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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Back in 2018, a viral video of the Kpop girl group Red Velvet, who was invited by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to perform at a rare concert in Pyongyang, gripped fans on YouTube. Decked in clothes less revealing than their usual stage costumes, the group danced and sang their popular hits Red Flavor and Bad Boy. If you’ve listened to these songs before, you must know how catchy they are—it’s practically impossible to stop your head from bobbing to the beat. Yet, the 8-minute clip featured a silent audience who were, as the popular comments under the video puts it, “doing their best at the ‘try not to react’ challenge.”
Fast forward to 2021, Kim Jong Un isn’t a Kpop fan anymore. Describing the genre as a “vicious cancer” that will “corrupt” young North Koreans, the leader has been cracking down on the distribution of South Korean dramas, songs, music videos and culture altogether. In December 2020, the country enacted the “Law on the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture”—which called for up to 15 years in labour camps for the possession of South Korean entertainment. People who were caught distributing such “foreign propaganda,” on the other hand, could additionally be sentenced to life imprisonment or even death.
Now, a human rights report by Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), has revealed that the country has publicly executed at least seven people in the past decade for watching or distributing Kpop videos from South Korea. Interviewing 683 North Korean defectors since 2015 to map places where citizens were killed and buried, the group has documented a total of 23 state-sanctioned executions under Jong Un’s government.
Although it’s impossible to uncover the exact number of public executions in the country, TJWG focused on those that have taken place since Jong Un’s ascension to leadership. The group further narrowed down on executions in Hyesan, a major trading hub bordering China.
Housing 200,000 citizens, Hyesan is the major gateway for outside information. Thousands of North Korean defectors have either lived in or passed through this city—while some even toss plastic bottles filled with rice and USB sticks featuring South Korean entertainment into the sea towards their former homeland. This is why Hyesan has become the premise of Jong Un’s efforts to stop the undesirable infiltration of Kpop into the country.
According to the report, six out of the seven executions took place in Hyesan between 2012 and 2014. A shocking set of statistics, given how Red Velvet was invited to perform in 2018. But the revelations don’t end there. The report also noted how citizens were mobilised to watch the executions, where the officials labelled the victims “social evils” before they were put to death by a total of nine shots fired by three soldiers. “The families of those being executed were often forced to watch the execution,” the report added.
Ever since North Korea tightened its border restrictions over the pandemic, defections to the South have dropped sharply—making it even harder to gather fresh information about the country. However, Seoul-based website Daily NK recently reported that a villager and an army officer were publicly executed this year in a deeper inland town for the distribution and possession of South Korean entertainment. Secretly-filmed videos of such public trials and executions have also been smuggled out of North Korea as of late.
In one of the footage broadcast by Channel A in 2020, a student was brought to the front of a crowd—including peers from the school—and condemned for the possession of a memory stick that held “a movie and 75 songs from South Korea.” In an interview with the South Korean TV station, Shin Eun-ha also narrated her experience with a public execution that she and her classmates had been made to watch from the front row. She was in second grade at the time in North Korea.
“The prisoner could hardly walk and had to be dragged out,” she said. “I was so terrified that I could not dare look at a soldier in uniform for six months afterward.”
The New York Times, reporting first on the matter, noted how Jung Un escalated his crackdown on Kpop especially after his talks with former US President Donald Trump went haywire in 2019—coupled with a deterioration of the country’s economy in recent years. “Amid growing international scrutiny of North Korea’s human rights abuses, the government appears to have taken steps to prevent information about its public executions from being leaked to the outside world,” the publication wrote.
TJWG also highlighted that the country no longer appears to execute citizens at public marketplaces. The sites have instead been moved farther away from its borders with China and major town centres. Speculators are also being inspected closely to prevent them from filming the executions.
Seeking to instil horror among citizens, Jong Un’s government has been controlling nearly every aspect of life in the North—from radios and television sets down to the access to global internet. The crackdown on South Korean entertainment has also been a priority for China following President Xi Jinping’s call for a “national rejuvenation.” As for North Korea, however, its own state media has warned that the country will “crumble like a damp wall” if the influence of Kpop is left unchecked.