On February 25, 2021, tweets began appearing on ARMY Twitter detailing some vile, disgusting remarks made by a German radio host. The host, Matthias Matuschik, went on a tirade against BTS under the guise of “opinion” and “personality.” In reality, his remarks were nothing but overt racism.
In one tweet, a fan uploaded a video with a translation of Matuschik’s remarks, where he claims that BTS is a virus like COVID-19, and that he hopes there will be a vaccine against them soon. He goes on to say, “Nothing against South Korea, you cannot say I’m xenophobic only because of a boyband from South Korea. I have a car from South Korea,” before giving extraneous details about the car. But then he backtracks to his bigoted spiel, saying:
“Korea rules…well South Korea. But BTS. BTS actually did an MTV Unplugged. For a boyband, ‘unplugged’ is already a paradox in itself. And then these little f**kwits are bragging that they covered ‘Fix You’ from Coldplay. I say blasphemy, and I’m an atheist, but this is outrageous! For this, BTS are gonna go on vacation to North Korea for the next 20 years.” [ source]
Matuschik’s comments were atrocious and most certainly racist, at a time when Asians and Asian-Americans are being unfairly targeted in relation to the pandemic. One cannot claim to be free from xenophobia simply because they’re making derogatory comments towards a boyband, as if boybands weren’t made up of humans, or because they have a Korean car. (Fans later pointed out Matuschik may be referencing this car, which is actually a Japanese car…) Xenophobia against a boyband is still xenophobia, and the “Korean car” defense is like a gross reincarnation of the standard “But I have a Black friend” defense. Neither work.
Matuschik also furthered the trope that boybands, by nature of being a boyband, must be talentless, so BTS’s appearance on Unplugged must be a “paradox.” It’s clear from this flawed logic that Matuschik didn’t bother watching the performances he seems to feel so strongly about. Either that, or he lacks the capacity to distinguish between personal music taste and objective talent and well-performed stages. He appears to take personal offense to BTS covering Coldplay’s “ Fix You,” which, by the way, Coldplay called “beautiful” in a tweet about BTS’s cover. There are ways to argue one’s personal opinion that don’t resort to racism or xenophobia. This was nothing but a cheap shot by an ignorant Westerner trying to be “edgy.”
Truly, there is nothing more outrageous in this situation than Matuschik’s blatant racism and disrespect. Understandably, ARMY was angry. The event gained some German media coverage and also made it to some South Korean news outlets. Hashtags such as Bayern3Racist, RassismusBeiBayern3, Racism is not an opinion, and apologize to BTS all began trending while writing this article. Some fans began to circulate email templates in German and English for others to send to Bayern 3, the station that Matuschik broadcasted on, demanding an apology for his statements.
And it’s clear that Bayern 3 got the message, because they later made a statement that ended up being nothing but another non-apology in the growing list of Western media mishaps and disappointments in relation to BTS. As translated by @BTS_UPDATES_GER, the statement reads:
“Matthias Matuschik told his personal opinion about the very successful South Korean band BTS and their Unplugged concert and many of you complained. It is the character of this show and of the host to tell his opinion clearly, openly, and unflatteringly. In this case, his attempt to voice his opinion ironically exaggerated and with played outrage, didn’t hit its mark and hurt the feelings of the BTS fans. He did this — he assured us — not intentionally. This is about a personal opinion regardless of the origin and cultural background of the band. You don’t have to share this taste or the extreme way of speaking. The history of Matthias and his action, his post of the past (see his Facebook page and multiple articles) clearly show that he isn’t inclined towards racism or xenophobia of any kind. He tried to show this here, but this doesn’t change the fact that a lot of you viewed his remarks as racist or hurtful. We apologize for that.”
Bayern 3’s statement is concerning, to say the least. Very obvious racist remarks were labeled as “personal opinions,” as characteristic of this person’s show, as if that makes any difference at all. Hateful comments specifically related to being Korean were pushed aside, framed as comments that had nothing to do with “the origin and cultural background of the band.” If the host’s comments weren’t culturally or ethnically motivated, then why was BTS compared to the coronavirus? Why was the punishment for covering Coldplay being sent “on vacation to North Korea”? Claiming that comments that explicitly bring in BTS’s nationality aren’t because of the origin of the band is outright nonsense.
This statement is nothing more than Bayern 3 saying “We’re sorry that you feel hurt or bothered, but this person didn’t mean it that way, and he’s never been racist before.” The obvious gap in logic there is that someone doesn’t have to have a history of racism to be racist in any given moment, and that, while intentions do matter, the speaker is still responsible for his own comments and the fallout, not the fans who were angered by his ignorance and discrimination. Non-apologies are worthless; do better.
The non-apology is almost as disappointing as the original comments, because when will Western media learn? At the same time, it’s also not surprising. This pattern of brushing racism and other offenses off as “jokes” or “opinions” and placing the blame for the hurt or anger felt by fans on the fans themselves is basically an established M.O. for Western media at this point. But racism is not an opinion. It’s racism. And fans aren’t responsible for your employee’s inability to be a decent human.
Sadly, this event and its subsequent non-apology are nothing new for ARMY. BTS has been on the receiving end of racist, xenophobic, and otherwise discriminatory and offensive comments from numerous Western media outlets and digital creators for years now. In 2020, Howard Stern and others called out a staff member for making racist remarks about BTS and the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s no way those guys don’t have the coronavirus” Salvatore Governale said, despite the outbreak happening in China, not Korea. I also previously wrote about an Australian television segment’s racist and offensive remarks towards BTS and their following non-apology, which happened in 2019. Also in 2019, Chartshow, a different German show, came under fire for calling BTS “Japanese albinos” with a bunch of 12-year-old fangirls — they also presented a non-apology in response. Katerina Kainourgiou, host of a Greek television show, posted a non-apology to social media after receiving backlash for her comments towards several K-Pop idols’ appearances (including some BTS members).
In a similar vein, problematic YouTuber Shallon Lester also contributed to the ongoing derogatory statements towards BTS when she pulled out a poster of the group from a magazine and said, “We have the women of BTS. I don’t get it. Look at these people, I don’t even know whether to call them boys or girls because I don’t know what they are. How do you guys tell these people apart?” Ethan Klein (also a problematic YouTuber) had even more disgusting things to say: “I don’t like K-pop, I hate K-pop, I don’t get BTS. They look like they’re just a bunch of — how did this become a thing in Western culture where all these grown men and little girls are jerking off to little K-pop boys? It’s like a little fetish. A little twink gay fetish about these K-pop boys.” Of course there wasn’t even an attempt at a non-apology from these two, because that’d be expecting way more than they’re capable of. Suffice it to say, BTS is often a target in the West, and it’s not likely to stop.
Whether statements are made from malice, ignorance, or a desire to appear edgy, some Western media and personalities will likely always continue to have a problem with BTS, simply due to their success (if not for white supremacism). Maybe it’s feeding an inferiority complex, maybe they just don’t love themselves, in which case, they really could benefit from hearing BTS’s message more clearly. But regardless of what causes this behavior, the continued pattern of racism and non-apologies just proves that Western media doesn’t get it. It doesn’t matter what one’s personal opinion of BTS is. Not liking the group or their work is no excuse for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, or other derogatory comments. You’re not “cool” for not liking something or someone successful and popular. And you can’t sweep away the racist remarks by saying “I’m sorry you were hurt.” It’s been said a million times, but I’ll say it until it sticks: do better.
Update 2/26/2021: Bayern 3 has issued a second statement on the matter.
Since this article was published, ARMY continued to express their anger and displeasure by posting on Twitter with trending hashtags and emailing complaints to the radio station. In response, Bayern 3 posted another statement, which has been translated by fans. “We apologize in all form for the comments made by moderator Matthias Matuschik on his live broadcast. It is not acceptable which words he used to describe the band BTS,” the station writes. They further state that “Matthias is miles away from racist views” due to his years of working for “peaceful coexistence” of the people in his state, “regardless of their nationality, culture, skin color, sexual orientation, or religion.” They reiterate they will work with the radio host so that this doesn’t happen again.
Although the station does attempt to directly apologize, they only succeed in undermining their words with their defense of Matuschik, citing his past actions as justification for Matuschik being “miles away from racist views.” Once again, they’re not taking responsibility for what was said, and fans are (understandably) not pleased with the station’s response. The focus is still being shifted from the inappropriateness of what was said to a weak defense of the commentator, and that’s not helpful in the least.
The station also included a statement from Matuschik himself, where he writes, “I am very dismayed by the reactions that my statements on my live show caused, and first of all, I am very sorry and I would like to sincerely apologize. I was primarily annoyed by the fact that boyband BTS covered the song ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, which I really appreciate. The nationality of the seven boys shouldn’t matter-mentioning them and making the connection with a virus was completely wrong.” He also goes on to say that he understands that he could have “racially insulted” the Asian community, and that he has worked to be active against right-wing activities and to help those who seek protection. He claims it makes him “all the more sad” if he hurt people with a statement that was “thoughtless” and “meant to be funny.”
We can’t know for sure Matuschik’s true feelings, given the first non-apology and the crassness of the original comments (though it’s my own opinion that he probably doesn’t care about any of this). But regardless of the sincerity of feeling sorry now, the repeated attempts to justify himself as non-racist because of his other actions still demonstrates that both the station and the radio host are missing the point. If someone is upset that another group covered a song, they’ll attack the performance of the song itself, not the nationality or culture of the performer. BTS covering a song that a non-fan enjoys has literally no impact on that non-fan. Matuschik’s comments are in no way excusable or justifiable; it’s really easy to express dislike for a performance without attacking the identity of the group. He made it about race, when it shouldn’t have had anything to do with it. Furthermore, he claims the comments were “meant to be funny,” which only serves to further undermine the apology attempt. Derogatory remarks about one’s race are not “funny.” It’s insensitive and cruel, and suggests that Matuschik hasn’t learned much of anything from this. These statements, while marginally better than the non-apology, still fail to take full accountability for Matuschik’s mistakes.
In the end, BTS, ARMY, and the Asian community at large are unlikely to get a sincere, full apology. But, at least for BTS fans, we should keep in mind why BTS covered “Fix You” in the first place. “This song comforted us,” Jimin said. “So we wanted to prepare this cover to comfort you too.” BTS’s own sincerity will not be stymied by this unfortunate occurrence, and the group will continue to provide comfort and healing to fans worldwide, regardless of what random Western media channels think of them.