The 2016 edition of the Mnet Asian Music Awards took place on Friday, and in the lead up to the Hong Kong ceremony we were all convinced that it would spawn another screaming, crying, White House-petitioning fan war between the fandoms for Exo and BTS. Even Mnet was busy laying down the groundwork, with sister channel OnStyle putting out a Charlie Rose-esque roundtable video wherein an Army and an Exo-L were invited to butt heads over topics like popularity and dancing.
However, the biggest drama to arise from the ceremony was not who got or didn’t get what award, or even Lay‘s finger-wagging speech, but a collaboration that fell through.
Rapper Wiz Khalifa was one of the international performers at MAMA this year, along with Gallant and Timbaland. Quincy Jones was there too, but he spoke rather than perform. Gallant performed solo and Timbaland debuted his collaboration with Eric Nam; meanwhile, Wiz Khalifa was slated to perform “Young, Wild and Free” and “See You Again,” with SNSD leader Taeyeon adding a K-pop touch by covering Charlie Puth‘s lines in the latter song. A leaked video even shows the pair rehearsing at the venue. But when it came to the actual performance, Taeyeon was nowhere to be seen; Wiz Khalifa was instead accompanied by the entire stadium (and Bambam).
After the show, fans were asking why Taeyeon was not on stage for the performance, especially considering that she had just finished performing “Rain;” Wiz Khalifa and DJ Bonics, who was also on stage, took to social media to let everyone know how they felt about the collaboration that didn’t happen. Wiz Khalifa posted this tweet (and yes, the incorrect spelling was pointed out to him):
The fact that Teyeon backed out of our performance caught me off guard too but never accept rejection as failure.— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) December 2, 2016
Meanwhile DJ Bonics took to Instagram to show everyone a snippet of the AR (audio recorded, with vocals) with Taeyeon’s vocals that has since been deleted by request, though it is not clear who asked for the video to be taken down.
And so the drama began. Fans rushed to defend their fave, while many more settled in to enjoy the show. Theories about Taeyeon’s removal began to form: either Taeyeon’s previously reported anti-blackness had reared its head again, causing the singer to pass after she saw Wiz Khalifa in the flesh, or SM had found out about Wiz’s collaboration with escapee Tao and withdrew their idol in protest.
Some hours later, Taeyeon responded to the furore through social media. She explained that an AR version of “See You Again” was available to use, but no MR (music recorded, without vocals) version, which was also needed. Though prepared to go ahead without the MR, according to Taeyeon, this issue may have contributed to the ultimate cancellation of the stage.
As with the deletion of DJ Bonics’ video, it is not made clear who exactly made the decision to nix the collab. It should also be noted that the video shows that DJ Bonics’ Mac had a version of the song labelled “TVMR Monitor,” though there appears to be no official confirmation as to whether that actually is the MR version or not. Furthermore, it is not clear if this issue with the MR also affected Wiz Khalifa and his performance.
With both sides having had their say, an impasse appeared to have been reached. A few hours later, though, Wiz Khalifa tweeted a response to Taeyeon’s statement, starting round two of what was now turning into a spat:
She claimed she had to go to the hospital the night before. Did the practice. Asked to be on a different stage than me then canceled https://t.co/4iJsZaf0oU— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) December 3, 2016
DJ Bonics also tweeted about about being told that Taeyeon had gone to the hospital to explain her absence from rehearsal, as well as some other things that were apparently said, including that there was an unpalatable height difference between Wiz and Taeyeon. Some are claiming that DJ Bonics had already said that Taeyeon was in the hotel and was changing his story, but the tweet in question was merely quoting a translation of Taeyeon’s initial post.
The SNSD leader soon responded to the hospital claims: she reuploaded a selfie that she had posted on Snapchat the night before the ceremony, this time with the timestamp to show that she was in fact at the hotel like she had said in her previous post, and not at the hospital.
taeyeon_ss: "I didn't got to hospital, friend. I waited for you yesterday." https://t.co/nfRRjRKshc— Q I N (@MynameisQin) December 3, 2016
Many fans believe Wiz Khalifa and DJ Bonics have been unnecessarily confrontational, and even petty, about the issue and the use of social media, while others are critical of Taeyeon’s use of the Snapchat-like Instagram story, whereby posts are only accessible to followers and disappear after 24 hours (which Taeyeon responded to). There has also been criticism of the tone Taeyeon used to address Wiz in her reuploaded selfie.
It should be noted, though that there is a culture clash with regards to social media use. We are used to seeing K-pop idols abide by very strict guidelines, with even the most minor of perceived transgressions receiving the harshest criticism — Taeyeon herself, sadly, has experienced this firsthand. Meanwhile, American celebrities are much more direct online, with entire feuds starting and ending on Twitter. Wiz himself started the year in a feud with Kanye West; but I digress.
A number of fans see this online confusion as a sign that the matter was not properly explained and resolved between Wiz’s camp, Taeyeon and her agency SM, and organiser Mnet. This is further compounded by the conflicting statements from both sides, leading fans unclear of what exactly is going on. Is this a case of technical issues not being properly resolved, mistranslations leading to mixed signals, or a difference of opinion regarding the use of a backing track that was not handled smoothly?
Many have been calling for event broadcaster Mnet to release a statement on the matter, in the hopes of gaining some sort of clarification. The broadcaster has yet to comment as of time of writing. Parent company CJ E&M has been taking down YouTube videos of Taeyeon and Wiz Khalifa rehearsing, blocking them on copyright grounds; but this may be due to the fact that behind-the-scenes footage is being prepared for broadcast at a later date, rather than any purposeful attempt at a cover-up.
From a staff working at MAMA stage ytd (dont know how legit it is but I'll try to translate) pic.twitter.com/Z8yISZ3K5X— Hazel (@fingerheart9356) December 3, 2016
A statement from a purported Mnet employee appears to blame Wiz Khalifa’s camp for not having the proper equipment. As of yet, there has been no response to this alleged claim from Wiz Khalifa or DJ Bonics, the latter of whom has been the most vocal on social media and whose equipment is being called into question.
For me, these tweets and posts raise way more questions of what exactly happened than they answer: does DJ Bonics have the MR version or not? Was his equipment faulty? Why was Taeyeon affected by the AR, but Wiz Khalifa’s was not? Who was at the late night rehearsal, who wasn’t, and why? And did that rehearsal even matter since they both were still able to get together and practice?
We may not get any answers: it appears the main players have reached an impasse, if not a resolution. Fans, however, have taken to insults, which is sadly par for the course. No matter how you feel and who you believe to be at fault, misogynistic comments towards Taeyeon and anti-black comments towards Wiz Khalifa and DJ Bonics are not at all OK.
Speaking of anti-blackness, the comments from Wiz’s side about different stages and heights have strengthened some fans’ belief that racial prejudice may have played a part in the collaboration falling through. While I am loathe to think that an entire performance was cancelled because people were uncomfortable with a Black American man, I don’t doubt that Wiz and Bonics were on the receiving end of some bigoted remarks and behaviour while in Hong Kong. As for the other theory about Tao, well it’s been producing some great memes and providing some much needed humour.
While I thank them for the intrigue and drama, though, there is one thing that bugs me incredibly about this whole thing: SM artists have been included in (and sometimes wedged into) planning performances by American artists in past MAMAs. Some didn’t make the final cut, like Taeyeon and Tiffany‘s scheduled appearance in the 2011 Black Eyed Peas stage with CL (yes, this has actually happened to Taeyeon before); but some made it through, like the 2014 John Legend performance with a pleasent-yet-needless musical intro from Chen and Tiffany (I cringe every time I think of Tiffany’s ad libs).
Last year‘s collaboration between f(x) and the Pet Shop Boys was perfect on paper and pretty good, if somewhat awkward, live; but this collaboration, this collaboration. It’s a popular song, and there was minimal potential for awkward interaction. Taeyeon could have nailed that chorus and done her own thing, Wiz Khalifa could have continued giving one of the best live performances of the show (not like it’s hard), and we could have gotten a SM-American artist MAMA collaboration that was actually good.
But even then, what we ended up getting was so much better, which is the part that makes me want to laugh until I get a hernia: that without Taeyeon, this performance became even better. No matter who is in the right or wrong in this little saga, I think it’s safe to say that we online K-pop fans are the real winners, here.
In fact, I would say Wiz Khalifa and DJ Bonics are winners too, for giving a great performance and getting lots of attention, respectively. The fans attending won by becoming part of a great performance; Bambam won my heart with his earnestness; Mnet will be winning when they release their footage of the rehearsal; and SM doesn’t seem to care either way, they will probably stay winning songs from Western producers with money.
I don’t see this scandal affecting Taeyeon long term, so she’ll be winning too, eventually. But that doesn’t change the fact that by not being part of a great stage, she lost out at the MAMAs.
Readers, what did you make of this drama? What’s your favourite Tao-Wiz meme? Let us know in the comments below!