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Racism Against BTS

Writer: Banyu Bening

Editor: Pat Sevikul

Graphic Designer: Benedicta Shafira

BTS or Bangtan Sonyeondan are a South Korean idol group most well known for their singles DNA, Fake Love and their smash hit disco-pop single Dynamite. Debuting in 2013, BTS consists of 7 members, Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, and Jeon Jungkook, who are singers, rappers, and all phenomenal dancers.

They are very greatly involved with the creative processes of their music, contributing as lyricists, composers, producers, and choreographers as well. Their unique dance routines, captivating musical storylines, and meaningful lyrics and messages their songs carry are what clearly set them apart from other artists.

BTS choose to base their artistic concepts on real-life issues that many of the youth can relate to. Their songs cover topics such as mental health, the gap between social classes, the journey to self-love and acceptance, the flaws of the education system as well as the struggles with one’s identity. The group’s realistic and honest approach to their art along with the transparency with their fans ultimately explains why people feel connected to their music and to BTS as people rather than artists.

BTS originated from a small, lesser-known company and hence, they were confronted with many challenges in their rise to fame. This includes being put down by Korean variety shows because they weren’t “famous” enough as well as having a lesser budget to spend on music videos. However, they’ve come a long way since then, as a result of their hard work and dedication to their fans (ARMY), along with their undying passion for music. Through the years following their debut, they have, undoubtedly, made their mark in history, if not completely rewritten it. According to J-14, during their time as a band, BTS have broken 18 Guinness World Records and have taken home Teen Choice Awards, MTV VMAs, Soompy Awards, Radio Disney Music Awards, iHeartRadio Music Awards, American Music Awards, and countless others. In 2020 alone, they were nominated for a Grammy award, topped the Billboard 200 chart, and were named the number one on IFPI's Global Artist Chart and ‘Entertainer of the Year’ by TIME magazine.

During an interview on NDTV, the group stated “There is no language barrier when it comes to music. We also listen to songs of various languages that we don't understand. Music is a medium that connects people and we thank ARMY for enjoying our songs even though they don't speak the language.” The group believes that as long as you know the message they are trying to convey, there is no need to understand them word-for-word. The leader of BTS, Kim Namjoon, once said music and art possessed the ability to be able to transcend barriers of language. However, some people don’t understand this, as many still view their music as a foreign entity for the sole reason that it isn’t written in English but in Korean instead.

Despite Bangtan’s success in taking the world by storm, that doesn’t mean they are out of harm’s way of facing racism and xenophobia from the international market as Asian artists. To this day, BTS remain victims of discrimination and harassment in which people lowly belittle them for their appearances, not appearing ‘masculine’ enough and how they don’t fit the designated mold of a hit Western artist.

Just a month ago, BTS were subjected to racist remarks made by German on-air radio host, Matthias Matuschik, following the release of BTS’s cover of Fix You by Coldplay.

"These little a**holes brag about the fact they covered 'Fix You' from Coldplay. This is blasphemy,"
"For this, you will be vacationing in North Korea for the next 20 years!". He proceeded to compare the group to a “virus” in which he “hopes there will be a vaccine soon”.

It seems as though he had speculated the backlash and would ensue from the statements he made, as he added "You can't accuse me of xenophobia. I have a car from South Korea. I have the coolest car ever." as a feeble attempt to defend himself. Ironically, further research found that his car wasn’t South Korean but was a Daihatsu Copen, which is Japanese. His apology was blunt and critically downplayed his racist remarks as he failed to acknowledge and truly apologize for his wrongs, relating it instead to his “preference in music”.

BTS performs 'Fix You' on MTV

Following this was the 63rd Grammy music awards hosted on March 15th, 2021. BTS virtually attended the Grammys for the first time as a nominee for the best pop duo/group performance category for their hit single Dynamite. Though the results took a turn, as they lost to Rain on Me by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Netizens argue that although Rain on Me was an amazing song that performed well on the charts and in terms of sales, Dynamite deserved it more. Rain on Me charted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a week and remained on the top 100 chart for another 20 weeks. However, Dynamite charted at #1 for 3 weeks, numerous times at #2 and even after 6 months, still remains on the charts. Not to mention all the digital sales and YouTube views; Dynamite with an estimated 3M units sold in the US and Rain on Me with an estimated 2M, and Dynamite with 943M views, and Rain on Me with 294M. “But if sales and records don’t matter and are not the criteria to win a Grammy award, then what is?” says Sakshi Post.

The Recording Academy heavily based promotions of the Grammy awards on BTS’s appearance, but then seemed to continually postpone their performance, in which BTS enacted another outstanding rendition of Dynamite on top of a skyscraper rooftop in Seoul, to the near end as an attempt to harvest views and seek out clout and media attention from the BTS fanbase. In the end, the Grammys garnered 8.8 million viewers, a 51% decline from last year. In fact, BTS's post-Grammy live-stream they hosted to thank their fans for their support had nearly as many views, around 6.7 million.

BTS performs 'Dynamite' at the Grammys LIVE

And guess what? That isn’t even the last of them. Topps, an American manufactured collectibles company, released a playing card that depicted violence against BTS. The boys were illustrated with various bruises and injuries to depict their loss at the Grammys. It is not unusual for an artist to come home empty-handed on the night of the Grammys. It happens on an annual basis and oftentimes, with reactions much worse compared to how BTS maturely acknowledged the situation, and accepted their loss, despite being disappointed.

The Topps Company

Within the Western music industry, BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) artists are often shunned into the sideline categories such as urban, R&B, and k-pop. This portrays the lack of acceptance of international music within the Western music industry and excludes it from the popularity of “mainstream pop”.

People demanded the card be removed from sales and demanded an apology from Topps, only to receive (yet another) flimsy, non-apology in which Topps refused to acknowledge and truly apologize for their wrongdoings. Many people were furious about this (and rightfully so); not only because it attempted to undermine BTS’s success and minimize their legacy, but above all, because of how it degraded the Asian community and only went to further delineate how the rise and normalization of anti-Asian hate and xenophobia have become something embedded in modern society.

According to NBC News, there have been 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents throughout the pandemic, from being verbally harassed to physical assaults in which racists blame Asians for the Covid-19 outbreak. In the eyes of racists, Asians are judged as perpetual foreigners, and sometimes even as the enemy. Russell Jeung, a professor and forum’s founder at San Francisco State University of Asian American studies, told NBC Asian America,

“We thought we had a lull or it seemed like there was a lull over the summer, but I think people were just reporting less and that it became sort of normalized. But now with increased attention, I think people are reporting again. I think that there's been a continued harassment of Asians and now we're continuing to see that reported.”

Above anything else, racism against Asians is not an issue anyone should turn a blind eye to. Being limited to the “model minority” creates a false image in which Asian individuals are expected to be docile, intelligent, and rule-abiding. This false perception that many tend to unconsciously buy into harms the community as it further downplays the reality of the struggles and challenges we face. We, as human beings, must be consistent with our core values in order to stand with the Asian community against any acts of discrimination, racism, or xenophobia. Donate, sign and share educational resources. Speak out and report any witnesses of hate. Advocate for awareness. Do not remain complicit.




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