During recent activities in the US, K-pop superstars BTS made a controversial decision about censoring the lyrics to their newest single, ‘Fake Love’. While the translated lyrics don’t contain anything controversial at a glance, the Korean words 내가 (Naega, meaning ‘I’) and 니가 (Niga, meaning ‘You’) can sound like a derogatory term that I’m sure everyone reading knows. New fans especially seem to catch these phrases often and have a moment of panic.
At first, international fans were split on their opinions of the censorship. Some were asking why it was necessary. As a Korean speaking group, shouldn’t BTS be allowed to use Korean words in their native language while performing? Yes, they should be, and that’s exactly what they did. Recently in the press conference that was held in Korea for the release of Love Yourself: Tear, BTS leader RM (Namjoon) stated that the changing of the lyrics was a choice made by the group. It was not a result of forced censorship. They wanted to avoid any offense to international fans and viewers who might not be familiar with Korean. New listeners might not understand the true meaning of the words in the song. By changing the lyrics, they were able to avoid any negative image.
RM even went on record saying ‘N Word’ while explaining their choice (and NOT using the actual term). BTS also showed that they have reached a level of awareness of their fan base that some groups are still lacking. Black K-pop fans make up a huge portion of the fandom worldwide. Still, they have been misrepresented, disrespected, and made light of in past years. BTS making this choice to avoid offense to their black fan base shows that idols can learn from their mistakes. It also shows that they recognize there is a problem with using such derogatory terms against black people in the first place. By doing this, BTS will no longer be one of the groups who constantly face backlash for appropriation and racism.
The Korean media quickly reported on RM’s statement. Unfortunately, most of their commentary did include the use of the word in question. This emphasizes the point that racism is still tolerated and overlooked on a wide scale in Korea. Other idols could learn a thing or two from the effort that BTS has made to learn from their mistakes. BTS has shown growth as a group from their sometimes questionable start as idols. They are setting an example for future and current groups. If other idols can embrace acceptance, tolerance, and change their behaviors, the K-pop community will become a much more welcoming place. Acknowledging the potential for harm to their fan base and adapting to avoid those issues proves that BTS really are the socially aware group that ARMY proclaims them to be.