Here’s The Truth Behind Wanna One Jaehwan’s “N-Word” Controversy

Yesterday, Koreaboo wrote an article about Wanna One‘s Jaehwan and a video released by MBCThe story instantly spread amongst Wanna One fans and multiple Korean media sites, becoming a highly controversial topic.

워너원 재환의 영상에 관한 오해와 논란의 이유

What started the controversy?

In a video released by MBC‘s Show Champion, Jaehwan appears with subtitles below him saying, “Yo! 내가 What’s up?! Come on!”.  The subtitles do not reflect what Jaehwan allegedly said in Korean, “Yo! 내가 왔어! Come on!”. You can see both the subtitles and audio in the clip below:

The video spread through Twitter and was immediately labeled as being inappropriate by some. However, fans defended Jaehwan to say that he was not being racist and simply speaking Korean.

Jaehwan is not being accused of being a racist and intentionally being offensive. His message is in response to a fan who asks the group, “Appear in front of me?”.

The video where Lee Daehwi is asked to respond to a fan’s question.

Does Koreaboo think “내가” (naega) means the “N-Word”? Absolutely Not.Unfortunately, in the original article published, Koreaboo did not clarify what the issue was exactly. Due to this, Korean people and media were given misinformation that Koreaboo believed the word “내가” (naega) to mean “n**ga”.

Furthermore, it has been stated that “Foreigners” believed this to be the case, which led to Koreaboo’s original article.

This is not the case. Koreaboo has multiple fluent, bilingual Korean staff members on our team who reviewed the video clip. This is not a “Korean vs Foreigner” misunderstanding or controversy. This is not an issue where Koreaboo did not understand the Korean language or Korean culture.

Koreaboo apologizes for this misunderstanding and not being more clear in our original article.

We wish to apologize to all the Korean people who felt this way and who felt their language and culture was under attack.

This was absolutely not our intention.

So what’s the controversy really about?

In the video, Jaehwan uses a pun and plays off the Korean word, “내가 왔어” (naega wasseo) by pronouncing “wasseo” as “wasseop”. Playing off the word “wasseo” to say “wasseop” has become more popular amongst some Koreans.

Speaking in this way became a trend that originated from Korean rappers. The words are ‘slurred’ to sound more hip-hop or American. For example, you could say in Korean, “I’m Here” by saying “Na Wassup” instead of “Na Wasseo”.

This pun and play-on-words are what’s racist and absolutely controversial. It’s important to take into context the origination of this “pun”. It’s important to understand that a majority of the time, you hear the word “Wasseo” it’s with the word “Naega”. This is the case in Jaehwan’s situation, where he says, “Naega Wasseop”.

This slang and style of speaking originated from rappers and those looking to “slang” a phrase to sound hiphop or American. The intentions may not be malicious or filled with racist intent, but the end result remains the same.

The play-on-word and slang is a round-about way to say “Yo n*gga, wassup” in Korean. Most Koreans may not know this and use this slang and style of speaking, with no intentions of being racist. Koreaboo does not believe Jaehwan is being intentionally racist, offensive, or malicious.

This does not change the fact that the statement and phrase is inappropriate and perpetuates racism.

What does Wanna One’s agency and MBC think about this?

YMC Entertainment, the company that manages Jaehwan, has released two statement about this controversy. The first was sent to media, where the company discusses the misunderstanding in what Jaehwan said.

“After checking with the ‘Show Champion’ producers, it was found that the phrases Kim Jaehwan used were not problematic.

This is all a misunderstanding caused by International fans who misheard the Korean language and interpreted [his words] as something different.”

—YMC Entertainment

MBC then released a statement through Show Champion’s Twitter account. In the statement, MBC states that Jaehwan is saying “I’m here” in Korean. However, they do not clarify why the subtitles say “Wassup”.

He was simply saying, “I’m here” in the format of freestyle.

“As it states in the video subtitles on Show Champion ‘YaHaeJoolLaeVCR’, Kim Jae Hwan was simply saying ‘I’m here’ in a freestyle format.

It wasn’t anything problematic for the broadcast. We want to let everyone know that there was no other meaning behind it. We sincerely hope there are no misunderstandings with the viewers.”

— MBC Show Champion

Soon afterward, YMC Entertainment released an official statement directly through their Twitter account. In this new statement, they clarify once again that there were no negative intentions behind Jaehwan’s statement.

“This is an official statements from YMC Entertainment.

On August 23rd, Jaehwan Kim’s comments during <Show Champion’s “Yahaejulae”> segement were discussed and approved by the show’s producers prior to the segement.

We strongly express that there were no negative intentions or meanings.

So please do not impose anymore and do not make a negative speculation against the artist.

We appreciate your understanding. Thank you very much.”

— YMC Entertainment

Why do K-Pop idols need to be aware of cultural issues outside Korea?

K-Pop as an industry has undergone rapid evolution and is now a global industry. As representatives of this global industry, it’s essential for K-Pop idols and other celebrities to be culturally aware.

Artists are touring more frequently around the world, including the US. They are traveling to multiple cities in the US, where they have fans of all races attending.

Entertainment labels are subtitling more and more videos on YouTube. They’re selling products to US fans and an international audience. Broadcast companies, including MBC, have held festivals and concerts in the US for specifically foreign fans.

It’s irresponsible to claim that K-Pop as an industry does not need to be aware of cultural issues. K-Pop idols should be learning how to be culturally sensitive. They have a responsibility to their millions of foreign fans to care enough to not say insensitive things.

It’s understandable for regular Korean citizens, who aren’t involved in the K-Pop industry, to not be aware of other cultural issues. It can be argued that a Korean person would have never heard the word “n*gga” or the extremely offensive “-er” version.

But for those involved in K-Pop and aware of their influence overseas, it cannot be overlooked as simple ignorance and accepted as being okay.

Is this really such an important issue?As K-Pop continues to grow as a global industry, it will also continue to represent South Korea to many foreigners. International media will continue to feature stories about K-Pop, including the negative sides.

South Korea and Koreans should absolutely not apologize for their language and culture. But, when phrases are inherently offensive, it should be changed or dropped from a person’s vocabulary.

It is not offensive to use the Korean word  “내가” (naega).  

However, that does not mean all words in Korean are not offensive. There are now phrases that Korean people recognize as being offensive. This is due to cultural awareness and an acceptance to be open and understanding of all people.

In the past, the word “흑형” (heukhyung) was thought to be a “positive” term for Black people. Now, it’s understood by most Koreans that it’s not very positive. “흑” means Black in Korean. “흙” means dirt in Korean. They are both pronounced the exact same, as “heuk”.

The lack of understanding behind these words and how offensive the words can be are very evident in certain media reports. For example, the reports below use the full word, “n***er” in their articles.

Korean media reports that use the full word “n***er” for this controversy.

What about these tweets that explain the phrase as being okay?

They are incorrect and do not contain accurate information. The tweets either misunderstand the issue to be about the word “naega” or attempt to explain the situation with false information.

Example image that’s being spread on Twitter.

This is false information. Where the image states, “In Korea, we usually add some consonant on the word which finishes with vowel” the user is referencing aegyo. When speaking Korean, it’s common to change the ending of a word or sentence to sound cuter. For example, you would add an “~ng” sound to sound cute.

The switch from “wasseo” to “wasseop” does not fit into these parameters. It is not being done to sound cute or for aegyo. They are not comparable. 

Lastly, the image claims that “civil” sounds like “sibal”, a swear word in Korean. It does not.

Does Koreaboo think Jaehwan is a racist? Absolutely Not.

Jaehwan should not be punished for this video. He should not be labeled a racist. However, he and everyone else who uses this phrase should stop using it.

Koreaboo hopes to bring these issues to the surface so that companies like MBC understand the importance of their role in the industry. The video should not have been subtitled with “Wassup”, which only confirms the slang-use is inappropriate, and then release it on YouTube for a global-targeted audience.