Tweeting in Tagalog: How the VMAs Are Bridging the Language Divide Between Artists and Fans

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When Maluma accepted his award for best Latin at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, the Colombian-born singer delivered his acceptance speech in both English and Spanish. 

We saw an incredible reaction to his speech – really heartfelt reactions to the fact that he spoke in both languages,” Jason White, chief marketing officer at MTV Entertainment Group, tells Billboard. Using data collected by Twitter, MTV found that 90% of the tweets about the VMAs came from outside the U.S. 

“I feel very proud to be Latin.”

I’m so happy for @maluma winning his first #VMA for Best Latin

— Video Music Awards (@vmas) August 31, 2020

Stemming from that response and the resulting stats, MTV has partnered with Twitter Next to launch Stan Mail, a “technology platform that instantly translates tweets into the language of the artist allowing them to respond in their native tongue. That tweet will then be translated into the fan’s native language as a direct tweet back,” explains White.  

Data collected from 2020 reveal that more than 90% of the tweets about the VMAs originated from outside of the U.S. Furthermore, 65% of the tweets about the VMAs were not in English, up from 48% in 2018. On top of that, fans from 218 different markets tweeted about the VMAs last year. From January 2020 to April 2021, the top five languages for VMAs-related tweets were English, Portuguese, Spanish, Indonesian Bahasa, and French.  

Starting on Aug. 27, MTV has been posting call-to-action tweets every day encouraging fans to send messages in their own languages to their favorite artists in time for the VMAs. 

To demonstrate how it works, White cites how Twitter found that, “there are more tweets from the Philippines than from Korea and the U.S. about BTS.” With this stat in mind, White provides a hypothetical example: “BTS can come backstage, walk up to the screen, see all these tweets from the Philippines written in the band’s native Korean. They’ll then react — we could even get a video of their reaction — and reply right there backstage at the show. BTS’ response would then be translated from Korean and back to Tagalog in a direct tweet.”  

More broadly, direct interaction between artists and their fans has been part of the playbook — especially for acts who have big international followings. Namely, the global phenomenon BTS has utilized the livestreaming app V-Live to share moments in real time with their fans after awards shows. Billboard has even reported that the South Korean group has “never attended an awards-show afterparty in the United States. Instead, [they] have always been back to a hotel to jump on V-Live.”  

Using Twitter as the VMAs’ channel of choice, Stan Mail taps into a similar idea of direct engagement with superfans around the world as the upcoming awards show unfolds in real time. “With the launch of Stan Mail, we are celebrating the truly global nature of fandoms and bridging the language gap that can exist between artists and their fans around the globe,” said Sarah Rosen, head of U.S. entertainment partnerships at Twitter. 

The tool points to a growing trend of courting a global market of fans, which may inform how awards shows book their artists taking the stage. According to White, the network aims to choose “artists that are going to create a global conversation.” He goes on to note that, “the numbers don’t lie. The stats tell us where the passions are, where the sales are, where the streams are. We wanna reflect the industry. We wanna reflect what the consumer is choosing.”  

Beyond the numbers, the technology of closing the language barriers between artists and their fans can prove valuable from even within U.S. borders. “We are touching more parts of the globe, but I also think that if we look at the changing fabric of America, it’s important that we meet people in their language and in their culture,” says White.   

For the upcoming show, fans can follow @vmas on Twitter during the show to see Stan Mail in action. The VMAs are set to air live on the East Coast this Sunday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The show will be tape-delayed to the West Coast at 8 p.m. PT.

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