December is upon us, marking the beginning of the end of an unusual year, and awards season in K-pop has arrived. The Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) was held this past weekend. Due to the pandemic, it was held in Korea for the first time in ten years and though the awards ceremony was live, all of the performances were pre-recorded. The performances were categorized by a certain theme, while the overall theme of MAMA was New-topia. In line with the theme, some of the most eye-catching stages were due to the great use of the vast stage and digital effects.

In terms of awards, BTS were the biggest winners of the night, taking home eight awards. Another piece of proof of their current stardom is “Dynamite”. The song was performed twice, the first time by Tomorrow X Together (TXT) and the second by the superstars themselves. Black Pink, IU and Seventeen were also other multiple-awards winners, though neither Black Pink nor IU performed or were in attendance for the award ceremony. Though the entire show lasted around six hours, the fact that the artists in attendance were not provided with waiting rooms angered fans. Mnet later responded saying that it was because artists did not have to rehearse stages because none of the performances were live.

One of the oddest highlights of the show was definitely the person in charge of sanitizing the mikes in between speakers; they wore a tight silvery bodysuit and neon high heels. Though the outfit did look futuristic, how the outfit fit into the theme of New-topia is still questionable.

Mnet also chose to recap and spoil some of its original shows. The intro reel for Enhypen recounted the dramatic I-land and how the team was formed, and The Boyz re-performed “Reveal” and “Checkmate” as a nod to their Road to Kingdom victory. Stray Kids and Ateez were also revealed to be a part of the Kingdom lineup, raising anticipation for the show that will air early next year. The collaboration stage between Juyeon from The Boyz, San from Ateez, and Hyunjin from Stray Kids is short but impactful and highlights the differences between the three high-energy groups.

Fans look forward to year-end award ceremonies because they often have a variety of covers and collaborations between groups. MAMA did drop a few crumbs, such as the spoiler collaboration for Kingdom, as well as performances by Winter of Aespa, YooA of Oh My Girl, (G)I-dle, and Eunbi, Chaeyeon, Yena, and Chaewon of Iz One as a tribute to BoA’s 20th anniversary.

Oh My Girl and (G)I-dle also covered Miss A’s “Bad Girl Good Girl”. Soojin, Yuqi, Arin, and Jiho kill the cover, but Mimi and Soyeon’s rapping push the performance from great into amazing. They rappers had a chance to shine, and they took full advantage of it. Both Oh My Girl and (G)I-dle performed only one original song each, however, and Oh My Girl’s catchy B-side “Dolphin” was unfortunately not performed.

Twice, however, performed “Cry for Me”, which is a song not yet released that is coming soon as a pre-release. “Cry for Me” is undeniably a huge step away from their original cutesy songs and concepts that they rose to fame for, and after “Can’t Stop Me” it is Twice’s second step foraying into a darker and more mature concept. The stage deserves a mention as well, as it makes it look like Twice is flickering between alternate dimensions.

Perhaps because MAMA was not live this year, some of the effects for the stages clearly went above and beyond. A personal favourite stage was TXT’’s “Blue Hour”. The stage is relatively bare in terms of props, but the background cityscape was a gorgeous touch to the performance. Tinted in red and orange, complete with skyscrapers and even a ferris wheel, “Blue Hour” feels like we are watching a performance being held in a downtown plaza somewhere as the sun sets beyond the buildings.

Another fun stage design was for Seventeen, especially for “Left & Right”. Seventeen’s theme was Door to YOUTHOPIA, and Vernon’s intro where he fake graffitis the floor and the resulting spread of colours was a nice touch in introducing the cheerful, youthful vibe of “Left & Right”. The song fits in several dance breaks, and the entire performance resonates the good vibes that we are all in need of.

BTS were the final act to perform, to no one’s surprise, and they performed “On”, “Dynamite”, and “Life Goes On”. “On” was filmed in the Seoul World Cup stadium, complete with a marching band, but “Life Goes On” had one of the most memorable stage designs. The stage is set up as a town square, with extras in all white frozen in the midst of everyday activities like sitting at a cafe and strolling with friends. The members of BTS, also dressed in white, weave through the frozen landscape singing about the better days to come.

A hologram of Suga appears to join the rest of BTS on stage, as he is currently sitting out promotions to focus on recovering from a recent shoulder operation. When all seven members are on stage together, towards the end of the song the sky clears and everybody is unfrozen, back in a world full of life and colour. Though there are many in the world that have suffered more than the stage captures, the performance is a gentle reminder that brighter, happier days are on their way.

The 22nd edition of MAMA due to its format and context, was unlike any before it like any other event that has taken place this year. Though this year has been full of sacrifices and changes, the (too) long show was a chance to escape into the glittery world of K-pop that has remained as active as ever throughout the year.

(No Cut News, Teen Vogue, YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7], images via Mnet)