think it’s most likely to happen here.  But even if you took the MNET connection away, they’d still be the winner by a long shot. They place first in all four of the major criteria. The term “monster rookies” gets thrown around a lot, but it really applies here.  Even seasoned groups can’t get these kinds of numbers sometimes.

Who Should Win: I honestly do think that Wanna One should win.  Obviously I was very into Produce 101, but it goes beyond that.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the creative aspect of the industry that we almost forget about the popularity factor. It sounds superficial, but the ability to get thousands of fans all over the world to devote their time and energy to you is an ability nonetheless. I think that the fact Wanna One is so wildly popular should be acknowledged, and it’s best to do so here.

Special Mention: Although I’m pulling for Wanna One, Golden Child‘s “Dam Da Di” was probably my favorite boy group debut of the year.  The tune was just so classic and catchy.  And though I’m moving away from younger groups, their fun and fresh performance caught my attention.

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BEST NEW FEMALE ARTIST

Best New Female Artist

It seems like either Chungha or Pristin will take the win, but it’s hard to tell which. Both of their debuts were fairly well-received for rookies.  Produce 101 favoritism could also go either way, because both Chungha and members of Pristin are alumni.

Who Will Win: Pristin has the most album sales out of the five nominees, but that category only counts for 10%.  Chungha’s got the fan vote and digital sales, so it probably comes down to how the panel feels.  It’s possible the judges could swing it in Pristin’s favor, but I think Chungha has a slight edge.

Who Should Win:  Again, I think either Chungha or Pristin deserve the win.  Chungha’s definitely the best debut for a female soloist, and I think Pristin had the best debut for a female group.  I won’t be fussed if either of them take home the prize. But if I had to choose, I’d pick Pristin. Pledis Entertainment is on the rise, so I think they’ll be a group to reckon with in the near future.  And I liked their songs a little more than Chungha’s.

Special Mention: I wish that Dreamcatcher had more recognition in South Korea. I know a lot of international fans love them because they have a different (read: edgy) concept.  That’s part of it for me too, but I also like how consistent they are.  It was clear that they and their management had a game plan that they stuck too.  Everything was on point: the music, the performances, and the gorgeously creepy videos.

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BEST MALE GROUP

Best Male Group

This category is a total bloodbath. All these groups are doing well, and most are coming off their best year yet. EXO is still holding onto top boy group status, and BTS has soared to new heights. NU’EST W basically resuscitated their career, while GOT7 and SEVENTEEN are both groups with strong followings steadily on the rise. The only option I’m nixing is Wanna One, because they’re already guaranteed the Best New Male Artist award. However, their debut basically threatened to destabilize the K-pop industry as we know it.  We all know it’s between EXO and BTS, but it’s been a great year for them all.

Who Will Win: EXO has the fan vote and BTS has both digital and album sales, so it will probably come down to the professional panel.  MAMA has been good to both in the recent past, and I’m sure that they’ll probably end up dividing the six awards they’re competing in. However, I think BTS will win this particular category.  I’m not sure how much K-pop in the international sphere is factored into the decision, but I think all of the recent hype over their US activities will give them the edge with the judges.

Who Should Win: I think this is the year of BTS.  They were already on the rise in 2016, but 2017 has made them into superstars.  It may not count, but the attention they have been receiving from the US is enormous (and the major factor in my decision).  America is a wide and diverse country, so I don’t speak for anyone else besides myself. But in my experience, there is a definite stereotype associated with things like anime and K-pop and the people who like them.  “Gangnam Style” was popular, but it also reinforced those stereotypes. So I think it’s a major accomplishment that BTS has been brought into our pop culture sphere – mostly by hype, but also by their high-quality music.  In terms of their work and not their influence, I think BTS’s music was also just a bit better than EXO’s this year (loved all of it, though).

Special Mention: I love all these groups, but if the playing field were more even I’d be pulling for NU’EST W. With all there is to consume in K-pop these days, it’s hard for groups in a rut to pull themselves out of it – no matter how good their music is. NU’EST were headed for disbandment when they joined Produce 101, and their actions on the show helped them rise from the ashes.  A 2013 song climbing to the top of the charts and a music show win after five years are practically unheard of.  MNET is indirectly responsible for their success, so wouldn’t it be nice if they showed NU’EST some love?

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BEST FEMALE GROUP

Best Female Artist

This is a tough call, especially because it’s a battle between the Top 3 agencies (MAMAMOO and GFriend don’t have the numbers to place first in any of the criteria).  BLACKPINK has the fan vote, but the one single they released hurts their score in sales.  TWICE has both music and album sales locked, but they’re way behind in the fan vote.  Red Velvet seems to be in second place for most categories, but I have a feeling that the panel might sway towards them.  So that makes it almost exactly a three way tie.

Who Will Win: I’m going to predict TWICE will end up on top, because they definitely have the sales for it.  And if I’m wrong about the panel picking Red Velvet, I imagine that TWICE is the other likely scenario.  In this case, I think it’s also helpful to look at the big picture.  Last year, “Cheer Up” took home a daesang because it was indeed the Song of the Year.  This year, TWICE hasn’t really produced a knockout hit like that – and EXO and BTS are deadlocked in all three categories.  I think it’s very possible that MAMA will give TWICE this award to compensate for them not getting a daesang.

Who Should Win: My personal pick is Red Velvet, who had an excellent year.  They don’t automatically dominate charts and sales like TWICE does, but they have a loyal following. “Rookie” and “Red Flavor” both did well, as did their respective albums.  And though it probably doesn’t count, “Peek-a-Boo” is probably the best song I’ve heard all year.  I like TWICE, and I was all for their wins last year. But I personally think that Red Velvet’s music was better this time around.  They were kind of shoved to the side when TWICE rose and BLACKPINK debuted, but this year has put them back in contention.

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BEST MALE ARTIST

Best Male Artist.png

I haven’t really listened to any of these artists at length, so I’m not going to make a personal choice here.   G-Dragon has the fan vote and the sales, which combined together is probably enough to take home the win.  It’s very likely that he would get the professional panel as well, since MNET used to favor YG artists up until recently. Zico has a small shot, but it seems unlikely.

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BEST FEMALE ARTIST

Best Female Solo Artist

Taeyeon is the fan favorite and has sold more albums than all of the other contenders combined.  IU is her other major competition because she has the most music sales, but the other three have ways of pulling off an upset.  Sunmi’s “Gashina” was extremely popular, Heize is a regular chart topper, and Suzy still remains beloved by the public.

Who Will Win: It depends on how the panel votes, but MAMA typically loves Taeyeon.  She’s won Best Female Artist for the past two years, and it’s highly likely she’ll take it home a third time.

Who Should Win: I like all the songs that these ladies have released, but I’m firmly Team Taeyeon.  She’s the only soloist that I actively follow, and her album remains one of the few where I enjoy all the songs.  “Fine” is also one of the prettiest things I’ve heard, and watching the music video still makes me cry.

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Song of the Year Prizes

Criteria: Online Voting 20%, Professional Panel 40%, Music Sales (Downloads) 30%, Record Sales (Albums) 10%

BEST DANCE PERFORMANCE – SOLO

Best Dance Solo

This is essentially a battle between Taemin and Sunmi.  Taemin has the fan vote and record sales, while Sunmi has the music sales.  So it boils down once again to how the professional panel votes, and it could really go either way.

Who Will Win: I’m going to predict Taemin.  K-pop is filled with amazing dancers, but he’s really on another level.  “Move” is basically just a bunch of voguing and body rolls, but he does it in such a unique way that no one else can. He also won in the same category last year, and has a confirmed appearance at the MAMAs.  So although Sunmi’s song got a lot more public attention, I could see the judges choosing to acknowledge Taemin’s talent and top dancer status like the online vote did.

Who Should Win: I personally think that Taemin is the best dancer that K-pop has to offer right now, but I really want Sunmi to win.  The dance for “Gashina” was iconic, and I’ve seen at least 25 other idols do covers of it.  Key point moves are a trademark of K-pop dance, and the gun was the perfect example. Out of these five songs, “Gashina” is definitely most worthy of a choreography prize.

***

BEST DANCE PERFORMANCE – MALE GROUP

Best Dance Male Group

This category is probably the hardest for me, because I love all of these dances. Like if I made a “Top 10 Boy Group Dances of 2017” post (which I might!), all six of these would end up on it.  “Ko Ko Bop” was so fun that inspired a viral challenge worldwide. “DNA” is expertly choreographed. “Shangri-La” and “Don’t Wanna Cry” are both gorgeous and heavily influenced by contemporary (my favorite style).  “Beautiful” has that excellent dance break, and everyone remembers the ending of “Cherry Bomb.”  So even though the numbers are telling a different story, I have such a hard time choosing a clear winner.

Who Will Win: This is the second battle between EXO and BTS, and EXO is the more likely winner this time around.  Unlike the Best Male Artist category, this one only counts the one song and the album it belongs to. The War sold more copies than Love Yourself: Her (not counting the repackage Power of Music). And more importantly, “Ko Ko Bop” was downloaded more than “DNA.”  They’ve also narrowly beat out BTS for the fan vote.  So even if the professional panel votes in favor of BTS, EXO should have enough of an advantage to come out on top.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they “randomly” gave it to one of the smaller groups like SEVENTEEN or Monsta X.  They’re regular MAMA nominees and get trophies like “Best of Next” or “Worldwide Star,” but neither has ever won one of the big awards.  So it’s possible that MNET would do it this way, but I won’t count it in my predictions.  I’ll still officially say EXO.

Who Should Win: If we’re picking between EXO and BTS, I’d go for BTS. “DNA” is just an amazing choreography.  Everything fits together so perfectly, and the energy level builds throughout the dance. It’s really just firing on all fronts.  I don’t normally get hyped up when I watch K-pop dances, but “DNA” is my exception.

Special Mention: Just for fun, I’ll choose one of the groups that isn’t EXO or BTS.  My favorite varies among these performances, but I was obsessed with NCT 127‘s “Cherry Bomb” all summer. It has its flaws and there are some very awkward looking parts, but there’s no other K-pop choreography that’s even remotely like it.  And the ending? ICONIC.

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BEST DANCE PERFORMANCE – FEMALE GROUP

Best Dance Female Group

I’m going to eliminate Apink because I have no idea why “Five” is a nominee; the dance is fine, but not overly exciting or challenging.  Although GFriend is renowned for their dancing skills, they’ve experienced a bit of a decline recently.  (Personally, I think “Love Whisper” is their weakest choreography this year) They won this category in 2016, but as far as I know they haven’t confirmed their attendance for the awards…so I’m inclined to believe this puts them out of the running. Girl’s Generation captured the fan vote at the very last minute and a win for them would be great, but it’s unlikely that the judges would choose “Holiday” over other dances.  This essentially leaves us with another competition between Red Velvet and TWICE.

Who Will Win: Red Velvet narrowly beat out TWICE for downloads (“Red Flavor” vs. “Signal”).  I personally believe that between these two, one will receive the Best Female Group award and the other will get this one.  Since I think it’s slightly more likely that TWICE will be named Best Female Group, I’m betting that Red Velvet will take this prize.

Who Should Win: “Signal” is TWICE’s most difficult choreography to date. Though that’s not necessarily a measure of whether a dance is good or not, it does indicate that TWICE is capable of more than the cutesy fare they normally give us.  However, the sheer amount of aegyo and hearts in that routine is too much for me.  I personally prefer “Red Flavor’s” choreography, so I’ll throw my support behind Red Velvet once again.

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BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE – MALE AND FEMALE SOLO

Again, I can’t really pass judgment on these categories because I didn’t really listen to any of these songs. I know I’m terrible, but I really don’t listen to soloists all that much.  It was kind of a coincidence that I was familiar with all of the nominees in the Best Female Artist category. I did listen to Sejeong and Eunji’s music, but I don’t think either have the power to pass IU.  Zion.T and IU both won the fan vote, and I’m inclined to think that they’ll win the awards as well.

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BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE – GROUP

Best Vocal Performance

This specific category is quite weird to me.  All of these groups are well-known for their vocals, but none of the songs nominated actually display that? I know that being able to hit high notes isn’t exactly the measure of being a good vocalist, but I still expect songs with more complexity than what the average person (read: me) can sing. “Really Really” and “Calling You” are great, but they’re quite easy to sing along to and don’t show off the members’ vocals. “Yes I Am” has vocal power (read: I can’t sing it), but it also has a more processed sound than what MAMAMOO normally goes for. I don’t really listen to Bolbbalgan4, but from what I remember it was a mellow indie sound much like their previous hits. Only “Missing You” really fits what I would call a “vocal performance.”

Who Will Win: “Really Really” was an immensely popular song that put WINNER back in the public eye and gave them new fans.  It’s currently the second most downloaded song of 2017 and the most streamed one. It also has the most music sales and the most online votes. YG isn’t being shown much love at the 2017 MAMA, but I expect WINNER to be rewarded for what should have been a contender for Song of the Year.

Who Should Win: I enjoy “Really Really”  as much as the next person, but like I said I don’t really consider it a “vocal performance.” I would choose BTOB, because “Missing You” is just beautiful. Ballads are really not my thing, but this one makes me pay attention.  You can hear a lot of emotion and soul in their voices, which I guess is my mark of what makes a good fit for this category.

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OTHER CATEGORIES

Miscellaneous

I don’t really listen to these kinds of genres, so these are categories that I’m really not familiar with.  So I won’t give my own opinion here; I’ll just make predictions based on the criteria:

  • Best Band Performance: Though veteran group FT Island has the most downloads, I’m thinking the judges will reward DAY6 for the steady stream of music of that they’ve released all year and their growing popularity.
  • Best Hip-hop & Urban Music: It’s a toss up between Heize and Zico, but I think the judges will side with the fan vote and give it to Zico.
  • Best Collaboration: IU has the most digital sales. But since she doesn’t seem to be attending the awards, I’m inclined to think the award will be given another nominee instead.  It’s most likely to go to an EXO member, and I’ll choose Baekhyun‘s collaboration with Soyou because it won the fan vote (also he won this category last year).
  • Best OST: It’s definitely going to be one of the three tracks for Goblin.  Ailee’s song has the most downloads, but Chanyeol’s won the fan vote by a wide margin.  MAMA has given Ailee awards before, but since EXO will definitely be in attendance I think Chanyeol and Punch will end up with the award.

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Special Categories and Daesangs

BEST MUSIC VIDEO

Best MV

Criteria30% online voting, 70% professional panel

Who Will Win: EXO won the online vote, but the panel could easily choose any of these nominees.  Therefore, this is probably the category that’s most influenced by personal preference.  They could give it to Wanna One because of the Produce 101 factor, to SEVENTEEN because they feel it’s time for them to get a major award, or to TWICE to make up for them not getting a daesang.  However, it’s still likely that EXO and BTS will be the final choices.  In this case, it’s really a choice between whether you like cool visual elements and effects like “Power,” or compelling stories like “Spring Day.” It’s a tough call, but I think the online vote gives “Power” a slight advantage.

Who Should Win: Since I’m a film school snob student, I look at a lot of factors when it comes to music videos: camera angles, lighting, color correction, location, production design, wardrobe, editing, relevant narrative or concept, etc. Personally, I think that there were much better choices for Best Music Video than “Energetic” or “Don’t Wanna Cry.”  They’re both pleasing to the eye, but I don’t find anything ultimately compelling about them.  They only take a couple of the things I mentioned into account. The remaining three videos are all great in their own ways, but I think “Power” is the best of the three.  It’s relevant to pop culture, it’s fun, and it matches its music extremely well.

SONG, ARTIST, AND ALBUM OF THE YEAR

EXO and BTS

CriteriaI think the categories for Artist and Song of the Year are the same as mentioned above. Album of the Year is 40% professional panel and 60% album sales.

This year all of the daesang awards boil down to a competition between EXO and BTS, though there are technically other nominees. Every artist nominated for something is automatically up for Artist of the Year, and it’s the same with every song. But according to the online voting, there’s a wide margin between EXO, BTS, and whoever is third place. Wikipedia mentions the other three Album of the Year nominees as Girls’ Generation’s Holiday Night, Red Velvet’s The Red Summer, and GOT7’s Flight Log: Arrival (though I can’t find another source).  However, none of those albums’ sales are quite enough to compete with the other two.

Who Will (and Should) Win: I imagine that the division of awards will be similar to the first matches I discussed – BTS should win Artist of the Year, and EXO will take Song of the Year.  I’d also expect EXO to receive their fifth Album of the Year with The War, unless Love Yourself: Her has more of an impact with the critics.  This would mean that out of six categories, I expect EXO to take four awards and BTS to take two.  Personally, I’m happy with either group winning.  EXO is my bias group, but BTS had a fantastic year musically.  I’m actually really excited to see how this pans out.

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Only hours left until MAMA in Japan!  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch either of the remaining ceremonies live…unless I want to wake up at 5 a.m. But I’m looking forward to hearing about the results and watching the cool stages!

SOURCES: MAMA official website, Wikipedia, Soompi, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal), K-Pop K-Fans (Blogspot), Play Buzz

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