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Billion-dollar K-pop biz banks on a BTS ‘Nazi problem’

K-pop’s Third Reich fashions are a first-rate flop.

Purple Kiss, a popular all-girl group from South Korea, is embroiled in the latest example of an ongoing campaign to trivialize Nazi symbolism in order to shock and awe — and cash in, according to human rights groups taking the multi-billion dollar K-pop industry to task for what they claim are deliberately inflammatory machinations.

After the group’s label, Rainbow Bridge World (RWB), released promo photos for its holiday merch, one band member, Goeun, incited backlash for sporting what looked like a Parteiadler — a Nazi insignia depicting an eagle with outstretched wings above a swastika — on a pseudo-military-chic look, complete with the text “U.S. Air Force” on a separate patch.

It’s all part of what some critics claim is a Holocaust-charged hype formula for post-BTS mega-fame in the most lucrative American market.

“This is part of an ongoing problem,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a fiery statement received by The Post. “Use Nazi symbols to get PR, then offer an empty apology.”

When fans brought the outrageous fashion faux pas to the 22-year-old Purple Kiss singer’s attention, Goeun issued one such apology and asked that her label investigate, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. The image was subsequently neutered, the Nazi emblem replaced with a generic eagle, leaving no trace of the incendiary symbol.

“Asia in general, but especially Korea, unfortunately, have a Nazi problem.”

Rabbi Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Post

South Korea-based RWB also issued an apology on a fan site, writing, “We sincerely apologize for raising concerns by not doing a thorough inspection of all the outfits and accessories worn by the artist during the 2022 SEASON’s GREETINGS photoshoot beforehand.”

“The responsibility of this issue rests entirely on us, the artist’s agency, as we have failed to review the outfit in detail,” the statement continued. “We are deeply reflecting on not having been more careful about sensitive historical issues. Considering the situation at the photoshoot, we’d like to clearly state that the responsibility of this incident is not on the artist” — and vowed to have staff “pay close attention to historical issues in the future.”

But not everyone is buying the meager mea culpa.

On Twitter, Rabbi Cooper, emphasizing that these carefully choreographed campaigns are all too routine nowadays, added: “Cheap disgusting move to publicity. The adults running @SonyMusic_Kpop know exactly what Nazi symbols stand for, yet continue using them. How would Koreans feel if a pop group used symbols of the Japanese imperial military in promos?”

While Purple Kiss is not part of Sony, Rabbi Cooper — who later tweaked his tweet to specifically call out the RWB label — said that the incident is part of a much more insidious problem with K-pop groups of outsized fame, including record-breaking BTS and GFriend.

Cooper, 71, claims these bands are being used as pawns by labels looking to cash in on the controversies that such scandals, created by design, incite.

The seven-member, all-girls group, Purple Kiss, was caught up in controversy over Nazi symbolism on display in a photo shoot.
The seven-member, all-girls group Purple Kiss was caught up in controversy after Nazi insignia was visible in a promotional photo released by their label. “It’s not about the teeny boppers — it’s about the adults in the room who control every aspect of their lives,” Rabbi Cooper exclusively told The Post after the Purple Kiss kerfuffle.
RBW

Earlier this year, Sowon, of South Korean girl-group GFriend, swiftly deleted an Instagram photo of herself clutching and looking adoringly at a mannequin dressed in a Nazi uniform after being made aware of the image’s implications. Her South Korean label, Source Music, issued an apology on her behalf, explaining that she now “understood the significance of the image,” and added that the star was “very shocked and immediately deleted the image, [and] she is pained and feels deep responsibility for posting such image[s].”

Rabbi Cooper was deeply shocked and disappointed that the incident took place, especially after the Los Angeles-based human rights watchdog traveled to South Korea to meet with the creatives behind the biggest K-pop groups.

“It’s not about the teeny boppers — it’s about the adults in the room who control every aspect of their lives,” Rabbi Cooper exclusively told The Post after the Purple Kiss kerfuffle.

“Asia in general, but especially Korea, unfortunately, have a Nazi problem,” he added.

It wasn’t an isolated event within the wildly popular world of K-pop, whose crown jewel is the boy band BTS, affiliated with Sony until just this year. In 2018, band member Jimin wore a T-shirt displaying an image of a billowing nuclear mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, the Japanese city leveled by a nuclear bomb dropped by the US during World War II. The incident resulted in the cancellation of a live televised concert by a Japanese station.

A week later, the band came under fire again after donning Nazi-style hats for a photoshoot.

Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) also issued an apology in 2016 after Japanese girl band Keyakizaka46 wore military garb reminiscent of Nazi-era clothing. “We express our heartfelt apology for causing offense … because of our lack of understanding,” Sony said in a translated Japanese-language statement posted on its website. “We take the incident seriously and will make efforts to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident in the future.”

Reps for Sony Music and RWB did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment about Cooper’s allegations.

The rabbi noted that GFriend and BTS are both managed by Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean company that just had a splashy $7.6 billion IPO last year.

“K-pop management corporations have a serious issue: embracing racism and neo-Nazism to boost ratings,” Rabbi Cooper wrote in the Daily Beast earlier in 2021. “Sowon of GFriend rightfully came under fire for the Nazi Instagram postings, but Sowon likely didn’t come up with that move. Every aspect of a K-idol’s life is controlled by [many layers].”

With some 100 million fans of K-pop around the world, according to 2021 data from the Korea Foundation, comes accountability, Rabbi Cooper told The Post, comparing the genre to “an ATM machine, a huge thing that put South Korea on the map.”

The Parteiadler, a Nazi symbol of an eagle with swastika, was scrubbed after a backlash.
The Parteiadler, a Nazi symbol of an eagle with swastika, was scrubbed after a backlash.
Twitter / @RBW_PURPLEKISS

“For starters, that is the responsibility not to denigrate six million Jews murdered in the World War II Nazi death camps. The responsibility not to boost today’s racist neo-Nazis,” Rabbi Cooper wrote for the Daily Beast.

The blithe — and blatant — instances of high-profile performers posing with potent Nazi symbols is deeply troubling to Rabbi Cooper. “In the case of South Korea, the adults in the room know exactly what they’re doing,” he said. “And they figure at this point, ‘What better way to get some free publicity than to pose with Nazi symbols?’ “

“They figure at this point, ‘What better way to get some free publicity than to pose with Nazi symbols?’ “

Rabbi Cooper

While he acknowledged that “there are places in Asia where a swastika means nothing [as] they don’t have that education,” the international music industry doesn’t fall under that category.

“When you’re talking about a global phenomenon known as K-pop, you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You want to be a global phenomenon and make huge profits from global brands, and then when you keep defaulting to this behavior, knowing you’re going to get some publicity out of it.”

Rabbi Cooper also believes there’s no real compunction in the aftermath since “the apology is meaningless.”

“It’s just a way of pushing a button in a crowded field to get attention,” said Rabbi Cooper, noting the cheap ploy for headlines. “If the companies had any concern that it would impact their bottom dollar or if the political leaders or media said, ‘Cut it out,’ it would stop. It’s very troubling.”

About the author

Tina Sanders

Tina is the mind behind Gruntstuff.com, and she ideated it when she was working for an online magazine company where she used to cover US-based headlines news. She holds a degree in journalism and has more than 4.5 years of experience in an online magazine company. She had the idea while working there but when she was quite sure about starting something on her own, she took the risk and left the job to start Gruntstuff. Since then she added a few team members, and along with them, she creates General US news content on the site.

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