Top Korean boy band BTS’s management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, is facing a backlash from Korean fans after reports surfaced on September 13 that the K-pop group will release a Japanese single, Bird, written by controversial Japanese producer Yasushi Akimoto.
Akimoto, well known for his creation of Japan’s top idol group AKB48, is not a welcome figure in Korea for using the Rising Sun flag in AKB48’s costumes. The flag, which is comparable to Nazi symbols, is associated with Japanese imperialism and its colonial rule in Korea. The high-profile producer is also notorious for writing misogynistic lyrics.
Local reports said BTS will release three Japanese songs on November 7, fronted by the new single, Bird. The other songs will include Japanese versions of Fake Love and Airplane Part 2. The Japanese release will come before the K-pop group’s Japanese leg of its “Love Yourself” world tour. The band will perform in Tokyo on November 13 and 14, Osaka on November 23 and 24, Nagoya on January 12 and 13, and Fukuoka on January 16 and 17.
Big Hit Entertainment founder Bang Si-hyuk arranged the K-pop group’s collaboration with the Japanese producer because he supports Akimoto’s musical perspectives, according to the reports.
BTS’s official fan club, ARMY, asked the management agency to cut ties with the problematic producer and discard all related materials. “If Big Hit does not respond by 12pm on September 14, we will boycott all of Big Hit’s content and goods,” the official fan club said.
Hanryu Love – one of the nation’s largest online community platforms for hallyu admirers with more than 210,000 registered users – also demanded Big Hit Entertainment sever ties with Akimoto.
It claimed that the producer is a Japanese right-wing nationalist who takes pride in Japan’s imperial era and its horrific misdeeds during the second world war. It also accused the producer of writing misogynistic lyrics with sexist content, such as turning female idol singers into sex dolls.
Some BTS fans expressed concern that this collaboration may mislead people into thinking that BTS supports Japan’s imperialistic ideas and link the group with Akimoto’s controversial lyrics.
“Please Big Hit, immediately stop cooperating with a misogynistic, war-crime friendly position lyricist and discard all relevant materials,” a user nicknamed jimin enthusiast (@imnckrgrm) tweeted.
In fact, BTS’s name has already been linked with the term “right-wing” on a few Korean search engines. While Big Hit remained silent until September 14, fans lambasted the label. A Twitter user nicknamed @coldtang wrote: “Shouldn’t you at least tell us that you’ve heard our cries and are preparing a response? You can’t even do that properly and now you want to create a leader of the global music market? Ridiculous.”
Acknowledging the severity of the problem, Big Hit posted a short statement on its official fan cafe on September 15. “This is a notice regarding the upcoming Japanese single album. We’re fully aware of the fans’ concerns regarding the Japanese single album that is scheduled to be released in November. We are currently in discussions about this matter, so we ask for more time.”
This is not the first time the label has been embroiled in controversy. Big Hit Entertainment made a public apology in 2016 for misogynistic lyrics in BTS’s songs, including Joke and War of Hormone.
“After reviewing the lyrics, we found that some of them could be perceived as misogynistic, regardless of the intentions of the creator, and could make some people uncomfortable,” the label wrote on its official fan club on July 6, 2016. “The agency and members of BTS feel apologetic towards all the fans that may have felt uncomfortable from any lyrics.”
This article was originally written by Kwak Yeon-soo for The Korea Times.