October 19, 2020
BTS Dragged into Politics After Comments
Sometimes, an attempt at being appreciative and inclusive can go sideways. Just ask popular Korean boy band BTS. Recently, the leader of the band, who goes by the stage name RM, drew the ire of many in China for remarks RM made about “sacrifices” his countrymen have made in the past.
“We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared and the sacrifices of countless men and women,” RM said. “After 70 years, the world we are living in is much closer than before. Boundaries in many aspects are getting more blurred… As members of the global community, we should build a deeper understanding and solidarity to be happier together…”
RM never mentioned China, but some Chinese, especially nationalists and government officials, still put BTS on blast. The comments appeared motivated by resentment from some who thought the comments were a backhanded way to poke at China, a country allied with North Korea during the Korean Conflict in the early 1950s.
“BTS songs are covered in excrement…” a self-described “former” band fan said, “Insulting China is absolutely not allowed…”
And this colorful criticism was only one of many that were posted on social media with the hashtag “BTS insults China” accompanying the message. That particular hashtag earned more than 4 million views in a short period of time, and that was only the beginning.
One government-controlled news publication blamed the US for escalating hostilities in the war: “Many Chinese netizens pointed out that the speech (by RM) plays up to US netizens… but the country played the role of aggressor in the war…”
However, a Chinese foreign ministry official, Zhao Lijian, was more diplomatic about the issue, saying, “What I want to say is that it should be our common pursuit to take history as a mirror, face the future, cherish peace, and promote friendship…”
Maintaining a good relationship with Chinese officials is a concern for BTS and other foreign brands that are popular or want to be popular in the massive Chinese market. The government can make it difficult to reach this growing consumer market on a whim. And many fans are not going to allow a foreign brand to besmirch their national price. Soon after the dustup on social media, BTS fans in China created a group demanding an apology from BTS and calling for a national boycott, definitely not a threat the band can afford to ignore.
It’s a tough market and a challenging tightrope to walk. Still, many international brands find China too attractive a market to pass up… and that means adhering to some very specific communications guidelines. Even though many Korean BTS fans are snapping back and Chinese fans and officials, this remains true, telling the band not to back down from “China’s bullying.”