SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The agency for K-pop superstars BTS apologized Wednesday for members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atomic bomb and a hat with a Nazi emblem.
Japanese TV broadcasters recently canceled planned appearances in that country after images went viral of the musician wearing the shirt. The South Korean boy band ran into more troubles after news broke out that another member wore a hat featuring a Nazi symbol in a magazine photo book and band members flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a concert in the past.
“We would like to again offer our sincerest apologies to anyone who has suffered pain, distress and discomfort due to our shortcomings and oversight in ensuring that these matters receive our most careful attention,” the band’s agency, the Big Hit Entertainment, said in a statement.
The T-shirt portrayed an atomic bombing juxtaposed with the celebration of Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japan at the end of the World War II. The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Tokyo’s surrender.
Before its division into North and South Korea after the liberation, the Korean Peninsula was colonized by Japan from 1910-1945. Many in both Koreas still harbor strong resentment against the Japanese colonial masters. But in South Korea, it’s extremely rare for anyone to publicly celebrate or mock the atomic bombings.
South Korean politicians criticized the Japanese broadcasters’ decisions to cancel BTS appearances, accusing Japan of harboring “self-centered views on history” and letting politics interfere with cultural exchanges.
As the t-shirt row escalated, images emerged of a concert last year where BTS wore uniforms and waved flags that critics said recalled Nazi symbols, and a 2014 photoshoot in which band leader RM wore a cap bearing an SS Death’s Head logo.
The SS played a key role in the Nazi mass murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust and a prominent Jewish human rights group accused the band of “mocking the past.”
“It goes without saying that this group owes the people of Japan and the victims of Nazism an apology.” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
“Those designing and promoting this group’s career are too comfortable with denigrating the memory of the past,” he added. “The result is that young generations in Korea and around the world are more likely to identify bigotry and intolerance as being ‘cool’ and help erase the lessons of history.”
It doesn’t appear the T-shirt controversy is seriously affecting the band’s huge popularity in Japan, with 50,000 people reportedly filling up the Tokyo Dome Wednesday evening to watch them perform.
The BTS agency said the A-bomb shirt’s wearing was “in no way intentional” and that it wasn’t designed to “injure or make light of those affected by the use of atomic weapons.” It said it still apologizes for “failing to take the precautions that could have prevented the wearing of such clothing by our artist.”
Regarding the hat furor, it said all apparel and accessories used for the photo book were provided by a media company involved in its publication. It said the flags in question were aimed at symbolizing South Korea’s restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, not Nazism.
“We will carefully examine and review not only these issues but all activities involving Big Hit and our artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that we never cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone,” the agency statement said.
The seven-member band, which has worldwide following, became the first South Korean artists in May to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with “Love Yourself: Tear.” The band began its Japan tour earlier this week.
South Korean K-pop and movie stars are extremely popular in Japan and other Asian countries.
AFP contributed to this report.