Last week, a member of the K-pop group Enhypen was accused of saying the N-word while singing along to SZA's "Love Galore" in the background of a video published on the group's official YouTube channel.
Now, the controversy is dividing fans and led to a spike of racist abuse within the fandom. BuzzFeed News spoke to a group of fans of the group — also known as Engenes — who have come together to denounce the racism in their fandom after the incident. Neither representatives of Enhypen and Weverse, the app on which racist posts were made, returned a request for comment on the incident or the rise of abuse online.
It all started when the K-pop group Enhypen uploaded a behind-the-scenes video of its members, singing and hanging out during a show. In one part of the video, member Jake is shown as someone sings "Love Galore" in the background and the singing stops when another member, Heesung, appears. Some fans are claiming they can hear one of the members, it's unclear who, sing along to the song and sing the N-word.
Lois, an 18-year-old Black fan who has followed Enhypen since their debut, told BuzzFeed News she was shocked to see the video. But she has been even more dismayed to watch the debate over the video among fans turn racist and cruel.
The majority of the debate, infighting, and racist bullying over the incident has been taking place on Weverse, an app where fans can connect directly with artists. This week, Lois said, she has seen awful racist imagery being used on the app, including "an image of a Black man being hung."
She said seeing the posts caused her a lot of distress.
Fans were even more disappointed when Enhypen's record label, Belift Lab, published a statement on Weverse, informing users they would take legal action against any "malicious activity" toward their artists.
While this statement is updated regularly regarding other artists under the label — and was, on June 29, sent to fans of all those artists — the timing of its release led to even more anger and upset among Engenes.
Lois said she feels abandoned and disappointed that the group's label hasn't done anything to address the situation or taken down the racist posts on Weverse.
She voiced her concerns on Twitter in a thread, which led to her finding more Black fans who felt the same. She also put a call out on Weverse, asking for fans to contact her.
A Twitter account called the “Engene Protection Team” (@ENBackup_) also created an email template for fans to copy and send to the label to let them know how disappointed they are.
There's now a group chat where Black Engenes have been organizing ways to raise awareness about the issue of racism within their fandom, including planning hashtags and writing email templates.
Lois said the group has also become a space where they are able to talk safely about how they are feeling and be uplifted by other Black fans.
"Those who initially felt powerless have become motivated to continue speaking about this, thanks to our group," said Lois. "We want to stay as Black K-pop fans and make sure that we are respected and not threatened in the future, for who we are."
Another member of Engene Protection Team — who asked to be referred to as T, a 22-year-old based in the US — told BuzzFeed News that this is just one example of the anti-Blackness in the K-pop industry.
"Five days is how long Black people were subjected to racism, harassment, attacks to the point there were depictions of racial violence," said T.
"They continue to profit off of Black culture while ignoring Black stans' concerns, hence why that racism extends to fandom spaces," she said. "If the BLM movement taught us anything, it taught us to speak up, and that is what Black stans are doing and will continue to do."
Fans have been using the hashtag #ProtectBlackEngenes, and some are giving the Weverse app bad reviews due to its lack of moderation.
Sanaa, a 17-year-old based in the US, is an admin for the Twitter account @blackengenes. She told BuzzFeed News that despite all the abuse from fans, they don't wish any harm on Enhypen.
"We simply want them to be educated on the history of the N slur and why they cannot say it," she said.
Sanaa said she wants the band to release a genuine apology and for the label to make a statement.
"Black Engenes have endured so much abuse over the past few days," said Sanaa, "not limited to images of black men being lynched, and being called slurs, and subjected to racist rhetoric."