Korean pop group B1A4 spurred controversy after a video of their interactions with female Islamic fans at their recent concert in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was released.
Sukan Star TV posted a video of B1A4 members hugging and giving kisses on the foreheads to headscarf-wearing fans. The video went viral largely due to its caption, “Malay girls molested on stage by K-Pop artists.” The situation grew worse when the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), issued a warrant of arrest on the girls who were involved.
According to the website of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, the Malaysian government established JAKIM to “protect the purity of faith and the teachings of Islam.” While Malaysia is not officially an Islamic country, it has one of the largest Muslim populations in Southeast Asia. Thus, JAKIM is a strong influence on politics and society.
In an issued statement, JAKIM denounced the concert organizers, boy group members, and Muslim girls whose “actions went overboard.” Under Section 29 of the Syariah Criminal Offense Act 1977, any person who acts or behaves contrary to Islamic Law in an “indecent” manner in any public place will be punished with fines, jail time, or both.
Sarah Nour, a sophomore at Whitney High School and a Muslim, said of the “indecent” actions, “Honestly, I don’t think they were molesting the girls. I hug my guy friends, but kisses may have gone a little too far. Kisses should just have been avoided.”
Nour continued, “They should’ve been more cautious.”
Malaysia’s undefined stance on religion and law creates a complicated situation and some Malaysian government officials have voiced their opinions on the incident. For example, Malaysia’s Federal Minister for Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, posted on Twitter, “A lot is being said about K-Pop. I hope Malaysian girls will return to men who are tall, dark, & handsome. Not pale, skinny, & pretty. Those aren’t real men.”
None of the girls wanted by JAKIM have turned themselves in to authorities. JAKIM reported to Malay Mail Online that if the girls appeared, they would undergo rehabilitation at JAKIM. Malaysia holds an unclear status with Islam as its national religion, but not as its official law.
The severity of the incident became evident and debate began over the event. Some supported JAKIM’s viewpoint and blamed the girls for allowing the singers to hug them. Others condemned B1A4 for being culturally ignorant. However, there are also loyal fans outside of Malaysia who have defended B1A4 members.
Heewoo Choi, fan of B1A4 and junior at Whitney, told JSR, “I think the members of B1A4 could have been more careful since they were in a more conservative country, but they don’t deserve the rude comments and hate.”
The event raises the question of “Is it part of performers’ duties to be knowledgeable on the culture of the countries they visit?”
Previous cases of similar mistakes exist, including a controversial Instagram post from Big Bang’s G-Dragon. In an attempted homage to Trayvon Martin, the rapper uploaded a photo of himself wearing blackface makeup. G-Dragon, who probably did not know of the racist implications of blackface in the United States, sparked controversy and criticism.
While Korean artists shouldn’t be criticized for not understanding a country’s culture and history completely, they should also be careful with their actions as Korean representatives and role models for their audiences.
WM Entertainment, B1A4’s management, released a statement apologizing for the incident in Malaysia, stating, “For future fan meetings abroad, we will be more considerate and more cautious of the local culture, so we can all be able to enjoy it together.”