2021 MAMAs: BTS Cleans Up, Aespa Debuts and NCT Dream, Itzy & Wanna One Deliver

The Mnet Asian Music Awards have come and gone for another year, and while one of the most prestigious music award shows in South Korea is always chock-full of exciting performances and plenty of idol worship, this latest event felt truly special. After the 2020 ceremony featured no live audience at all, it was obvious to all involved that the 2021 staging had to be bigger and more fantastic than ever… and thankfully, the show was everything it should have been.


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BTS wrapped the evening as the biggest winners, as they claimed all four Daesangs — artist of the year, worldwide icon of the year, song of the year (for “Butter”) and album of the year (for Be) — as well as just as may other prizes, bringing their total claim to eight awards. IU came in second place with three trophies, while both Twice and Aespa ended up with a pair of honors.

More than 20 performances from many of the brightest stars in the South Korean music industry (and Ed Sheeran) made the four-and-a-half hour-long ceremony exciting and kept it moving. These segments ended up filling much more airtime than people actually accepting awards, and that made it a thrilling viewing for fans all around the world.

These were the eight best moments from the 2021 MAMAs.

The Opening Number: ‘Bloom the Sound’

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Producers ensured the program kicked off with a bang thanks to the opening number, “Bloom The Sound,” a stop-and-start demonstration that highlighted the talents of some of the most beloved members of chart-topping bands. Featuring performers from Enhypen, Aespa, Stray Kids, Ateez, Itzy and Tomorrow X Together, the bit was intense and impossible to look away from, and those in the crowd loved it when the lights came on and they all got to see which idol was on stage.

The Animation!

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Throughout the dozen-plus musical performances scattered throughout the night, a number of groups employed a neat visual trick which allowed computer animation to weave seamlessly into their show. Aespa was preceded on stage by a terrifying and considerably real-looking black mamba, while Jannabi used it to make the entire stadium twinkle like it was filled with fireflies. The special effect was well-executed, and it made the entire ceremony feel magical.

Brave Girls’ Teary Acceptance Speech

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After a recording hiatus of several years, Brave Girls mounted a surprising and massive comeback in 2020 and 2021, and they were once again invited to the MAMAs. After making their singles “Chi Mat Ba Ram” and “Rollin’” feel Christmas-y (but somehow still summer-ready), the group finally won a trophy, a decade after they were first nominated. While accepting the KTO breakout artist award, the members were emotional, with one even crying during her time on stage.

Street Fighter Woman‘s Incredible Moves

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In a night filled with excellent dancing and incredible choreography, nobody had the moves quite like the contestants from Mnet’s own dance survival program Street Woman Fighter. The talented artists hit the notes harder and pushed their bodies further than anyone else, and that’s saying a lot, because so many of the groups who took to the stage nailed it in this department.

Aespa’s MAMAs Debut

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2021 was a breakout year for Aespa, and they made their presence at the latest MAMAs known. Nominated for five awards, the quartet’s Karina took part in the opening number, and that was to be just the beginning. They went on to snag a pair of prizes, with the audience going wild any time their name was called. Toward the end of the ceremony, the four women took to the main stage to perform their global smashes “Next Level” and “Savage,” and the production did not disappoint. From the inclusion of their own avatars to the sometimes-scary special effects to their general kick-ass attitude, it’s clear that in their first year at the show as a band, Aespa had finally arrived.

Wanna One’s Comeback

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Two years ago, the members of Wanna One all went their separate ways, with the group disbanding after a short but highly successful run of EPs and albums. Ahead of the 2021 MAMAs, it was announced that most of the original performers from the band were to reunite for a one-off performance of some of their biggest hits, and immediately their showing became one of the most highly-anticipated segments of the evening. For a while, there were worries that this might not happen due to some COVID-19 fears, but all ended up going well, and the boy band nailed it.

Wanna One proved that while they may be returning to their solo ventures after this one show, they still rank as one of the best groups of the past several years.

NCT Dream’s Hot-Hot-Hot Show

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Three of the NCT-branded groups performed at the 2021 MAMAs, and while both NCT 127 and NCT U put on an excellent show, NCT Dream’s “Hot Sauce” featured one of the most elaborate and expensive stages of the night. The boy band started, appropriately, with “Hello Future” before jumping into “Hot Sauce,” and the group made sure everything from their moves to the set design matched the tune. After singing inside a giant bottle of hot sauce, with flame-themed outfits and embers appearing on screen thanks to some clever animation, the members emerged from said structure and continued the show to thunderous applause.

Itzy Mixes Violence With Sex Appeal

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One of the longest performances of the night, Itzy’s segment included a staged intro, Squid Game star Heo Sung-tae, violence, sex appeal and seemingly everything in between. The girl group topped off an incredible year by showcasing their hit singles “Loco” and “In the Morning,” and their performance saw them don black leather outfits while their backup dancers wore cat masks, swung on stripper poles and even staged shooting and killing a man in front of everyone. The theatrical performance was next-level, and it proved that Itzy is doing it like so few in the business.

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