Jewish group accuses K-Pop band BTS of ‘mocking the past’ with Nazi-style hats

A leading Jewish human rights organisation has called for one of South Korea’s most popular K-pop bands to apologise for wearing Nazi-style hats during a photo shoot.

BTS, an influential seven-member boy band, was also dropped last week from a Japanese TV show after a member wore a T-shirt apparently glorifying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in Los Angeles, issued a harshly worded statement criticising the record-breaking band for “mocking the past” and urged members to apologise to both Nazi victims and Japan.

“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, its associate dean.

The statement also referred to photography of members wearing hats with Nazi logos believed to be taken in 2014 as well as footage of flags waved by the band on stage at a concert which were reportedly “eerily similar” to the Nazi swastika.

“It goes without saying that this group, which was invited to speak at the UN, owes the people of Japan and the victims of the Nazism an apology,” he added in the statement.

“But that is not enough. It is clear that those designing and promoting this group’s career are too comfortable with denigrating the memory of the past. 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. The management of this group, not only the front performers, should publicly apologise.”

BTS, which debuted five years ago, are among the most successful – and influential – of South Korea’s meticulously manufactured and perfectly coiffed K-pop bands, with a string of major hits and 17 million Twitter followers.

The band’s apparent fall from grace comes just weeks after BTS appeared to reach the pinnacle of global celebrity by appearing on the cover of Time magazine while being touted as “Next Generation Leaders”.

BTS also has strong ties with UNICEF, with members making a speech at the United Nations in September, as well as raising over a £1m ($1.4m) last year for an anti-violence campaign.

But the band hit the headlines last week for less positive reasons when TV Asahi in Tokyo unexpectedly cancelled a live BTS performance scheduled to take place on Friday night.

The cancellation was due to a now viral photograph of BTS member Jimin wearing a T-shirt commemorating Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

The T-shirt design included images of jubilant Koreans alongside a photograph of an atomic bomb, complete with a nuclear mushroom cloud, exploding above Japan.

The band, which famously became the first K-pop band to get their own Twitter emoji two years ago, issued an apology last week for the cancellation of its performance without directly referring to the T-shirt.

The K-pop scandal comes at a time of heightened political sensitivity between Japan and South Korea. Last month, the supreme court in Seoul ruled that a Japanese company should compensate four South Koreans for forced “wartime labour”, a judgment condemned by Tokyo as “unacceptable”.

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