South Korea is ‘nothing without BTS’, fans of boy band demand apology from Seoul over chart-rigging probe

South Korea’s decision to investigate K-pop juggernaut BTS’ agency Hybe over a chart-rigging scandal has faced backlash from the boy band’s fans who accused the government of “disrespecting” the stars despite their cultural influence powering the economy and demanded an apology from Seoul.

The ministry of culture, sports and tourism said the state-run Korea Creative Content Agency would examine a petition that alleged Hybe was blackmailed into paying a third-party vendor and his accomplices who were aware of its unethical business tactics in 2017.

The ministry said the agency would get to the bottom of the case and seek answers from the music label.

It added the government also received another petition requesting the Order of Cultural Merit awarded to BTS be rescinded if Hybe, then known as Big Hit Entertainment, was found guilty of malpractice.

BTS received the honour in 2018 for promoting K-pop worldwide.

Fans of K-pop boy band BTS gather at an event in Seoul in 2023 to mark 10 years since the formation of the group Photo: Getty Images

The investigation came after details of a judgment in a chart manipulation trial resurfaced online.

In 2017, a Seoul court sentenced an employee of a company that handled Hybe’s promotional work to one year in jail for threatening and extorting 57 million won (US$41,960) from the label.

The court said that “the victim engaged in marketing activities through improper means, providing grounds for coercion”.

Hybe played down the court’s observation then and described its promotional activities as typical viral marketing.

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How will the world fare without the K-pop supergroup BTS?

How will the world fare without the K-pop supergroup BTS?

Since its debut in 2013, the seven-member band has been widely credited with boosting the soft power of South Korea and raising more than US$3.6 billion every year for the country’s economy.

The group also became the first South Korean artists to reach No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and Global 200 charts with the Grammy-nominated single “Dynamite”.

In 2022, the idols took a break to focus on solo projects and complete their mandatory military conscription.

The controversy surrounding Hybe and the impending investigation have angered BTS’ legion of fans known as ARMY who demanded the government apologise for “dragging down our boys”.

Everyone knows South Korea because of them

a BTS fan

“I just can’t take this any more. South Korea is nothing without BTS, everyone knows South Korea because of them and they need to apologise to BTS,” wrote a supporter on X (formerly Twitter).

Others pledged to “shield” the stars from the allegation, saying it was the South Korean government and Hybe that needed BTS.

“For South Korea to blatantly disrespect BTS despite everything they did for their country is quite disappointing, I expected better from them,” said a fan.

Some said South Korea was trying to “defame” BTS by raising the possibility of revoking the Order of Cultural Merit award.

Last week, fans took out full-page ads in major Korean newspapers denouncing Hybe for “failing to protect” BTS members.

They also cranked up the pressure on the company by sending protest trucks and flower wreaths to its headquarters in Seoul, Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

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