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Inside BTS ARMY’s plans to boycott South Korea until the band returns from military service

On Saturday 15 October 2022, global Kpop sensation BTS performed their ‘Yet to Come’ concert at the Asiad Main Stadium in Busan, South Korea. Drawing over 55,000 fans, the 90-minute event was free and livestreamed on both Weverse and South Korean television, and was organised in support of Busan’s bid to host the World City Expo in 2030.

While the concert briefly captured the legacy of the biggest boy band in the world and proved to be a reminder of their fierce hard work and sincerity—with all seven members lingering to look at the Yoon-iverse they built together—it also raised questions about whether the event could be the group’s final on-stage bow, and what the future holds for them following the 16 June announcement of their temporary hiatus to focus on solo projects.

Less than 48 hours after the concert, on Monday 17 October, BTS’ label and management company BIGHIT Music broke the news that all seven boys of the supergroup will be serving in the South Korean military—starting with the oldest member Kim Seokjin (Jin) in late October. “Both the company and the members of BTS are looking forward to reconvening as a group again around 2025 following their service commitment,” the HYBE-owned agency further detailed in its Twitter statement.

Military service is mandatory in South Korea, where almost all able-bodied men are required to serve in the army for a minimum of 18 months by the time they are 28 years old as part of the country’s efforts to defend itself against its nuclear-armed neighbour, North Korea. Some citizens, however, have won exemptions or served shorter terms, including Olympics and Asian Games medal winners and classical musicians and dancers. To date, over 170 athletes and 280 performers have qualified for the exemption.

On these terms, when Jin turned 28 back in 2020, the South Korean government offered the member a two-year delay for enlistment in recognition of BTS’ efforts in “enhancing Korea’s international image.” He was one of the first Kpop stars to be offered such a reprieve. According to BIGHIT Music, the agency has long been looking to time the boy group’s military service “to respect the needs of the country and for these healthy young men,” and said that the time was “now.”

“Group member Jin will initiate the process as soon as his schedule for his solo release is concluded at the end of October. He will then follow the enlistment procedure of the Korean government,” the label said, adding that “other members of the group plan to carry out their military service based on their own individual plans.”

While the announcement tumbled ARMYs into a heartbreaking spiral, certain moments from the band’s recent ‘Yet to Come’ concert felt even more poignant upon rewatching. A part of the fandom took to Twitter and highlighted how the term isn’t that long when compared to western artists who take whopping seven year breaks from the limelight. Meanwhile, others quickly dubbed themselves “military wives” and started churning memes about each member serving in the army. A parallel trend also witnessed fans manifesting a monetary chance at grabbing their coveted concert tickets in 2025.

I swear, ARMYs are so unserious that it’s hard to stay in the uncertain rabbit hole of spending the next few years minus OT7 (One True 7, referring to all seven members of the group) without letting out a breathy chuckle along the way.

At the other end of the discourse, however, some fans have publicised their views on “boycotting South Korea” until the boys return home from their mandatory military enlistment in 2025. These claims majorly stem from the projections that, according to analysts, between 2014 to 2023, BTS would have contributed a staggering total of $29.1 trillion to the South Korean economy in a bid to build its soft power.

According to the Hyundai Research Institute, the supergroup brought 800,000 tourists, over seven per cent of foreign visitors, into the country in 2018 and generated an estimated $1.1 billion from consumer goods exports like merchandise and cosmetics in a single year. Mind you, these numbers are before they hit global success with their chart-topping hits. As of today, in light of the band members’ military conscription, HYBE shares fell 2.5 per cent, as noted by Fortune.

“To be honest, I don’t want international ARMY to buy Korean products and consume Kpop until our boys finish their military service. I am Korean but I am not a fan of Kpop, I am a fan of BTS and I am not a fan of the Korean government. They must realise what they have done,” a Twitter user initially wrote, highlighting how the revenue from the boy band’s previous album cannot be taken by the Ministry of National Defence given that it was announced when they were civilians. “You can keep buying the album,” the user added.

Several ARMYs gathered in support under the Twitter thread. “I wanted to study in Korea but not anymore. I’ll go anywhere else. South Korea ain’t getting any of my money until BTS comes back. If we can wait for BTS, so can they,” a user wrote. “I will definitely not plan my travel to Korea until the boys are out of enlistment… but I need my Innisfree and The Face Shop or I will break out nasty,” another commented.

It should be noted that the debate has garnered some (arguably, rightful) backlash from other members of the fandom itself, who have highlighted the fact that South Korea is more than its government. “I am an ARMY, not a Kpop stan,” one admitted. “But: I will buy Korean products if I think they would benefit me, I will continue watching Kdrama as they are entertaining, eat Korean food cause 🤤, learn the language and culture because it’s interesting.”

Meanwhile, others pointed out that the boycott essentially fetishises the entire country based on one single boy band. “Imagine all these people getting mad at an entire country because of a choice BTS made,” an ARMY replied. “I don’t think it’s right to make such a blanket statement about ‘Korean products’. The Korean economy is made up of millions of people who have nothing to do with Kpop OR the government, and their livelihoods should not be adversely affected by all of this,” wrote a second.

At the same time, a parallel debate discussed the repercussions of a hypothetical timeline, where BTS is given a military exemption “with too many strings attached and milking them for a long time.” Here, ARMYs highlighted the fact that the ‘Dynamite’ hitmakers chose the path because they know what’s best for themselves. “I’m relieved they won’t be under the government’s thumb for an extended period of time, being sent to do events and whatnot when we know they’re not allowed to earn anything [while in] mandatory service,” a tweet read.

Being the torchbearers of the Hallyu Wave (the global popularity of South Korea’s cultural economy exporting pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas, and movies), the latter tweet links to the August 2022 debate when Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup spoke up about a special allowance during a parliamentary session “for BTS to be given time to practice and perform overseas after they enlist.”

“Even if they join the military, there would be a way to give them a chance to practice and perform together if there are scheduled concerts abroad,” he said. “As many people highly value [artists serving] in the military, that may help boost their popularity even more.” A report by Allkpop further noted that in the case all seven members enlist, there is a separate proposal that will allow them “temporary overseas travel and permit them to stay outside of their unit for about 120 days per year.”

Simply put, the band can still make passive income from their works that have been filmed before their enlistment (for example, any tracks they’ve pre-recorded and is set to go live while they’re serving in the army). However, they are not allowed to make money off the content filmed during their military duty. This makes the entire proposal that also suggests that the members be “allowed to hold online and offline promotion activities, including concerts in Korea and overseas, award ceremony attendance, and broadcast appearances” appear rather sketchy.

On these terms, several publications have noted the lack of details as to whether the government would be the sole beneficiary of the income earned during the time.

Back to the hypothetical situation of alternate exemptions, the possibility of the group being dragged for their exemption later on in their careers can’t be denied either. “This way nobody can ride on their tailcoats,” one summed up. As many fans continue to slam the ARMYs rallying behind the boycott for projecting a false image of the fandom, remember that 2025 is just over the horizon and the best things in the BTS universe are yet to come…

Transracial or Asianfishing? Inside the problematic case of BTS Jimin wannabe Oli London

Ever since its official debut in 2013, South Korean boy band BTS has been a bulletproof force that is widely credited with Kpop’s rise to global prominence. Over the years, the group of seven starry-eyed members, including Kim Namjoon (RM), Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Park Jimin (Jimin), Kim Taehyung (V) and Jeon Jeongguk (Jungkook)—kudos if you chanted your way out of their names—hit legendary milestones on their journey to self-love and acceptance.

As in the case of most public figures, BTS also amassed a long list of superfans—a term which overlaps with the concept of ‘sasaengs’ (overly obsessive fans who stalk and harass Korean idols and drama actors to gain their recognition). And while the boy band went on to drop an entire album about the ups and downs of loving oneself, it’s safe to say that British-born influencer Oli London did not understand the assignment.

Who is Oli London?

Born in central London, Oli London is a YouTuber, musician, reality TV star and (unfortunately) TikTok influencer who is notoriously known for their love for Kpop, especially 26-year-old Jimin of BTS.

London’s interest in South Korea reportedly began in 2013, after arriving in Seoul to teach English for a year. Mesmerised by the country’s culture, it was only a matter of months before they started learning Korean phrases, researching music groups and eventually idolising Jimin—who was 17 years old at the time. In the same year, London started venturing into the world of plastic surgery and repeatedly went under the knife with the ultimate aim to look like their favourite idol.

Over the course of five years, the influencer allegedly underwent fifteen procedures, including multiple lip injections, cheekbone reductions, nose jobs, and eyelid surgeries to make them “almond shaped.” They also had their jawbone shaved down and their chin bone “shaved, cut off, and reattached.”

But it wasn’t until late 2018 that the broader internet was first introduced to London. Appearing on Barcroft TV’s documentary series called Hooked on the Look, the influencer gripped the entire Kpop community and mainstream media alike with a video titled I’ve Spent $100,000 To Look Like A K-Pop Star.

It should be noted that much of the public had never heard of London whatsoever before the documentary hit YouTube. Those who scrolled through the star’s Instagram account at the time were also quick to notice how they never mentioned anything even remotely related to South Korea or Kpop until after the release of the Barcroft TV special. Sus much?

A controversial and problematic timeline

While London raised collective eyebrows of the internet and Kpop communities with their Hooked on the Look appearance, everything started going downhill the moment they decided to “capitalise” on their viral fame by releasing—drum roll, please—music.

With singles like ‘Perfection’, ‘Koreaboo’, ‘Korean Boy’ and, of course, ‘I Love Korea’, the 90 liner is currently a verified artist on Spotify with 4,017 monthly listeners. Though many have dubbed their songs as a mix between Europop, electronic dance music (EDM) and autotune with a noticeable lack of Kpop elements, their music videos are in a different league altogether.

In ‘Perfection’ and ‘Mirror Mirror’, London is seen vibing with a majorly-Asian cast who compliment and laud them as their best friend, in turn, projecting the ideal that they ‘fit in’ almost naturally in the scene. In ‘I Love Korea’, the musician also goes on to feature a cardboard cutout of Jimin (more on that later) and douse themselves in soy sauce and ramen in a bathtub—all the while featuring Korean drinks like soju and Kakao Friends Neo Kiwi Smoothie.

Then came May 2020, when London announced their new “K-Hip Hop” collab “featuring a very talented Korean rapper” on Twitter. In images accompanying the tweet thread, the star was seen decked in cornrows with a caption that read: “I’ve got a totally new hair style so I look more gangster for my debut K-Hip Hop single.” Not a second was wasted before everyone on the platform started calling London out for cultural appropriation.

To this discourse, the influencer promptly added fuel by replying with an “I don’t understand why people get upset over a hairstyle. It’s hair. Get a grip! The most craziest thing people could get upset over”—thereby igniting another controversy about their problematic invalidation of black people.

In a leaked audio which went viral on YouTube and TikTok, London was also heard talking about their ‘support’ for Black Lives Matter when all their claims did was shed light on their performative activism. “I’ve been a lot on Twitter and there have been so many people talking about me because I’m supporting the Black Lives Matter protests and stuff,” they said. “So I had 200,000 views on my [music] video and because of that I’m getting lots of requests. So I’m just staying relevant in the news and TV because the more exposure I have, the more Cameos I get.”

In the same year, a Twitter user called Tasneem uploaded a selfie of London and wrote: “Oli London 😂😂😂… This guy is such a tool 😂😂😂” Surprise, surprise, the so-called “koreaboo-st koreaboo” replied stating: “The only tool is you… a symbol of oppression and brainwashing.” However, when Tasneem clapped back by writing “Brain-washing you say: nobody has been brainwashed but you,” London directed a slew of Islamophobic comments towards the Twitter user.

“Sweetie, I’m not the one wearing a Burqa, a symbol of oppression and brainwashing!,” they stated. What a way to “stay relevant” indeed, London.

Visual and emotional obsession with Jimin

As of 2022, London has reportedly spent over $200,000 on more than 20 cosmetic surgeries to look like BTS’ Jimin. They also have a tattoo on their forehead dedicated to the Kpop idol.

“If you look at pictures of me and Jimin, we’re identical,” London said during their appearance on Dr. Phil. “It’s true! When I was in Korea, everyone called me Jimin when I was walking down the street. Everyone [went] like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Jimin! Jimin!’ Like everyone, they think I’m Jimin and I know I’m identical.” When asked if London didn’t want the public to recognise them as an artist who makes music instead, the influencer added: “No, I like it when they say Jimin… I know that I’ve done a good job with the surgery [and] I know I’ve got the look perfected, so when everyone calls me Jimin, I’m happy.”

Now, it’s not a ‘cardinal sin’ to jump through hoops in an attempt to resemble your favourite celebrity or public figure—I’d say you do you. But in London’s case, apart from the countless controversies they’ve triggered into existence, comes claims of Asianfishing and questions about the boundaries of transracialism.

In 2021, London made headlines after announcing that they “identify” as a non-binary “Korean” with “They/Them/Kor/Ean” pronouns. Claiming to be a Korean who was “born in the body of the wrong race,” London admitted that they were considering renaming themselves as ‘Oli Seoul’. After marrying Jimin, they wanted to be referred to as ‘Oli Park’.

In the same year, London also tweeted their version of… the South Korean national flag. “This is my new official flag for being a non-binary person who identifies as Korean,” they wrote along with a picture that featured the South Korean flag in rainbow colours. “Thank you for the overwhelming support, it was so hard for me to come out as Them/they/kor/ean 🏳️‍🌈⚧,” they added.

While many called London’s move out as extremely offensive—given the flag’s national, cultural and historical symbolism—others highlighted how their act is a criminal offence that allegedly applies to foreigners with a ten year jail sentence.

Shortly after coming out as a “transracial Korean,” London showed off their new, surgically enhanced “Korean eyes.” Recently, they’ve also sketched their plans to undergo a penis reduction procedure to be “100 per cent Korean.”

“I don’t want people to get offended by this, but in Korea, [the average] penis is like 3.5 inches, and I get trolled all the time. People say, ‘Oh, you can’t be Korean. You’re not 100 per cent Korean,’ and I just want to be 100 per cent Korean,” London told Newsweek on the matter, adding that their “hands are too big” and want to “feel closer to the country.”

Tracing back to their obsession with Jimin, the star has further revealed how he used to stalk the Kpop idol’s favourite spots in South Korea in hopes of bumping into him. In 2020, they also “married” a cardboard cutout of the BTS member in Vegas—only to “divorce” it six months later and tie the knot “in front of a topless priest” with 19-year-old adult entertainment star Danny Richardson.

Getting hitched to each other in a plastic surgery-themed wedding, London claimed that they are paying for their new partner to look like Jimin and personally transitioning into a “Korean female” themselves instead.

London’s non-apology

In their most recent YouTube video and in an interview with NBC News, London has now issued a public apology, or should I say pathetic non-apology, addressed to “Jimin and the Asian community” for undergoing dozens of operations as part of his “unhealthy obsession” to look like the star.

“It was wrong of me to try to emulate Jimin in such an obsessive way,” the influencer said. “I realise now that it wasn’t the right thing to do.” London went on to mention how they were bullied as a teenager in school and felt lonely and unloved, which affected their self-esteem and paved the way to identity issues. “That has been a big factor in me having surgery, me being unhappy, me also funnelling my love into Jimin,” they continued. “I really tried to model myself on that person, because I thought that would make me happy.”

They also admitted that their recent marriage has helped them grow as a person. “Since I recently got married to my husband, who is my very own Jimin (and actually looks like him), I have finally found someone who loves and accepts me for who I am. I have been chasing this acceptance all my life and now that I have found it, it has made me a completely new person,” they said.

While this ignited a spark with some netizens, London lost their growing support when they claimed that they still identify as Korean, adding, “That’s never going to change. I know a lot of people don’t understand me, but I do identify as Korean… I don’t identify as British.”

“London thinks [they] can turn Korean just by eating kimchi,” a Reddit user said when I asked for their opinion on the influencer’s apology letter. “He’s like Trisha Paytas,” another admitted. “He’s constantly doing something controversial to get attention, and then does an interview or something and says something like ‘omg, I was just kidding!’.”

As some went on to call him “creepy,” “delusional” and a “menace to society,” others mentioned how his TikTok posts are still “Asianfishing the heck [out] of” Jimin and other Kpop idols like Jennie from BLACKPINK. “It’s too late to redeem himself and I bet he knows exactly what he’s doing,” a fan concluded.

In my chat with the Kpop community, all members collectively admitted to having the same belief of “ignore them and they’ll go away for good” when it comes to London. That being said, it’s about time that they are held accountable for all the problematic things they’ve said and done to date. Expunging all your controversial social media posts in a quick spring cleaning sesh isn’t going to fare well for you in the long run, London.

@olilondon

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