Major Multinational Companies Ditch K-Pop Band After China Takes Offense To Honoring US War Dead

Jung Yeon-je / AFP via Getty Images

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Several major companies have distanced themselves from the K-Pop band BTS after their leader honored American and Korean soldiers during an October 7 ceremony commemorating the Korean War.

People in China were outraged that the band’s leader, Kim Nam-joon, who goes by the stage name RM, didn’t honor the Chinese soldiers who fought with North Korea during the war, the New York Times reported. In addition to the more than 200,000 South Korean soldiers and 37,000 American soldiers who died in the war, China claims that 180,000 Chinese soldiers also died.

At the virtual awards ceremony, the New York-based nonprofit Korea Society presented BTS with an award for advancements to the relationship between the U.S. and Korea. During the acceptance speech, RM said “we will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together, and the sacrifices of countless men and women” in reference to the Korean War.

Social media backlash quickly followed the band leader’s comments. The hashtags “there are not idols before my country” and “BTS humiliated China” trended on social media, and users expressed their anger at BTS for their comments, the New York Times reported. (RELATED: Chinese Billionaire Gets 18 Year Prison Sentence After Allegedly Criticizing Xi Jinping’s Handling Of COVID-19)

Samsung was the first multinational brand to distance itself from the band following the backlash. A special edition purple smartphone that the company had made for BTS was removed from Samsung’s Chinese website and other platforms Monday, the New York Times reported. Hours after Samsung removed their smartphone, sportswear company Fila removed any posts mentioning BTS, who had been one of Fila’s brand ambassadors since 2019, from their official Weibo account.

South Korean news outlets also reported that by Monday night, all advertisements and references to BTS had been removed from Hyundai Motor Group’s Chinese social media accounts, according to the Times. BTS had been a partner of Hyundai since 2018 and released a song in August to promote the company’s launch of electric vehicles. As of Monday night, a video advertisement featuring BTS was still posted on Hyundai’s Chinese website.

When brands have offended China in the past, they have been the target of boycotts and harsh pushback by the Chinese government and consumers.

China refused to broadcast NBA games for a year after Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey voiced his support for the people of Hong Kong who had been protesting against the government. China began broadcasting games again for the first time this month, starting with game 5 of the NBA finals.

Fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana faced a backlash from Chinese consumers after they released an advertisement with stereotypes that many found offensive. Videos went viral across Chinese social media platforms showing consumers burning Dolce & Gabbana products, the New York Times reported.

Luxury fashion brands Coach, Givenchy, and Versace all apologized last year for T-shirt designs that were interpreted as hurting Chinese national pride by depicting Hong Kong as a separate territory, according to the Times. Clothing company Gap also apologized in 2018 when a T-shirt with a map of China did not include Taiwan, which China believes belongs to their country.