South Korean boy band BTS has copped flak over its acceptance speech at The Korea Society's virtual annual gala. Following the speech which some netizens deemed insensitive, brands such as Samsung, Fila and Hyundai have removed advertisements that featured BTS from their Chinese websites and social media accounts, according to multiple media reports. Reuters also reported that posts featuring Samsung’s BTS special-edition smartphones and earphones were removed from Chinese eCommerce platforms Tmall and JD.com. Marketing did not see any advertisements featuring BTS on the brands' official websites at the time of writing as well.
Samsung, Hyundai and Fila are brands which have been working closely with BTS. In August, Hyundai tied up with BTS to release a new song titled “IONIQ: I’m on it". The new release follows Hyundai's launch campaign of its new electric vehicle (EV) brand “IONIQ". Separately, Samsung officially launched a partnership with BTS earlier in February this year. According to Samsung, the partnership will see Samsung supporting the BTS' global initiative called CONNECT BTS, and also to allow Samsung to reach out to a younger demographic. Meanwhile, shoe brand Fila signed BTS as its global brand ambassadors in 2019.
The speech in question comes as the group was awarded the General James A. Van Fleet award, an award given to Koreans or Americans in recognition of their outstanding contributions to US- Korea relations. In the speech, the band leader who goes by the name "RM", touched on the subject of The Korean War in 1950, which involved South Korea, North Korea, U.S, and China. He said in his speech that The Korea Society's 2020 annual gala is "especially meaningful" as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. "We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations share together, and the sacrifices of countless men and women," he added.
Since then, Chinese netizens have taken to Chinese social media platform Weibo to voice their unhappiness. Many netizens said BTS has insulted China with the speech, with a hashtag "#防弹少年团辱华" (loosely translated to "BTS insults Chinese") trending. One netizen even tagged music platform NetEase Music, calling it to take action and remove BTS' albums off the shelves. Insults were also thrown at BTS, with netizens calling them "dogs" and their fans "brainless" for continuing to show support to the boy band.
On the other hand, netizens from over the world have also taken to Twitter to voice their differing opinions. One netizen in particular said criticised the brands who removed BTS-related advertisements, saying they are weak and should be embarrassed of themselves. The netizen also asked if these brands are "that desperate" for the Chinese market. A few other netizens also deemed the move uncalled for, saying that China was not mentioned in the speech, and that BTS is not wrong for supporting their country.
This is not the first time BTS got embroiled in a historical-referencing situation. Back in 2018, the group was called out by an international Jewish human rights organisation Simon Wiesenthal Centre after pictures showed a band member wearing a hat with the Nazi SS Death Head logo, while another wore a t-shirt mocking the victims of the Nagasaki atomic bomb. The centre also alleged that the flags used on stage during BTS' concert was also "eerily similar" to the Nazi Swastika.
"It is clear that those designing and promoting this group’s career are too comfortable with denigrating the memory of the past. The result is that on young generations in Korea and around the world are more likely to identify bigotry and intolerance as being ‘cool’ and help erase the lessons of history. The management of this group, not only the front performers, should publicly apologise," the centre said in a previous statement online. BTS has since apologised and the centre has accepted it.
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