German radio station Bayern3 issued a statement of apology on Friday after one of their hosts, Matthias Matuschik, likened Korean group BTS to the coronavirus on air.
Matuschik apparently took issue with the group's MTV Unplugged cover of Coldplay's "Fix You," calling it "a catastrophe" and "blasphemy" in a vitriolic rant during his radio show on Thursday.
The moment was immediately picked up by fans of BTS, known as ARMY, and within just a few hours, the hashtags #Bayern3Racist and #RassismusBeiBayern3 were trending worldwide alongside calls for the station to hold Matuschik accountable for his words.
In response to the backlash, Bayern3 released a statement "formally apologizing," but explaining that Matuschik had simply "overshot" while expressing an "exaggerated" opinion of BTS and their Coldplay cover.
"[Matuschik] is free to like whatever music suits him, but in expressing his opinion his rhetoric crossed the line into xenophobia and racism," one fan wrote on Twitter.
"There's a huge difference between free speech and hate speech," another person said.
Many pointed out the racism in comparing a group of Asian people to the coronavirus, particularly in the midst of an alarming increase in violent hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people.
"I deal with this kind of comments every day in Germany," wrote Hansl Chang, a South Korean native living in Berlin. "This is not just about BTS, it is about so many Asian people who are dealing with extreme racism."
Racist attacks against Asian people have been on the rise in the United States in the last year, with the Stop AAPI Hate coalition reportedly receiving 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate throughout the country between March 18 and Dec. 31, 2020.
Many attribute the increased attacks to racist rhetoric used by former president Donald Trump, who often referred to the coronavirus as "the China virus."