The interim committee supporting South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol was embroiled in unexpected controversy this week after a member claimed Yoon wants to invite BTS, South Korea’s most popular boy band, to perform at the May 10 inauguration.
On Wednesday, the committee’s PR office issued a statement clarifying that it had made “no suggestion or contact with BTS,” and the group’s record label, Big Hit, denied having heard from Yoon’s team — but not before fans around the world expressed concern that the government would “politicize” BTS by attending an event to install a conservative leader.
Yoon won a hard-fought election last month against incumbent left-wing Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung, who himself had “politicized” BTS by making their future military service a campaign issue. Risking the wrath of BTS fans, who call themselves “Army,” Lee said in January he didn’t agree with the group’s seven members being exempted from the country’s compulsory military service. With all men in South Korea having to complete compulsory military service by the age of 28, the service has done significant career damage to members of the country’s lucrative “K-pop” industry, who are forced to disappear from public view for two years just to get their moment to be found in public has largely passed.
BTS members were granted a rare deferral of military service until age 30 in 2020.
The uproar at the inauguration began when the head of the committee organizing Yoon’s ceremony, Park Joo-sun, told national KBS radio that the committee was “discussing the possibility” of inviting BTS to perform, they said Korea Herald. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency also reported that representatives from Yoon reportedly reached out to BTS’s management agency, Hybe, to discuss K-pop acts who would be performing at the inauguration.
“The President-elect wants to hold the ceremony in a way that people can have dreams. We’re preparing for the ceremony in that direction, as it’s more important to focus on the core content than just looking flashy,” Park reportedly said in the same interview.
According to South Korean media, Yoon’s team met with executives from K-pop companies including Hybe Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and SM Entertainment last week to discuss the revival of the highly lucrative entertainment industry and related startups after the negative impact of the [Chinese coronavirus] Pandemic”, the South China tomorrow post noted Monday. While reports suggested the visit was political in nature, about how the next federal government might help Korean entertainment – which has become increasingly valuable internationally, both economically and for the country’s “soft power” – the visits were reported alongside Park’s comments, which fueled rumors that BTS would be present at Yoon’s inauguration.
The rumors that BTS might be showing up sparked a backlash, including an online petition on the Blue House’s official website, the presidential office in South Korea, urging Yoon not to invite BTS. Opponents of the move seemed to see their presence at the event as a show of support for Yoon rather than an honor bestowed on the country’s best performers, as performances at US presidential inaugurations are usually interpreted.
Some left-wing fans also resented BTS standing for a conservative president, noting in particular his campaign pledge to abolish South Korea’s “Ministry of Equality and Family.”
“BTS are for women’s rights and have done a lot to uplift women around the world. You are also considered by the I-ARMY to be sympathetic to LGBT rights,” said a fan identified as Annie Korea Heraldand called Yoon “everything BTS stands against”.
Yoon seems reluctant to fulfill his promise to abolish the ministry since his election.
Similar complaints did not exist when BTS worked with the Democratic Party government, which lost the election in part due to a spate of allegations of sexual harassment and assault by some of its most prominent members. Former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, once believed to be the president’s front runner, committed suicide in 2020 after an anonymous former secretary accused him of sexual harassment during his tenure as mayor – including sending unsolicited “personal photos” and ” physical” contacts. Democratic Party mayor of Busan Oh Keo-don, South Korea’s second largest city, also resigned this year after being accused of sexually assaulting women in the workplace; he received a three-year prison sentence.
Democratic Party President Moon Jae-in appeared alongside BTS at the United Nations a year after Parks’ suicide to promote the institution’s “sustainable development” agenda without a similar “army” backlash.
BTS has made a variety of political statements in the past. The group donated $1 million to left-wing American organization Black Lives Matter and have made statements against racism, particularly against Asians – but have been careful not to condemn America or any individual or group for alleged racism. After winning an award for “outstanding contributions to the advancement of US-Korea relations” in 2020, the band members thanked the United States for its support during the active years of the Korean War, prompting the Chinese Communist Party to try to erase it .
The Chinese government has shut down major fansites for BTS on Weibo, its government-controlled social media channel, has itself attacked BTS for under-lauding China’s role in the Korean War (in which it fought South Korea), and unsuccessfully tried to do this build a rival boy band.
The status of BTS’ attendance at the inauguration remains unconfirmed at press time. The President’s Transitional Committee only confirmed that it has not yet had to contact the band, not that it would not in the future.
“We have not made any proposal or contact with the agency of BTS regarding the opening ceremony,” said a statement from the Transitional Committee’s public relations office, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Big Hit, BTS’ record label, said only that it “found out about it through the news reports. [BTS] have not yet received an invitation that we are aware of.”
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