Since last few days, BTS, Seo Taiji, and Big Hit Entertainment had been under fire for the issues from the past that resurfaced, following the hype around BTS’ Japan tour, their exclusion from a TV show, and the recent political tiff between South Korea and Japan.
It all started on 9th November when headlines began surfacing around the group being dropped from a Japanese TV show (TV Asahi’s “Music Station”), following the controversy around Jimin’s “Atomic Bomb T-Shirt”. Jimin’s clothing depicted a mushroom cloud, symbolising atomic bomb drop on Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), among text celebrating Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule during the Second World War. The issue led to the snowball effect, bringing forth other incidences surrounding the boys including RM’s contentious photoshoot in the year 2015 and BTS’ presence at Seo Taiji’s “Classroom Idea” performance at his anniversary concert.
Amidst outlets’ bid to supposedly release the speculations as news, fans’ ardent attempts to clarify the air around the T-shirt, and the label’s silence, a chaotic situation emerged that left everyone baffled. But yesterday, Big Hit Entertainment took on Facebook and Twitter to release an official statement concerning the issues that have been catching attention on both domestic as well as international front:
— BigHit Entertainment (@BigHitEnt) November 13, 2018
Jimin’s “Atomic Bomb” T-Shirt
In an attempt to spread awareness about the meaning behind T-Shirt’s design, ARMYs started trending #LiberationTshirt and #LiberationTshirtNotBombTshirt on Twitter. Jeff Benjamin, in a piece for the Billboard, shed a light on the complicated history between the two countries and explained the probable reason for BTS being dropped from the TV show which according to him, goes beyond a piece of clothing:
“Still, the issue was mainly chalked up to the recent tensions over a South Korean supreme court ruling that Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. needs to compensate four Koreans for forced labor during World War II, a decision Japan denounced, according to Reuters, as ‘unthinkable’.
“BTS’ T-shirt incident certainly didn’t help matters, but it’s hardly the sole reason for this cancellation among issues that are largely rooted in long-standing political and cultural stances between countries. In fact, if it was the only issue, BTS’ previous Japanese television appearances (including a December 2017 performance on Japan Music Station Super Live) would have logically been canceled too. To those watching the situation for longer than BTS’ rise to prominence, it is yet another slip in an ongoing awkwardly tense situation where culture and politics far outweigh a fashion item.”
Lee Kwang Jae, the CEO of LJ Company, the designer company behind the T-Shirt issued an explanation and in an interview with DongA said,
“That part was not included to mock Japan. It was simply added to show the truth and the process of how the liberation of Korea came about when Japan surrendered after the atomic bombs.”
Big Hit Entertainment, in its official statement, reiterated Kwang Jae’s point but at the same time, apologized to the people who might have been affected by the incident. The label exempted the artist from the issue and took the complete onus of the incident upon itself, accepting that the team should have been careful in the selection of the garment.
RM’s Contentious Photoshoot (2015)
On November 11, the Jewish human rights organisation Simon Wiesenthal Center released an article questioning BTS’ leader RM about his photoshoot from the year 2015. Three years ago, the artist did a photoshoot wearing a hat, supposedly comprising an image of Swastika which according to the writer allegedly “mocked” the victims and the history of the Holocaust.
Post-release of the article, stylish Kim Wook released a statement explaining that the hat did not represent the personal opinion of anyone involved in the shoot. As reported by Soompi, Wook said,
“It was not my own hat, nor was it something that the media outlet responsible for the photo shoot had prepared,” he said. “I remember this photo shoot clearly because it was the first one I did after going independent.”
He continued, “As I remember it, we were collaborating with a brand for the photo shoot. It is standard practice to write in the caption that something is the stylist’s property when we’re using an artist’s own clothes or an unofficial sponsorship product.”
Addressing the hat issue, Big Hit stated,
“Regarding the hat with a Nazi logo in the photoshoot in the past, as we stated above, there was no such intention, and although every outfit and accessory was provided by the media, we didn’t inspect enough and our artist wore it, therefore, we sincerely apologize for the fact that it could have hurt the victims of Nazi unintentionally and it could be disturbing to see our artist linked with the Nazi image.”
Seo Taiji’s “Classroom Idea” Performance
In addition to the hat issue and Jimin’s T-Shirt’s controversy, the group was dragged further as their collaborative performance with Seo Taiji for the latter’s song “Classroom Idea” was linked to Nazism. “Classroom Idea” is a popular song of the iconic South Korean artist Seo Taiji from his album “The Great 2008 Seotaiji Symphony With Tolga Kashif & Royal Philharmonic”. The song is popular among the music listeners for its socially conscious message that questions the standardized education in South Korea. The flag used in the performance had images of structures representing institutional education which were later misinterpreted as the swastika.
Following the controversy, Big Hit in its official statement said,
“The performance that Big Hit’s artists participated was an anniversary concert of a Korean legendary artist, Seo Taiji. It included the ‘Classroom Idea’ performance which contained a socially conscious message criticizing standardized education in reality.
“The flag and images which raised the issues were artworks unrelated to Nazi, and the performance was to criticize ‘the uniform and totalitarian education system’.
“It is not true that the performance was connected to Nazi as it is claimed, in fact, it needs to be considered that this performance had creative elements to criticize the totalitarian reality.”
Apology to the Affected
As mentioned above, Big Hit Entertainment took the complete responsibility for the issues and acknowledged that the label needs to be more careful. The label stated,
“’Let’s comfort and encourage people around the world through music and artists’ is Big Hit’s reason for existing. Although it is challenging to have many things in our consideration as we are living in the world of diversity and tolerance, we are doing our best to carry things out well.
“Not only regarding the recent issue but based on understanding diverse the social / historical / cultural backgrounds, we will pay more attention in details to our artist’s performance to not hurt any people.
“We sincerely apologize again to people who got hurt by our lack of consideration on those issues.”
One thing that we as journalists and as consumers of content need to realize is that for issues that involves educating one’s self about the history and the ones where a biased opinion can cause a serious harm to people affected by the history, an individual and her/his reputation, it is important to act with caution. While the label “clarified” the intention behind each incident and apologized to people who might have been affected by the instances, it is up to us to research our own facts and see how much can an act affect the recipient. What seemed to be an issue around a piece of clothing is actually a highly complicated political matter where someone’s popularity is either being used as a tool or a catalyst in fueling the debate.
ARMYs Unification to Support BTS
Amidst these issues, a constant struggle between outlets and fans was visible as the latter were trying to bust the speculation behind each instance and support boys. Several projects including #AlwayswithJimin and #Project23 were released to show the unification of the fandom. The attempts came to fruition as 2!3! topped iTunes charts at several places. The song is deemed as the ARMY song that BTS released to offer comfort to their fans who go through different kinds of struggles in their daily lives.
The translated version of Big Hit’s statement is available on the label’s official Facebook page. The label has announced that it has contacted,
“Japan and Korea Atomic Bombs Victim Associations, gave an explanation and made an apology to those victims who were possibly hurt by the current issues.
“Big Hit also sent a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center that pointed out the recent issue to explain the situation and apologize to people who were possibly hurt by this issue.”
While Big Hit has responded to the issues in a timely manner, it remains to be seen as to how the organizations will respond. Being artists who have now been bestowed with the honour of cultural merit, it is absolutely necessary for the concerned parties to be cautious of the issues that involve social sentiments. But at the same time, we need to acknowledge that everyone is learning and with their acknowledgement of the fans’ and individuals’ concerns, Big Hit has taken a positive step.
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