by Will Weissert | The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — K-pop sensation BTS visited the White House on Tuesday and spoke with President Joe Biden about combating the rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans — bringing the superstar to an otherwise tragic and scary topic. .
Band members J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin and Jimin join White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at their briefing with reporters on the final day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Jimin said the band was devastated by the “recent surge” of crime and intolerance against Asian Americans that has persisted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s not wrong to be different,” said Suga through an interpreter. “Similarity begins when we open up and embrace all of our differences.” Wei said that “everyone has their own history.”
“We hope that today is a step forward in understanding and respecting each and every person as a valuable individual,” Wei said.
The band members wore black suits and ties and took turns on the podium. Before the briefing, he visited the White House, and later held an in-camera meeting with the President in the Oval Office. Biden administration officials have spent recent weeks holding roundtable discussions and other meetings with Asian American leaders to discuss the violence.
Since its launch in 2013, BTS has gained global recognition for the members’ self-produced music and activism, including appearances at the United Nations. The band topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart three times in 2020, and has been nominated for major music awards such as the Grammys, the Billboard Music Awards, and the MTV Video Music Awards.
The normally cramped White House briefing room was jammed even more than usual, as reporters packed the aisles with rows of seats allotted to outlets regularly attending to cover BTS. The White House livestream – not known for large, mid-afternoon audiences – drew more than 230,000 viewers before the event began.
After the band members spoke and translated their remarks, reporters began asking them questions, but Jean-Pierre – who had previously said the members would not question – intervened, saying, “We’re about to leave.” This prompted BTS members to offer “we’re sorry” as they filed away from the podium.
The band was followed by White House National Economic Council director Brian Dees, who was there to address reporters after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s meeting with Biden earlier in the day.
“I go home and tell my kids that BTS has opened for me,” Deez joked, adding that she was sure the room was “excited” to talk about the impact of inflation on the American economy because they was for the band.
The scene was funny but the issue that brought the group to the White House was not. The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination since 2020 includes the March 2021 killings of eight people at Atlanta-area massage businesses, including six women of Asian descent.
After those shootings, Asian American organizations across the US staged solidarity events and took to social media to end the racist attacks. Within days, BTS tweeted, “We stand against racial discrimination” and included the hashtags #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate.
“We condemn the violence. You, me and we all have a right to be respected,” BTS wrote then. “We will stand together.”
On Tuesday, as the band thanked their fans, Jungkook said, “It still amazes us that music created by South Korean artists reaches so many people around the world, crossing language and cultural barriers.”
“We believe that music has always been a wonderful and wonderful amalgamation of all things,” he said.
Jean-Pierre said BTS hopes to combat the “racism, xenophobia, intolerance” that Asian communities have faced. She noted that Biden signed legislation combating COVID-19 hate crimes and the White House on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, while helping to promote research to prevent racism against such communities. Issued an executive order to reinstate the initiative.