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Samsung, Hyundai, Fila pull BTS ads after outrage from China

The wildly popular K-pop boy group is facing Chinese backlash after its leader RM’s comments about the Korean War.

BTS, the K-pop boy group which enjoys global fame and an outrageous fan-following is known for its messages of inclusivity and positivity. But, little did it realise how the comments of its leader Kim Nam-joon (stage name RM, formerly Rap Monster) on the Korean War would lead to criticism from China and result in brands pulling ads that feature the group.

Earlier this week, Korea Society, a New-York based non-profit group awarded BTS, the General James A. Van Fleet Award; an annual award since 1992, it is awarded “to one or more distinguished Koreans or Americans in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the promotion of U.S.-Korea relations”. General James A. Van Fleet was the commander of the U.S. Eighth Army at the height of the Korean War in 1951.

A single sentence from RM’s speech to accept the award during a ceremony commemorating the Korean War irked China: “We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together, and the sacrifices of countless men and women.”

Global Times, the Chinese state-affiliated newspaper, criticised the speech on Twitter. It said, “South Korean boy band #BTS is strongly condemned on #China's social media for their speech after receiving James A. Van Fleet Award. Chinese netizens said the band's totally one-sided attitude to the #KoreanWar hurts their feelings and negates history.”

The Korean War happened from 1950 to 1953 between North Korea backed by China and the Soviet Union and South Korea backed by the United States.

Not only did the band then become the recipient of criticism from China but the brands it endorsed too had to take a stand as response to controversy.

Samsung's special edition BTS phone.
Samsung's special edition BTS phone.

As per The New York Times, a special-edition purple smartphone made for BTS disappeared from Samsung's Chinese website and other e-commerce stores...

… Fila, the sportswear company removed any mention of the brand from its official Weibo (Chinese social media platform) account and...

… Hyundai Motor Group, the South Korean automaker, had removed advertisements and references to BTS from its Chinese social media accounts. The group had also released a song to to promote the launch of Ioniq, Hyundai’s line of electric vehicles said the newspaper.

However, BTS supporters pointed to the fact that RM or BTS never mentioned China.

This controversy comes a few days before Big Hit Entertainment, the agency that manages BTS, is set to go public in Seoul. As per a CNN report on 28 September 2020, “The K-pop label is issuing its shares at 135,000 won ($115) each, Big Hit said in a filing on Monday, raising 962.55 million won ($822 million) and valuing the company at 4.8 trillion won ($4.1 billion).”