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K-pop megastars BTS ignite Chinese social media firestorm

  • RICHARD SHOTWELL/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Korean pop band BTS attended the 2019 Variety’s Hitmakers Brunch in West Hollywood, Calif., in Dec. 2019. “Dynamite,” the group’s first all-English song, debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. music charts this week, making BTS first Korean pop act to top the chart.

    RICHARD SHOTWELL/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Korean pop band BTS attended the 2019 Variety’s Hitmakers Brunch in West Hollywood, Calif., in Dec. 2019. “Dynamite,” the group’s first all-English song, debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. music charts this week, making BTS first Korean pop act to top the chart.

K-pop megastars BTS, no strangers to the public spotlight, are now attracting a different kind of attention in China.

Millions of Chinese took to social media after BTS member Kim Nam-joon, known to the world as RM, talked about U.S.-South Korea relations and “the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women” during the Korean War.

The comment, made while the group accepted an award in New York, spurred outrage online and calls for a boycott as RM was accused of neglecting to highlight China’s own part in one of 20th century’s deadliest clashes that pitted American troops against the Chinese military.

China’s state-backed and nationalistic Global Times weighed in with their own criticism of BTS, accusing the boy band of being insensitive.

The social media backlash comes days before shares of BTS-creator Big Hit Entertainment debuts in Seoul. Samsung Electronics Co. has since removed BTS-edition smartphones and earbuds from its official stores on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall and JD.com Inc., according to the Financial Times. Representatives for Big Hit, Samsung, Alibaba and JD declined to comment.

Chinese social media users have proven instrumental in instigating corporate reaction — with varying levels of success — in past years against organizations from Apple Inc. to the National Basketball Association, typically over comments on areas sensitive to Beijing such as the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

BTS, the teen sensation that’s one of Korea’s most recognizable names, now finds itself grappling with one of the thornier aspects of Chinese-Korean relations. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, which began in 1950 and resulted in the death, injury or displacement of millions of Koreans, Americans, Chinese and UN troops and civilians.

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