Entertainment

Amid Anti-Asian Attacks, Company Pulls BTS Merch Depicting Beaten-Up Members

In the collectible cards, the seven members of the K-pop band BTS were drawn as caricatures with black eyes and stitches. 
March 18, 2021, 10:02am
bts kpop band
Photo: Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment

A collectibles company has removed two trading cards from a Grammy-themed set after intense social media backlash for its depiction of K-pop boy band BTS.

The design featured its seven members as components of a Whac-A-Mole game set, either wailing or looking up in fear at a Grammy trophy that’s about to hit them. People immediately found it offensive, especially amid a rise in anti-Asian attacks around the world. 

In the illustrated cards, some members were depicted with black eyes and broken teeth, while others were seen sporting wounded faces with plasters and stitches. They were under the Garbage Pail Kids brand, a series of trading cards designed to parody the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, originally released in 1985. 

The maker of the collection, the Topps Company, unveiled the latest series of Garbage Pail Kids, The Shammy Awards, a set of trading cards featuring satirical caricature drawings of artists including Billie Eilish (Buoyant Billie), Megan Thee Stallion (Stunning Stallion), and Harry Styles (Harry Boa). None of the other artists in the set sported visible injuries like BTS, which came in two similar versions labeled “BTS Bruisers” and “Bopping K-Pop.” This was possibly meant as a reference to the K-pop group’s recent snub at the Grammy Awards earlier this week, but if this really was the case, the joke didn’t quite land. 

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It quickly drew the ire of thousands online, including passionate and die-hard fans who slammed the cards as being racist and tone-deaf, especially amid escalating violence against Asian-Americans. Using hashtags like #StopAsianHate, #AsiansAreHuman, #RacismIsntComedy, Twitter users vented their frustration at the product.

“There is no respect in the way this was portrayed, and as an Asian, I feel nothing but anger and pain as people who represent ME are belittled and ridiculed for simply existing and chasing dreams through your ‘art’,” one Twitter user said.

The outcry occurred amid a sharp escalation of anti-Asian hate crimes across the United States. On March 16, eight people were shot dead at massage parlors in Georgia. Six of the victims were Asian women (four of Korean descent). Between 2019 and 2020, violent attacks on Asians in the U.S. rose by nearly 150 percent, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. 

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Hours after Topps tweeted about the Garbage Pail Kids release, Twitter users rallied together, organizing a coordinated effort to pressure the collectible manufacturer into removing the offensive depiction of the band. 

In a tweet on March 17, just hours after it first announced the release of The Shammy Awards collectibles, Topps apologized for including BTS in the trading cards and announced that the design will be removed from the set. As of posting, the BTS cards have been removed from the Garbage Pail Kids The Shammy Awards collection on Topps’ website. 

However, some Twitter users noted that the apology failed to acknowledge what was wrong with the cards in the first place. 

BTS’ crossover success is celebrated as a historic win for Asian representation. Considered the biggest boy band in the world, BTS became the first K-pop group to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the first to be nominated for a Grammy Award. But after losing in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category this year, many accused the Grammys and other awards shows of milking the popular K-pop group for promotion and viewership, without actually giving them critical recognition.