All That Bbunjjuks is Gold

The cultural wars between Korea and Japan continue, sometimes in a trivial way. 

Photo: AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon
March 28 at a showcase in Seoul, South Korea. 

One of South Korea’s more idiosyncratic K-pop groups, Crayon Pop, was told by the authorities to change a lyric in its new single because it contained a Japanese word.

Lee Sung-soo, an official of Crayon Pop’s label, Chrome Entertainment told the Wall Street Journal, “KBS notified us that ‘pika’ is a vestige of Japanese imperialism and needs to be refined.”

He added that the word was changed to its Korean equivalent, “bbunjjuk,” and the song re-recorded.

A KBS spokesperson reportedly confirmed that the song was unfit for broadcast due to the offending Japanese word. KBS has yet to approve the new song, but it should be noted that South Korean commercial stations have played the original recording with the Japanese term intact.

Japanese cultural products were banned in South Korea after it was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Since 1998, the ban has been gradually lifted, and while the country’s culture ministry says there are no longer any regulations limiting Japanese content, individual providers can do what they want. KBS isn’t only strict about Japanese words.

It also bans content that seems anti-authoritarian in general, as when it refused to air the video for Psy’s “Gentlemen” because the rapper kicks over a traffic cone in one scene.

Crayon Pop may have been specifically targeted because it has shown a particular fondness for Japan.

The group was part of a sold-out concert at the Yokohama Arena April 2 staged by the Korean music TV show “M Countdown,” which also featured Supernova and top boy band 2PM.

The concert took place during a particularly difficult week in Japan-Korean relations, as a summit between the leaders of the two countries brokered by U.S.

President Barack Obama in Europe reportedly fizzled out. “Since we are a cultural industry company we believe we can do something small that governments won’t and can’t do,” Shin Hyung-kwan, executive producer of music channel Mnet, told reporters recently. “So in that respect when there is political tension, we believe cultural exchanges can shorten the distance between the two nations.”

One fan at the concert, perhaps avoiding the central problem with regard to Japan’s historical memory, told the newspaper that, “In order to move forward, we get together on things like this. If we keep digging deep into the past, our interests will always end up clashing.”

Despite any controversy, Lady Gaga announced that Crayon Pop will be the opening act for her North American tour in June.