Why Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and BTS Are Cut From ‘Friends’ Reunion in China

The megastars have something in common.
May 27, 2021, 11:37am
friends reunion china censorship bts lady gaga
The reunion special has excited Friends’ Chinese fans. Photo: HBO Max

Chinese streaming sites have removed scenes featuring Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS from the highly anticipated Friends’ reunion episode.

The celebrities are among a slew of stars who made guest appearances on Friends: The Reunion, released by HBO Max on Thursday.

Lady Gaga joined Lisa Kudrow in performing the character Phoebe Buffay’s classic song “Smelly Cat.” Justin Bieber showed up in Ross Geller’s iconic “Spudnik” costume. And K-pop band BTS expressed their love for the 1990s sitcom in an interview, with its leader RM saying he learned English by watching Friends.

But these scenes were nowhere to be found in the Chinese versions of the show that premiered on Thursday on Youku, iQiYi, and Tencent Video, three of the country’s largest streaming platforms. 

It’s unclear if the censorship is ordered by the government, or the platforms have chosen to block the stars to mitigate political risks. 

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Tencent, iQiYi, and Alibaba, which owns Youku, did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Lady Gaga has been banned from Chinese TV following her 2016 meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is labeled a separatist by the Chinese government. 

Justin Bieber was also previously banned from performing in China, with authorities blaming his “bad behavior” in 2017. The Chinese authorities did not specify which of Bieber’s actions triggered the ban. Bieber was carried up the steps of the Great Wall when he performed in China in 2013. The following year, he posted an Instagram photo of himself visiting Japan’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which is regarded by Chinese people as a symbol of Japanese invasion during WWII. The singer later apologized for the image. 

BTS faced boycott calls in China last year after band member RM endorsed the alliance between the United States and South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. In the conflict, Beijing fought on the side of North Korea against the South.

Other guest stars in the episode, including David Beckham, Cara Delevingne, Cindy Clawford, and Malala Yousafzai, could still be found in the Chinese versions.

Friends has a large fan base in China, with many millennials having learned English and American culture through the series. Replicas of the fictitious Central Perk cafe have sprung up in several big cities.

The reunion special has excited its Chinese fans. Some viewers said on social media that they cried while watching the familiar faces and settings on screen. 

But fans are divided over news about the blocked guest stars. While some fans are disappointed that they only get to watch a censored version, others say they don’t mind skipping scenes featuring people who have insulted China.

Meanwhile, Chinese fans of Lady Gaga, BTS, and Bieber have posted clips of the stars’ appearances, likely from overseas versions of the show, on the microblogging site Weibo.

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.