The Thailand scandal (or really, any scandal you can think of), gatekeepers, and haters


Kailani O posted an excellent question:

I’m a new fan to Block B, and I’m confused about the Thailand scandal. Correct me if I’m wrong but it wasn’t just foreigners who were upset about the interview, but many Koreans as well, right? But I keep reading that the whole scandal was caused by a mistranslation of what Kyung/Zico said to each other during the interview (what I keep seeing is basically – joking that Zico won’t give more than 7,000 won to disaster relief vs. joking that Zico only had 7,000 won to his name). If Korean fans were watching this, why would they be dealing with translations at all, because Kyung and Zico were speaking in Korean, not Thai? So why were they so offended by Block B’s interview then, if the offense lay in an incorrect translation they wouldn’t have seen? Was it not actually the translation issue that offended Korean fans/citizens, but actually something else? I’m sorry if I’m being dense about this, and it’s obviously old news so I don’t mean to drag up an old and clearly sensitive topic lightly, but I just really want to get accurate information about this and I cannot figure out where to ask.

This is a really complicated issue, so buckle up!

I’ll just start by saying that if you watch the interview, the mistranslation was just a part of the problem–the guys came across as VERY flip during a big disaster, and that was definitely a mistake. Block B fans can be a little disingenuous about this because what followed in Korea was so over-the-top and unfair, but I don’t think anyone who gave this kind of interview under these circumstances would not have rightly caught a serious load of flak. I’m glad they apologized for it, and I’m really glad they seem to have learned and have dealt much more sensitively with other tragedies.

That said, how did the specific rumor that Zico said he wouldn’t give more than 7,000 won to disaster relief come about, and why was it a big deal in Korea?

The remark was translated incorrectly into Thai, and the interview as a whole was very upsetting to many Thai people. As a result, there were definitely Korean people who felt that Block B had damaged the country’s image abroad. But it took about a month after the Thailand scandal hit the Thai press for it to become a story in Korea, and the 7,000 won remark was (and still is) a grievance in certain K-Pop circles in Korea–even though Koreans can easily discern for themselves that the translation was incorrect.


The main issue with your eminently logical approach to this situation is that you are assuming the Koreans who made a big deal about the 7,000 won remark 1. had ready access to accurate information about the interview, and 2. cared about being accurate and fair.

Unfortunately, both assumptions are incorrect.

1. The remark was misreported in Korea. This is extremely common.

If you look through the Media tag on this blog, or you read Asian Junkie’s recent coverage of the current IU scandal, you will see that the quality of K-Pop coverage in Korea (and elsewhere) is just unbelievably poor. Scandals get clicks, so there’s no real motivation to take the time to figure out if some juicy allegation is real or invention, especially if it’s already getting a lot of views on Korean community boards.

From the Netizen Buzz FAQ (which is well worth a read):

I mentioned that journalists source from netizen run community boards[. . . . ] Once an issue becomes big enough on Pann or Telzone, journalists take it directly to the media, whether or not it’s true. This is EXACTLY what happened with every single one of Block B’s scandals.

So, you have somebody posting some crap (like a mistranslation) to a community board (think the Korean equivalent to Reddit or YouTube comments), and the next thing you know, it’s all over the Korean news sites and is a big story, even though it’s not true. Nobody fact-checks it, and nobody does any reporting. That happens all the time, and it’s why it pays to be extremely skeptical of K-Pop news, no matter where you read it. There is no such thing as a reputable K-Pop news site.

I personally think this is terrible, but the one thing that gives me hope is that, in general, the bulk of Koreans seem to be very adept at ignoring their own entertainment media. IU’s career, for example, doesn’t seem to be taking any sort of hit from the many, many stories out there accusing her of being a plagiarist who promotes pedophilia.

Some Koreans are not interested in ignoring it, however, which brings me to point #2.

2. Haters don’t care if it’s true.

Because Korean media is happy to rehash whatever baseless rumor comes up, and because this can sometimes lead to careers actually being destroyed (what fun!), you get in the K-Pop scene hard-core groups of haters who will say absolutely anything negative about a performer. They can be asshole fans of somebody else, or (and this is where things get really creepy) they can be people who find hating to be so gratifying that they are willing to go to jail for it.

(It can be especially difficult for an English speaker to figure out whether a reported controversy about a K-Pop group is a real controversy that is honestly pissing off large groups of Koreans or if it’s just crap generated by haters trying to be important, because once something has been translated into English, the English-language K-Pop sites treat it as if it is major news.)

The intention here is to ruin careers, not to tell the truth, so there’s a tendency to fall back onto propaganda techniques, one of which is to repeat a lie so often that it is eventually accepted as true. Korean haters know (or could easily determine) that Zico did not say he would give only 7,000 won to disaster relief, but if they repeat that allegation often enough, maybe a few years down the line people will forget that they know it’s not true, and finally Block B will, I dunno, disappear in a puff of smoke or something. Then these people will have, at long last, accomplished something with their lives.

This is why the rice-pizza scandal still has legs in Korean hater circles.


They’re hoping that one fine day people will forget how unbelievably stupid this is, and it will gain traction. Likewise the categorization of Block B suing their label as a “scandal” that reflects badly on the group. (How?) It’s this layering on of vague negativity in hopes of (FINALLY!!!) making the general public feel badly about the group and stop buying their music.

Is that a completely unrealistic hope? I think it’s become more unrealistic these days because performers like Block B, Jay Park, Tablo, and apparently IU have weathered these hate campaigns and come out unscathed. But a few years ago the mentality was definitely, if there was hate around a performer, no matter the reason, the only suitable thing to do was to pull that performer out of the public eye for a long time–possibly forever. That’s why Tablo’s old label dumped him–it didn’t matter that the hate around him was 100% based on a lie (and in Block B’s case, they had actually done something wrong and genuinely upset many Thai people, so it wasn’t even 100% a lie).

Nowadays I think the K-Pop industry is realizing that the Korean music-buying public is much less likely to flip out than a few crazy haters. So, P.O screwed up by wearing Japanese text to a Korean Liberation Day celebration, issued an apology, and moved right along. But that was in 2015, not 2012, and a lot has changed in the Korean music industry in that time.


12 responses »

  1. Oh thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful and detailed response to my question! It makes so much more sense when you explain it like this, because I was really struggling to understand it before. Thank you for taking the time to do all this research and explain everything for lost fans such as myself, I really appreciate it!

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