The Korea Herald


Don’t politicize BTS, some fans tell South Korea’s incoming president

Yoon’s anti-feminist stance clashes with BTS’ message of inclusivity, fans and critics say

By Yim Hyun-su

Published : April 6, 2022 - 20:06

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BTS performs onstage during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, in Las Vegas. (AFP-Yonhap) BTS performs onstage during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, in Las Vegas. (AFP-Yonhap)
Should BTS perform at the inauguration ceremony for South Korea’s incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol? Some fans say just leave the group alone.

After a member of Yoon’s transition team said Tuesday that a BTS performance is being discussed for the May 10 event, fans of the K-pop juggernaut flooded the committee’s website with posts opposing it.

“Please do not politicize BTS,” one post uploaded on Wednesday read.

On the presidential office’s website, a similar petition filed on Tuesday has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

“Please do not try to use BTS as your decoration just because they are global stars,” a Korean BTS fan in her 30s surnamed Lee told The Korea Herald.

The possibility of a BTS performance was first raised by Park Joo-sun, a former National Assembly vice speaker who is in charge of the preparation for Yoon’s inauguration ceremony on May 10, during an interview with KBS Radio 1 on Tuesday.

Park said it was “under discussion,” although it has not been confirmed by the act’s agency Hybe.

The remarks came days after the presidential transition committee Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo visited the headquarters of BTS’ agency Hybe. The visit had prompted speculation that the new administration may be considering granting BTS exemptions from mandatory military service, though Ahn said the matter was not discussed during the meeting.

What is causing the controversy?

Annie, a 27-year-old BTS fan from the United States who lives in Korea, said Yoon represents “everything BTS stands against” and performing at his inauguration would come across as an “endorsement.”

“BTS are pro-women’s rights and have done lots to uplift women all around the world. They also are seen as being sympathetic to LGBT rights by I-ARMY,” she said, using the name for BTS’ international fandom.

“They’ve also collaborated with and showcased LGBT artists in their V Lives and on their social media.”

Yoon, who won the presidential election last month, ran a campaign that had no shortages of controversy.

One of his campaign promises was to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family which has become an anti-feminist rallying cry. During the presidential election in March, a majority of young women voted for his rival and liberal candidate Lee Jae-myung.

Last month, Yoon also tapped Jang Sung-min, head of the World and the Northeast Asia Peace Forum, as the special assistant for political affairs. Jang has made a series of controversial remarks on the LGBT community and has once likened homosexuality to the Black Death.

Yoon also has historically low approval ratings pre-presidency. According to a Gallup poll last week, only 55 percent said he would do a good job while 41 percent said he would not. Previous president-elects enjoyed far higher approval ratings. Moon’s approval ratings stood over 80 percent in the first month, for instance.

“Whether it is Yoon’s policy on women or his divisive politics, his series of actions must have been a big disappointment to the fandom,” said pop culture critic Jung Duk-hyun.

It is worth noting that current President Moon Jae-in and BTS have maintained a rather amicable relationship.

In 2018, the group performed at a special concert in Paris -- that Moon attended -- to celebrate French-South Korean relations.

In 2021, both BTS and Moon took part in a joint TV interview with the US show Good Morning America as the group visited the United Nations in New York as the president’s special envoys.

At the time, the joint UN attendance was criticized by the People Power Party as putting on a “show.”

But Jung said Army are different from other fandoms and have a sense of community who share “similar thoughts” between them who tend to be progressive. Though Moon has also used BTS for political gains, the political gap between Army and Yoon is wider, he explained.

“From a global perspective, many of the regressive policies in terms of women’s rights or democracy will come across as not sensible.”

Though BTS has represented their country on the global stage alongside a president, performing at an inauguration ceremony would be seen as more “partisan,” said cultural studies professor Lee Gyu-tag of George Mason University Korea.

“If BTS performs at the inauguration ceremony and receives military exemption or have their enlistment delayed, it would seem like a quid pro quo.”

Lee said it would benefit both if the government and the cultural industry kept each other at arm’s length, citing as an example the blacklist of celebrities under the two previous conservative administrations which included film director Bong Joon-ho.

“No artist looks cool when heavily associated with politics,” the professor said.

“It will give the impression that K-pop is being used as government propaganda and its impact on K-pop abroad will not be positive.”