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‘Song depicting alcohol not harmful to youths’

A Seoul court on Thursday advised the government to cancel its decision to label a K-pop song that mentioned liquor as “harmful to youth.”

The ruling is expected to have a huge impact on the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs’ plan to revise censorship criteria, which have been denounced as outdated and rigid.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of SM Entertainment, the largest showbiz agency in South Korea, which filed a lawsuit in March against the ministry’s decision to label one of its albums, “SM The Ballad” as harmful to youth. One of its songs, “Tomorrow,” repeats phrases “I dream when I fall asleep drunk,” and “Not to miss you while I am intoxicated.” While the Commission of Youth Protection, a ministry affiliate, argued that the phrases could provoke curiosity from youths and lure them into drink, SM claimed it is an infringement on creativity and expression since liquor is not the main subject of the song.

Once classified as harmful to youths, red warning stickers are stuck on the album cover, and the album is banned from sale to those under 19 years old. Online distribution and live performances are restricted, and music videos and songs are prohibited from broadcast before 10 p.m.

“The phrases were used to effectively deliver the pain of breaking up with someone loved and could hardly be recognized as an encouragement to drink,” Judge Ahn Cheong-sang said.

He noted that drinking scenes have often been used as a tool to deliver certain messages in literature, songs, films and other genres of art.

“To guarantee the freedom of expression, these scenes should be allowed. However, the producers need to keep in mind that depiction should not cross the line into glorifying or encouraging drinking or smoking,” he said.

The ruling is expected to affect the ministry’s work on adjusting its censorship standards. The commission has come under fire for trying to apply rigid regulations to lyrics.

Alongside “Tomorrow,” songs by other noted pop groups contain drinking-related phrases. They include 2PM’s “Hands Up,” 10cm’s “Americano,” Vibe’s “Drinking,” and Beast’s “When it rains.” Ministry officials said they will review the censorship criteria in the near future.

Market insiders also speculate that the producers of other albums might file similar suits to free their songs. “The ruling has just opened doors to other songs,” a producer said.

By Bae Ji-sook (