K-Pop Band BTS Is Dropped From Japanese TV Show Over T-Shirt

HONG KONG — They have been called the world’s biggest boy band, and they were even recently enlisted to speak at the United Nations — the first K-pop group ever given such an honor.

But proving that even world-famous pop groups are not immune to political tensions, a Japanese television station abruptly canceled a live performance by the chart-topping South Korean band, BTS, on Thursday amid an uproar over a T-shirt once worn by one of the band’s members.

The T-shirt featured the well-known historical image of a billowing mushroom cloud rising over the Japanese city of Nagasaki, and some said it glorified the Americans’ use of atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II.

“After we talked to the band’s agency about the member’s intention in wearing the T-shirt, we have regrettably decided to call off their performance at this time,” read a statement posted on the website of Music Station, a program on the Japanese television network TV Asahi.

In a statement on its official website, BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, apologized to fans for the cancellation, though they did not mention the T-shirt.

The article of clothing in question was said to have been worn by Jimin, 23, one of the band’s seven members, in a 2017 episode of the group’s reality television show, “BTS: Bon Voyage.” The T-shirt shows the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki just moments after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city on Aug. 9, 1945, instantly killing more than 70,000 civilians.

A block of repeating text printed on the T-shirt alongside the image reads: “PATRIOTISM OUR HISTORY LIBERATION KOREA.”

The incident tapped into the deep well of resentment that still roils relations between the two countries, more than seven decades after Imperial Japan’s defeat in World War II liberated the Korean Peninsula from Japanese colonial rule (it was subsequently divided into North and South Korea). Aug. 15 is still commemorated annually by both North and South Korea as Victory Over Japan Day.

Those historical tensions flared up last month when a South Korean court ordered a leading Japanese steel maker to compensate Korean men who were slave laborers during World War II.

Relations between the two countries remain strained by other wartime legacies, like the Korean “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels. Many South Koreans say Japan’s apologies and reparations over that issue have not been sufficient.

The T-shirt incident was a small but embarrassing setback for BTS, which has seen overwhelming success in recent years with its ever-changing rotation of hair colors and musical influences. This year, the band was not only the first K-pop band to reach the top spot on the Billboard Artist 100 Chart, it did so twice in the span of a few months.

In August, BTS broke Taylor Swift’s record for biggest YouTube video debut, racking up 45 million views for their video “Idol” in just 24 hours. In October, they finished off the North American leg of their “Love Yourself” world tour with a sold-out performance to a crowd of about 40,000 at Citi Field in New York City.

The band has waded into potentially taboo topics before, and members have been particularly outspoken about their support for gay rights.

But back home, relations between their native country and Japan have been something of a political minefield. In September, Korean fans lashed out at the band’s management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, after reports emerged about BTS’s plans to release a Japanese-language single written by the prominent Japanese producer Yasushi Akimoto.

Known for creating the popular Japanese girl band AKB48, Mr. Akimoto had angered Korean fans in the past by featuring the rising sun flag — seen by many as a painful symbol of Japanese imperialism — in some of AKB48’s costumes. As a result of the backlash, BTS removed the single, titled “Bird,” from its latest Japanese album, which was released on Wednesday.

According to South Korean media, the designer of the T-shirt for the Korean street fashion brand Ourhistory has apologized, saying he did not intend for the design to be construed as anti-Japanese.

Despite the outcry in Japan, the group’s many die-hard fans, who are known as the Army, seemed undeterred. On Friday, the band’s newly released single “Fake Love/Airplane Pt. 2” remained at the top of the Japanese music singles chart, according to Oricon, a Japanese music statistics website.

Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo. Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

Follow Amy Qin on Twitter: @amyyqin.

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Taylor Swift, Donald Trump and an America That Confounds the World

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau chief. Sign up to get it by email. Here’s where to find all our Oceania coverage.

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After Taylor Swift sang “Bad Blood” and “Gorgeous,” before the trapeze artists appeared, while the fireworks were bright and the rain was still bucketing down, I smiled and thought: This is so American.

That was last Friday, when she performed in Sydney at ANZ Stadium. I was there with my young daughter and son, and it’s not the first time I’ve contemplated what pop music could teach my kids about the United States.

As I wrote when they were toddlers in Mexico, “our ears pull in the first lessons of culture,” and America’s greatest appeal can often be found in the sounds showing off the country’s carefree creative exuberance.

Friday’s concert, though, came at a serious time: just a few days before the American midterm elections that determined control of Congress. And what I saw in Taylor Swift’s no-holds-barred extravaganza (even though I’m a middling fan of her music) was some important context for all of us trying to figure out what on earth is going on in the U.S. of A.

What it told me — or reminded me — was that the country is impossible to hold down, that it’s far too big and too dynamic for any one person to totally corral or define. No place that can produce Childish Gambino and Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga and Cardi B, will ever be easy to control.

President Trump received a form of that message with Tuesday’s election results. Despite structural barriers that favor Republicans in many states (from gerrymandered districts to voter ID restrictions), the House of Representatives flipped to the Democrats.

The Republicans added seats in the Senate but the results will no doubt lead to more pressure for the president and more open political conflict.

House leaders have already signaled that they plan to use their subpoena power to demand more from Mr. Trump (including his tax returns) while the president has threatened that he would retaliate with investigations of his own.

But before the battle gets going, let’s take a breath and ask: What do the results tell us about the country on a deeper level?

A few things to look at:

1. District Maps: This New York Times map shows which parts of the country shifted to the left and to the right compared to 2016. The leftward tilt was pretty widely dispersed.

2. Exit Polls: Surveys of voters from the 1980s onward highlight divisions that are both racial and generational, with the age divide becoming especially striking.

3. Diversity: More women and more young, nonwhite lawmakers are heading to Washington, including the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress. That means the power structure will more closely resemble the country at large.

All three of those developments point to an electorate with more people who have become more frustrated with President Trump, including many of those who voted for him two years ago.

If the age trends hold, and with a bunch of the winners coming from the more moderate side of the Democratic Party, it may also mean a future with more consensus than we have now.

Imagine that, an America united. I admit, I have a hard time picturing it.

But if we look beyond the what-ifs and issues and ideology — if we really step back — maybe we can see something more illuminating.

The results and the messiness of American democracy — with ridiculously long lines to vote, with far too many ways to cast ballots, with oodles of money sloshing around from billionaires — all spotlight the jumble of paradoxes that have shaped the United States since settlement.

It’s a country founded as a utopian “city on a hill” — and defined by ruthlessness in capitalism and politics.

It’s a country where white nationalism is surging — and “Black Panther” is the year’s top box-office earner.

I could give you a dozen more of these with 10 minutes and a beer, but I don’t live there anymore so I won’t bore you with that.

And really, Taylor Swift said it best. With just her guitar, playing in the middle of a giant stadium, with most of her big budget production taking a rest, she stripped down America to its essence:

“We’re happy free confused and lonely in the best way,” she sang. “It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah.”

Now for some other stories. Because even Tay knows it’s not always about her or her country.

You know where to find us for more discussion: Our NYT Australia Facebook group, and at [email protected]

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Australia and Beyond

We had a busy week. So busy in fact, that I’m going to limit this week’s roundup to coverage connected to Australia and the region. Let’s dive in.

If you have a thoughtful 15 minutes…

• Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children: A reporter made it to Nauru for us and found, firsthand, the effects of Australia’s offshore detention policy. Part of what’s intensifying the desperation? Refugee rejections from the Trump administration.

• Geoffrey Rush’s Defamation Trial Becomes a #MeToo Reckoning for Australia: Does defamation law in Australia keep more women from coming forward?

• ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the History in Historical Fiction: Most readers haven’t noticed or been worried by omitted details or factual mistakes in the book. But is there a greater imperative for novels about the Holocaust to get basic facts correct?

If you’re wondering about Australians and the world…

• He Helped People Cheat at Grand Theft Auto. Then His Home Was Raided. A gamer in Melbourne has had his assets frozen in connection with a popular video game cheat. He’s one of many being sued by game companies worldwide, raising questions about copyright and freedom.

• Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., Trump’s Pick for Ambassador to Australia, Offers Direct Line to President: Mr. Culvahouse is the third candidate the White House has selected to fill the post.

• Another Trump Scoop, a Giddy Reaction and a Reporter Under Fire: Jonathan Swan made a name for himself in Canberra, and is now a reporting star in Washington. But is he too quick to choose access over detachment?

• Australia Likely to Block Hong Kong Company’s Bid for Gas Pipeline: Citing national security concerns, Australia said it would probably block an effort by CK Group from acquiring the country’s largest gas and pipeline company.

• Robyn Denholm Succeeds Elon Musk as Leader of Tesla Board: Tesla said Ms. Denholm would step down from her role at Telstra once her six-month notice period is complete.

If you’re looking for something to smirk or smile about…

• What Sydney Can Learn About Dining From Another Sunny City: Our restaurant critic in Australia wishes that Sydney could take a few lessons from Los Angeles.

• Virgin Australia Airline Seeks to Thank Veterans for Their Service. Vets Say, ‘No, Thanks.’ Critics said the policy was too American, and at odds with Australia’s egalitarian ethos.

• Crossing Paths With Meghan and Harry, and Missing the Plane to Paradise: In New Zealand, our columnist immerses herself in Maori culture. Then rain, traffic and a lost (and found) passport complicate what should have been an easy Fiji trip.

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… And We Recommend

It’s time for our monthly Netflix guide. I started watching the new “House of Cards” — not sure how I feel about it yet.

We’ve also pulled together all the guides from previous months, putting them on a single collection page for easy browsing and so past recommendations don’t get lost.

Are there other things in media or life you’d like to see Times guides for? Let us know.

Here, for inspiration, are some other Times guides that aim to help you live a better life.

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.

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