UPDATE: BTS's management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, posted a statement on its Facebook page explaining that it took full responsibility for any offense caused, and absolving the boy band of any direct blame. The statement read, in part:
Big Hit bears all responsibilities for not providing the necessary and careful support to our artist that may have prevented these issues, and we would like to make clear that our artists, especially due to their extensive schedules and the complexities of on-site conditions, are in no way responsible for any of the issues outlined above.
Big Hit is taking the following steps to ensure that these issues are properly addressed.
- Big Hit has contacted associations in Japan and Korea representing those affected by the atomic bombings to provide explanations and apologies to anyone who may have been distressed or in any way affected.
- Big Hit has delivered a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization that has brought some of these issues to attention, in order to offer explanations and apologies to anyone who may have been distressed or in any way affected.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has denounced globally popular South Korean boy band BTS for "mocking the past".
In a statement dated November 11, the Los Angeles–based Center—self-described as "a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context"—slammed BTS for several lapses in judgment.
On November 8, Japan's TV Asahi announced that it had cancelled a scheduled BTS appearance after band member Jimin was photographed wearing a shirt celebrating Korean liberation from Japanese rule. Controversially, the shirt also featured a photograph of a mushroom cloud, which some have interpreted as denigration of the Japanese people who died when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.
“Wearing a T-shirt in Japan mocking the victims of the Nagasaki A-bomb, is just the latest incident of this band mocking the past,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The Wiesenthal statement also criticized BTS for allegedly wearing Nazi-inspired uniforms and waving Third Reich–esque flags during a performance with K-Pop icon Seo Taiji.
It should be noted here that the video in question shows a performance of the Seo Taiji song "Classroom Idea", which is actually damning of the sort of blind conformity implied by the use of Nazi-reminiscent imagery. Sample lyrics: "I'll do what I want, not what others tell me to do." In light of that, the uniforms and flags could be taken as symbols employed to criticize authoritarianism, not to celebrate it, in the vein of Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Mind you, that doesn't explain why, in 2015, BTS member Rap Monster was photographed by CéCi magazine wearing a hat with an SS insignia on it, complete with swastika and death's-head symbol.
Also in 2015, BTS released fashion-magazine-style photos of the group's members posing at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.
"It goes without saying that this group, which was invited to speak at the UN, owes the people of Japan and the victims of the Nazism an apology,” Rabbi Cooper said in the aforementioned statement.
BTS isn't the first Asian musical group to flirt with Nazi imagery.
In 2011, Japanese boy band Kishidan wore SS-inspired uniforms during an interview with MTV:
The following year, singer Koki Tanaka of the J-Pop act KAT-TUN released a video in which he was clad in similar attire:
In 2014, K-Poppers Pritz made a number of appearances sporting what many saw as Nazi-like armbands:
In 2016, J-Pop girl group Kayakizaka46 made headlines by performing in SS-style uniforms:
Why the ongoing fascination with the darkest chapter of 20th-century history? The English-language website Seoulbeats, which covers Korean pop culture, speculates that (at least in the case of the K-Pop artists), ignorance plays a role, "an acute lack of awareness regarding the amount of meaning affiliated with such symbols and uniforms."
In a way, that is completely understandable: The European part of the war had very little to do with South Korea. It was a war happening on another continent, while the Korean population had to endure the much more immediate oppression from the Japanese occupying forces. Maybe German National Socialist symbolism isn’t known in detail to younger Korean generations. A well-meaning observer will understand that singular slip-ups like that can happen.
Whatever the case, BTS has some serious amends to make, according the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Cooper: "It is clear that those designing and promoting this group’s career are too comfortable with denigrating the memory of the past," he said. "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 apologize."