U.S. trading card company under fire for violent caricature of BTS

March 19, 2021

 Topps, a U.S. trading card manufacturer, removed an illustration showing beaten-up members of BTS after it came under fire for releasing the product at a time when hate crimes against Asians are raising alarm bells.

The New York-based company introduced the sticker collection “The Shammy Awards” on Tuesday (U.S. time) following the 63rd Grammy Awards earlier in the week. The Grammy-themed merchandise featured performers BTS, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion and Harry Styles.

While caricatures of other performers depicted them holding microphones or a Grammy trophy with labels like “Stunning Stallion” and “Wild Styles,” an illustration of BTS showed the seven-piece act as whack-a-mole characters with bruised faces. A label on the card read “BTS Bruisers.”

This photo, provided by Big Hit Entertainment, shows K-pop megastar BTS hitting the red carpet online as it takes part in the 63rd Grammy Awards amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 15, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This screenshot, shared on the official Twitter account of Topps, shows a statement after its Grammy-themed product came under fire for its violent depiction of BTS. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo, provided by Big Hit Entertainment, shows K-pop megastar BTS hitting the red carpet online as it takes part in the 63rd Grammy Awards amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 15, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Social media erupted with anger and disappointment against the violent and potentially racism-laden portrayal of the group, which was the first Korean act to perform at the coveted music awards as nominees.

Topps eventually pulled the illustration from its online web site and shared an apology on Twitter: “We hear and understand our consumers who are upset about the portrayal of BTS in our GPK Shammy Awards product and we apologize for including it. We have removed the BTS card from the sticker set, we have not printed any of the sticker card and it will not be available.”

The statement, however, triggered another wave of anger. Fans called on the company to release an apology that takes accountability for its action and includes details on how it will correct its internal process to prevent another crisis.

“Satire? Do you call this kind of action towards a social minority a satire? It’s violence that accompanies discrimination and neglect. An apology should address the discrimination rather than talk about the product,” one user tweeted in Korean.

Others also criticized the company by tweeting hashtags like #RacismIsNotComedy and #StopAsianHate, calling for a fundamental change in anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes targeting them amid the pandemic.

The controversy follows a fatal shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, including four of Korean descent. While officials are investigating the motivation of the shooter, it has raised concerns among the Asian-American community.

“But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are very concerned, because as you know I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple of months and I think it is very troubling,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

A congressional caucus of Asian Pacific Americans earlier said more than 3,000 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported in the U.S. since early 2020.

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