Last Friday Super Junior’s Choi Siwon took to the internet to share retweets from John Piper, a prominent pastor that he follows. This was nothing out of the ordinary as this was something that he has done before- Siwon is very vocal and open about his faith and has even come to verbal blows with is group members about it in the past (Heechul, for example). So what was the issue this time?
Siwon’s retweets showed the support of Kentucky registrar Kim Davies, who is under prosecution for refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples in her county; something that is illegal by federal law. She is claiming that her faith (Christianity) disallows her from doing so and whilst the majority are in agreement that she is in the wrong, there are a few outspoken individuals that in support of her stance. The preacher was one of them. And by retweeting his comments, Siwon showed that he too was supportive of her stance.
That is when the backlash began. Thousands took to social media to berate Siwon for the tweets; for implying that homosexual couples are not allowed to have the basic human rights that heterosexual couples are given as standard. Several articles appeared on prominent international sites and fans called him out on his stance. Then the surprising happened.
Less than 24 hours later, Siwon apologised for this comments saying that he didn’t mean to cause offense and that he would reflect on his thoughts on this. Since then he has removed the retweets in question. What was so surprising was that the backlash was mostly international- Korean Netizens seemed not to care on the issue (as homosexuality is still taboo in South Korea) and still he took care to be cautious of people’s feelings.
So was he right to apologise? Of course. Super Junior were one of the groups that were on the forefront of Hallyu when K-Pop started to make waves around 2008. Korea was using K-Pop to try and reach out and have a new wave of tourism to come to the country. As with any international business, you have to be savvy to the attitudes to the countries that you are targeting; knowing what is deemed appropriate or not to not cause offense. What he was inferring was offensive to the generations of people who have been fighting for equal rights for years who also happen to be K-Pop fans. Whilst Super Junior may not be the most popular K-Pop group out there currently, they are still one of the most recognisable. A mis-step in an action or comment affects the group and the scene in general as they have a wide reach. For example thanks to a comment that he made a couple of years ago about girls and their need to lose weight to look pretty, Shindong is still seen as misogynistic and is widely regarded as the least popular in the group overall. People are still side-eyeing Siwon as this is not the first time he has used his faith to portray some pretty controversial standpoints but this is the first recorded instance where he has come out to apologise for those he may have offended.
If I am honest, it still carries a whiff of the “I am sorry you got offended for my opinion” about it, but it is surely a step in the right direction. I am quite miffed that a few fans have taken the “Oppa Didn’t Mean It” stance about the whole thing, replying back to Siwon saying that he didn’t need to apologise and that people were overreacting but then again it smacks of young fans trying to get on their idol’s good side so they could be noticed for their undying love. It won’t work, mind you, but it is very frustrating to see. You cannot win them all I guess.
With K-Pop becoming more international, there are going to be more instances where comments from Idols or other Hallyu Stars which could be easily glossed over in Korea would cause issues within the International Netizen scene. Over the last couple of years, Idols have learnt to respond to international criticism much more quickly than before (lest we forget that Eric from Shinhwa’s rap that had the N word in “T.O.P” at a time where it was glossed over because Koreans weren’t too clued up to the offense caused. When BTS’s Rap Monster covered the song and kept the word in the backlash was instantaneous). Long may that trend continue if they really want to be an international commodity.
… as long as the criticism is warranted.