04/07/2022, 11.15
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BTS at Yoon inauguration? k-pop controversy breaks out in Seoul

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The staff of the new conservative president is allegedly courting the popular Korean band. Also on the table is the question of exemption from compulsory military service. But fans rise up: no to exploitation.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The global spread of K-pop is one of the most powerful cultural phenomena of the last decade. If the explosion of the South Korean music industry were to have a face, it would undoubtedly be that of BTS, the boy band that has climbed the music charts around the world. In recent days, however, what animated the discussions of their fans in Seoul was something that had nothing to do with music, but with the coming into office of the new conservative president Yoon Suk-yeol on May 10.

Park Joo-sun - a member of the transition committee in charge of preparations for the inauguration ceremony - during a radio interview aired on April 5, responded to a question from the host about the possible involvement of BTS by stating that indeed the option was being considered.

Although Park's statement did not imply any formal commitment, it gained more substance after a visit made earlier by Transition Committee head Ahn Cheol-soo to Hybe Corp. the entertainment company that owns the BTS agency.

Although the meeting only served to gather opinions on what the new government can do to help the entertainment industry, many had speculated that Ahn was considering a proposal to relieve the 7 boy band members of the military service obligation that they all still have to perform. Back in 2020, a special law allowed BTS to delay conscription by two years, but the oldest of them is expected to report for enlistment by this December.

Park's words on the radio were therefore taken very seriously by fans, who did not like the attempt to "politicize BTS." On the website of the presidency, a petition asking not to instrumentalize the music group has obtained about 7000 signatures in less than a day. "Please don't try to use BTS as embellishment just because they are global stars," the Korea Herald wrote, reporting the words of one fan.

The anger of ARMY (the nickname by which BTS fans are known internationally) highlights how the fault lines in South Korean politics run deep even in the entertainment world. Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol emerged victorious in last month's presidential election after a very divisive and hostile campaign against South Korean feminist claims, while the leader of the conservative party just a week ago took very tough stances against disability rights protesters.

Instead, BTS fans identify with values such as inclusiveness and social justice, diametrically opposed to those proposed by South Korean conservatism. It is no coincidence that, during the March 9 elections, the progressive candidate obtained more votes than Yoon in the under-29 age group of voters.

After the public backlash, the transition committee was quick to specify that there are no definite plans for the inauguration ceremony yet. Politics and entertainment are closely linked, and the BTS in particular, which has frequently collaborated with current President Moon Jae-in in recent years, knows this well. But the distance between Yoon and fans of the image group of K-pop may simply be unbridgeable in the current climate of polarization across South Korea.

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