Chaeyoung, a member of the K-pop girl group Twice, has recently been the center of major controversy for being photographed wearing both a t-shirt sporting a swastika symbol and a crop top featuring a QAnon logo. This is coming off the tails of some major success for Twice in the United States; a new number-one album on the Billboard chart, and being honored with the Breakthrough Award at the Billboard Women in Music event. The picture in question was posted by Chaeyoung herself (it has since been deleted) on her Instagram account with over 8.6 million followers, of her posing in an American restaurant wearing a Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols graphic tee. To make matters way worse, Chaeyoung then was dressed in a QAnon top featuring their slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” during a performance for the Korean music program “Show! Music Core.” She has since issued an apology on her social media for the swastika shirt, in a translated statement saying, “Hello, this is Chaeyoung from Twice. I sincerely apologize regarding the Instagram post. I didn’t correctly recognize the meaning of the tilted swastika in the t-shirt I wore, I deeply apologize for not thoroughly reviewing it, causing concern. I will pay absolute attention in the future to prevent any situation similar from happening again. Sincerely apologize again.”
Despite this event seems like a surprising occurrence, the world of K-pop has seen many instances like it for years. Most of them are very similar to this recent controversy, with groups like EPEX wearing Nazi-related imagery in a music video, and even global sensation BTS wearing questionable symbols in their early days of success. So the question that can be posed so often is, “how can one of the world’s biggest industries get away with such frequent insensitive behavior, especially with its recent booming popularity in America?” Idols are consistently able to feign ignorance and even responsibility because their image is so often manufactured by a team of people outside of their control. But shouldn’t a team of stylists be even more vigilant in protecting their artist than if their wardrobe selection was independent? In an article for Korea JoongAng Daily, professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea, Lee Gyu-tag, weighs in on his views of insensitive fashion in K-pop. In his professional opinion, there is a major disconnect between Koreans and a care for international issues and cultural symbols, especially American ones. He states, “It’s not nationalism or ethnocentrism. It’s simply a lack of interest in learning about other countries.” This same phenomenon is also why we see so much cultural appropriation in the industry as well, “K-pop artists, agencies, and [Korean] fans are all still quite ignorant in that area. For instance, K-pop is heavily influenced by African-American culture, but hardly anyone in Korea knows or really cares about that.”
The main group of people who are always harmed the most by these actions are foreign fans (non-Korean) of a minority group. At the time of writing this, it is currently unclear if Twice’s representatives, JYP Entertainment, will take any further actions.