Big Hit Entertainment apologises after BTS controversy with atomic bomb T-shirt

BTS was debuted by Big Hit in 2013 and has since become one of the biggest boybands in the world.
BTS was debuted by Big Hit in 2013 and has since become one of the biggest boybands in the world.PHOTO: AFP

The management company of top South Korean boyband BTS has apologised publicly following furore involving a band member wearing a T-shirt with a picture of an atomic bomb explosion in Japan.

In a lengthy statement posted in Korean on both its Twitter and Facebook page on Tuesday night (Nov 13), Big Hit Entertainment offered its sincere apologies to those hurt by the shirt's imagery.

Tuesday is also the same day the band kicked off the Tokyo leg of its Love Yourself concert world tour.

BTS was debuted by Big Hit in 2013 and has since become one of the biggest boybands in the world. Japan was one of the band's first forays into the overseas market and it has a strong fanbase there.

In its Tuesday statement, Big Hit said that it does not view war or atomic bombs as trivial matters and that it had "no intention" to hurt victims of the atomic bombs.

This comes days after the band was booted off a music programme by a Japanese broadcaster after photos of member Jimin wearing the T-shirt - which depicts slogans in support of Korean liberation as well as a mushroom cloud on the back - surfaced and prompted backlash.

Tuesday's post was the first time Big Hit responded to the controversy, which has touched on the emotionally charged and contentious history between Japan and South Korea. The Korean Peninsula was ruled by Japan for over three decades until the end of World War II.

Big Hit added in its apology that while the shirt was not intended to be hurtful to atomic bomb victims, those involved in the shirt did not do enough research.

Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun earlier reported that the shirt's manufacturer apologised and said that the company "had no intention of stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment or using (the shirt's design) to retaliate against Japan" and that it only wanted to display, in sequence, the lead-up to the liberation of the Korean Peninsula.

Big Hit also addressed other issues that has mired the band in bad publicity recently.

In a harsh statement posted on Sunday, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre - a global Jewish human rights organisation - denounced the band for allegedly using Nazi symbols.

"Wearing a T-shirt in Japan mocking the victims of the Nagasaki A-bomb, is just the latest incident of this band mocking the past," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the centre.

The statement said that the band's members posed for a photo shoot wearing hats with the Nazi Schutzstaffel Death's Head logo and said that "flags appearing on stage at their concert were eerily similar to the Nazi Swastika".

BTS member RM was reportedly pictured wearing a Death's Head hat in a magazine photo spread in 2015. The Death's Head unit comprised Nazis in charge of running concentration camps during the Holocaust in World War II.

In response to the criticism, Big Hit said that it opposes Nazism and all groups with totalitarian and extremist tendencies. The management company added that it had no intention of hurting any people that have been affected by such groups in the past.

All clothes and accessories for the shoot under scrutiny were provided by the magazine but Big Hit acknowledged that the company's management did not do enough researchbeforehand and apologised to everyone affected by the Nazi imagery.

The company distanced the BTS members from the mistake, however, saying that it was the management that failed to do its due diligence and emphasised that the band members were not responsible.

Big Hit also sought to clear the air over the performance where members allegedly waved flags with images resembling the Nazi Swastika. The company said that it was from a concert last year with veteran South Korean artist Seo Taiji, during a performance of Seo's song Classroom Idea.

The performance was not meant to replicate Nazism, said Big Hit, and the flag and its image were a creative artwork unrelated to the Nazis. Instead, it was meant to criticise South Korea's uniform and totalitarian education system.

The company said it will do its best to improve in the future, and be more mindful of various social, historical and cultural aspects of its activities.

It added that it will contact both the Japanese and Korean associations for atomic bomb victims, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, to clarify matters and apologise.