The confetti. The little plastic trophy. The flowers. The screaming fans. The sobbing idols. Judging by all the fuss, you’d think winning the award at Inkigayo or M!Countdown was like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. You’ve even got the tearful speeches thanking the fans, the management, their mothers, and their brothers. But no. It’s a music show award. So what does it all mean? What’s behind all the fanfare? And is all the fanfare warranted?

The system behind the awards is at once an astonishingly simple and an astonishingly complex one. The winner for the week is the group or the singer that gets the highest combined score on an index of album sales, digital sales, and online votes. Different shows will weight different categories more or less.  Sometimes shows will add in their own categories. Music Bank, for example, has a score calculated from 60% digital music charts, 10% physical album sales, 20% number of broadcast times on television and radio, and 10% from the viewer’s choice charts. Sounds simple, right? Not necessarily. There’s a little number crunching that goes into the seperate categories as well, but basically, that’s the gist of it. The more popular and high-profile the song and group in question, the likelier they are to win the award. Thus, the little trophy is meant to symbolize success. If you’ve snagged a trophy, you’ve officially become a big name in the idol business.

But consider: how much is that little prize worth when it can be bought for so little? Now, hold on, before you sharpen your pitchforks. I am by no means accusing your biases and their management of forking over cold hard cash in exchange for first place (although, that may not be an impossibility). No, what I’m saying here is that the system is far too easily manipulated. The physical sales category, for example, comes under a good deal of fire for the ease with which rabid fan clubs can use it to send their groups to the top. Many of the more die-hard members of the fan clubs take it upon themselves to buy as many as five to ten copies of the same album, in order to inflate their idol’s earnings and increase their numbers on the chart. This not only fails to give an accurate reflection of a given group’s rate of success, but is not an activity that can be stopped, unlike the hacking of an online poll. Rabid fan bases can continue to give relatively unpopular groups wins, and there’s no way to stop it. More often than not, this snatches wins out from under the noses of more popular and more deserving songs.

Additionally, certain categories in and of themselves are quite frankly, useless. Take, for example, Music Bank’s aforementioned category “Number of broadcast times on television and radio.” It’s an advantage for the studios, surely: dangle the carrot of a music show win in front of the idols and put them to work on the variety shows under that station. If you want their prize, you have to play their game. But how do appearances on variety shows have anything to do with the popularity of any given song or group? Oh sure, more publicity probably can’t hurt a group. But why should that be a factor in their wins? Physical sales, digital charts, and voter’s favorite polls are at least to some degree a measure of popular opinion. Television appearances can only be a measure of how exhausted any given group is likely to be.

Furthermore, how special are these awards, really, when they give out one per show every week? Multiply this by the shows handing out the awards: M!Countdown, Music Bank, and Inkigayo, and that’s three awards going out every week. A gold star sticker for every kid in class! So why is it such a big deal, then, to win one? I don’t mean to hate on the idols that do shed tears of joy when they do win. I understand. I really do. When you practice all day and perform all night and starve yourself down to nothing and spend all of your time jetting from photo shoot to fan meet to variety show recording, all the while scared to death that you might slip up and get shredded to pieces by netizens, it has to be really something to finally, finally see your efforts rewarded.  There’s hardly a person in this world that doesn’t need positive acknowledgement from time to time to keep going. But sometimes I have to wonder if perhaps Music Core isn’t the right show to be after all. Music Core has been the perpetual ugly duckling of the music show club. Nobody wins. But if nobody wins, then nobody loses. No hardworking group is left standing in the dark again, never acknowledged because the system wouldn’t allow it. They perform. The fans cheer. And then they go home, still worth something, even if they didn’t walk away with an ugly plastic trophy.

Do you think that the music show awards system is a good one? If you could, what changes would you make to the categories to get fairer wins?

(KBS, MBC, Mnet, SBS)