Updated: Apr 14
Having grown up on Hollywood content, most of us are already familiar with the Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes. But now that we find ourselves spending increasingly more time watching Korean dramas and movies, our interest in Korean entertainment industry awards is growing as well. With the 58th Baeksang Arts Awards just around the corner, here’s a primer on the most prestigious and highly-anticipated awards show of the year.
The “Korean Oscars?”
While the Baeksang Arts Awards are often referred to as the “Korean Oscars,” this is actually a misnomer. The Oscars/Academy Awards, given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are limited to the movie industry. Strictly speaking, the Korean Oscars are the Grand Bell/Daejong Film Awards, exclusively movie industry awards presented annually by The Motion Pictures Association of Korea.
In contrast, the Baeksangs are much more comprehensive, encompassing film, television, and theater. So it’s more like the Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys combined, although even this description isn’t entirely accurate either. In short, the Baeksangs have no direct Hollywood equivalent.
Fans who tuned into the live broadcast of last year’s Baeksang ceremony to see how their favorite dramas and celebrities fared, learned this the hard way. They were overwhelmed by the number of other categories that were awarded, as the Baeksang television awards also cover variety and educational programs.
A Brief History
Established in 1965 as a way to promote Korean pop culture and art, and to boost artists’ morale, the awards are presented by Ilgan Sports, a major news outlet covering entertainment and sports, and its sister company, cable channel JTBC Plus. The awards are named after Hankook Ilbo newspaper founder Chang Key-young, whose pen name was "Baeksang." Historically, the awards are held during the second quarter of every year, in front of a live audience.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year's Baeksang ceremony was held in June and for the first time, without fans present and following social distancing protocols. This year's ceremony will follow the same format as last year.
The judging panel is made up of seven judges who are selected by a committee of experts in the entertainment industry, media, and academe. The list of nominees is drawn from a survey from around 40 industry experts.
In the past, these judges and experts have included officials from the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, Cultural Enrichment Committee, Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (KOBACO), Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA); professors from Seoul Women’s University, Yonsei University, Dongduk Women’s University; editors and critics from such media outlets as Korea Joongang Daily; and esteemed PDs (Producing Directors).
Nominees for the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards for Television were chosen from dramas that aired at least four episodes from May 1, 2020 to April 11, 2021. Aside from the usual categories (Best Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress), there are some awards that may need a little explaining.
Best New Actor/Best New Actress
Why is Shin Hae-sun nominated for Best New Actress (Film) when she’s been acting since 2013? Lee Do-hyun was in Hotel Del Luna (2018), so why is he nominated for Best New Actor (Television)? Basically, this category is for actors marking their first major roles in either a movie or drama, regardless of how long they’ve been in the industry.
The Popularity Awards, given to a male and female actor from the pool of television and film acting nominees, are determined entirely by online fan voting. Over a limited period of time, fans from around the world are invited to cast their votes for their favorite actor and actress. Since 2020, voting for the Popularity Awards have been sponsored and hosted by video sharing platform TikTok. Kim Seon-ho (Start-up) and Seo Yea-ji (It's Okay to Not be Okay) won online voting last year, while now-married couple Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin of Crash Landing On You won in 2020.
Up to five television programs (drama or variety) are nominated every year for the Technical Award, which recognizes excellence in any of the following fields: Visual Effects, Cinematography, Art Design, Costume Design, and Music.
Daesang (Grand Prize)
The Daesang, the highest honor at any awards show, is the last trophy to be given out, so if your bet didn’t win in the category you were hoping for, there’s still hope for the Grand Prize!
All the nominees, whether a program or individual (director, writer, actor) are eligible to win the Daesang. Prior to the ceremony, the panel of judges shortlists the Daesang nominees, without announcing them to the public. The shortlist, as well as some insight into the judges' thought process, is disclosed days after the ceremony.
In 2020, the rom-com drama When the Camellia Blooms starring Gong Hyo-jin as a single mother and Kang Ha-neul as the country cop who falls in love with her, won the Daesang for its social relevance, showing "that ordinary people can gather and make a collective change." It was later revealed that Kim Hee-ae was also in the running for her performance as a spurned wife in World of the Married (she won Best Actress instead), as well as the popular musical variety series Mr. Trot.
Last year, "National MC" Yoo Jae-suk received his second career Daesang. The beloved variety show host was recognized for his variety series Hang Out with Yoo, Running Man, Yoo Kids on the Block, Come Back Home, and Sixth Sense, which brought comfort to the public during the time of Covid-19.
Click here for our feature on past Daesang winners!
The Daesang Queens
Veteran actress Kim Hye-ja holds the record for the most number of Baeksang Daesang awards. In her illustrious career that spans nearly six decades, she has won it four times: for the television dramas I Sell Happiness (1979), Winter Mist Sand Castle (1989), Mom's Dead Upset (2004), and The Light In Your Eyes (2019).
Kim Hee-ae has won the Grand Prize for Television twice since her acting debut in 1983: for Sons and Daughters (1993) and Perfect Love (2004).
Other individuals who have won the Baeksang Daesang include Hyun Bin for Secret Garden (2011), Jun Ji-hyun for My Love from the Stars (2014), and screenwriter Kim Eun-sook for Goblin (2017).
Other Drama Awards
While the Baeksang Arts Awards are the most prestigious when it comes to television, they are not the only awards that k-drama enthusiasts can watch out for. There are the APAN Star Awards presented by the Korea Entertainment Management Association, and Korea Drama Awards by the Korea Drama Festival Organizing Committee, among others.
The Seoul International Drama Awards recognize series from around the world, and include such special awards as the Hallyu Awards for promoting the Hallyu Wave, People's Choice Awards, and Asian Star Award, which Filipino actor Dingdong Dantes won in 2020 for his performance in the Philippine adaptation of k-drama Descendants of the Sun.
Free TV stations KBS, SBS, and MBC also hold annual award shows; however, the entries are limited to the dramas that aired on their respective channels, and are thus less competitive.
We hope this primer helps give you a better idea of what to expect at the upcoming Baeksang Arts Awards! For the list of nominees, click here.