This week has seen some of China’s biggest celebrities turning away from partnerships with global clothing brands that have promised to stop using cotton from Xinjiang over human rights concerns. Meanwhile, K-pop stars with strong markets in mainland China have started to do the same.
The latest to express support for the Chinese government is Jackson Wang, a member of the K-pop boy band GOT7. GOT7 has been an Adidas partner since 2018 but yesterday, Wang said that he is no longer working with the sportswear company. In an official statement on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, his record label Team Wang said that the artist has ended his partnership with the Adidas Originals line.
“National interest is more important than anything. This studio and Mr. Jackson Wang strongly object to all deplorable behavior that smears and spreads rumors about China,” the statement reads.
On Wednesday, China’s Communist Youth League, a youth division of the Chinese Communist Party, put H&M on blast for a statement that the company made last year. In the statement, H&M said that it no longer sourced cotton from Xinjiang due to “accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities” in the region. The resurfacing of this statement in a Weibo post by the Communist Youth League triggered a wave of public anger against the fast-fashion retailer in China, as well as subsequent calls to boycott other brands that have also pledged to stop using Xinjiang cotton.
Riding on the tide of Chinese nationalism, high-profile celebrities are now severing ties with these brands, including Eason Chan, Angelababy, and Dilraba Dilmurat, who is arguably the most popular Uyghur actress in China.
Following the end of GOT7’s contract with JYP Entertainment in January, its members are now actively pursuing solo projects. Wang is featured in K-pop legend Rain’s single “Magnetic” that dropped earlier this month, released another collab with Indonesian singer Afgan last week, and today dropped the music video for his new song “LMLY.” He is very popular in China and now has about 25 million Weibo followers.
This is not the first time Wang, who was born in Hong Kong, shared pro-Beijing sentiments. He also regularly introduces himself as “Jackson Wang from China” in interviews and wears the Chinese flag in concerts. In 2019, fans called to cancel GOT7’s concert in Hong Kong over concerns about Wang’s safety, after he expressed his support for Beijing amid pro-democracy protests.
Besides Wang, other K-pop-trained Chinese artists have also announced that they’ve broken their deals with fashion brands. On Wednesday, Victoria Song, a member of the girl group f(x), walked out of her partnership with H&M, where she was a brand ambassador in 2020. Then there’s Lay Zhang from EXO, who cut ties with Converse and Calvin Klein yesterday.
Zhang’s former bandmate Huang Zitao (aka Tao and Z.Tao) also ended his partnership with Lacoste. In a statement released on Weibo yesterday, Huang’s team said that they had asked “many times” for the French brand to publicly declare, “globally across its social media platforms,” that it was not boycotting Xinjiang cotton. His team then decided to cut ties with Lacoste when these demands were met with silence. On Weibo, people are praising the “proactiveness” and “sincerity” of the former K-pop star, taking it as a sign of true patriotism.
While many on Chinese social media applaud the political stand that these K-pop artists have taken, this did not sit well with fans outside of China.
But some see this saga as an act of self-preservation for celebrities who rely heavily on the Chinese market.
In the late 2000s, South Korean music companies started recruiting trainees heavily from China in an attempt to woo the massive Chinese market. In recent years, these Chinese K-pop artists started pursuing solo careers in the Chinese entertainment scene and flourishing in the wildly lucrative industry. However, China’s patriotism-infused fan culture has also seen the most trivial celebrity comments erupt into fervent hate campaigns — from BTS to a Thai celebrity couple, many artists have learned the hard way that engagement with Chinese fans can easily veer into the realm of fiery politics.