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Singing in the rain

Nov 14,2018
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Korean boy band BTS performs at Citi Field in New York on Oct. 6. [YONHAP]
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Nam Jeong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The release of Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie about the British rock band Queen, drew attention to pop music from the 70s and 80s. Middle-aged folks who like music from those decades might also remember Sweden’s ABBA, who, with simple and catchy melodies, sold 370 million albums worldwide. When the band performed in the Soviet Union, payment in Soviet rubles was still a challenge, so ABBA was paid with oil rights. At the height of their popularity in the 1970s, ABBA was the second biggest Swedish export after Volvo.

Since the BTS’ rise to prominence, Koreans no longer envy pop legends. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of the idol band: BTS is expected to generate 230 billion won ($202.9 million) in revenue and 83 billion won in operating profit. In July, Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that the profit on each Hyundai Motor automobile was 1.01 million won. The seven young men make as much money abroad as the exporting of 80,000 Hyundai cars.

Moreover, economic activity surrounding the band makes BTS’ economic value that much more remarkable. Fans come to Korea to visit the studios in which BTS members have practiced and to eat at the restaurants where they have had lunch. Conversely, no one actually visits Korea just because they like Hyundai cars.

A BTS television appearance in Japan was recently unexpectedly cancelled. Sold-out concerts will be held as scheduled, but the missed TV appearance will certainly affect the group’s popularity.

The cancellations came after the Supreme Court ruling on forced labor during World War II. Despite the controversies, the decision of the highest court must be respected.

I don’t mean to say that the resulting discord between Korea and Japan can be left unaddressed. Politicians say that Japan is narrow-minded and practically advertising its wartime atrocities. These criticisms are redundant. As the economy is already sluggish, the BTS cash cow must not be neglected.

Let’s say Korean automobile exports to Europe were interrupted. Related ministries would make a fuss over the creation of a correlating plan. This is why economic ministries, not the foreign ministry, need to come forward and handle the BTS kerfuffle in Japan.

The comfort women situation and the compensation for forced-labor victims should be handled by someone with both an eye for economics and a knowledge of the history. Japan remains K-pop’s biggest market, accounting for 70 percent of the genre’s demand.
With BTS’ televised cancellation, no one knows what’s next. Realistic plans to engage Japan should be made and implemented. No time should be wasted, whether the Korean government, Korean companies or Japanese companies can create a foundation or organization capable of compensating the victims akin to Germany’s Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future established, something must be done.

Coincidentally, the Supreme Court decision came exactly 20 years after the Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi joint declaration on Oct. 8, 1998. The declaration was motivated not just by politics but by economics. In the aftermath of the IMF bailout and the Korean economy’s decrease of 5.5 percent, a breakthrough with Japan was desperately needed.

Restoration of the relationship with Japan greatly helped the Korean economy’s recovery. Japan’s investment in Korea grew from $500 million in 1998 to $1.4 billion in 2002, showing how valuable bilateral cooperation is. Resolving the discord with Japan is the shortcut to boosting the Korean economy.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 30