WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden met with South Korean boy band BTS at the White House to discuss anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination and "Asian inclusion and representation."
The Grammy-nominated group joined the president Tuesday, which also marked the final day of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, per a White House statement released last week.
Band members J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin and Jimin joined White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at her briefing with reporters on the final day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Jimin said the band had been "devastated by the recent surge" of crime and intolerance against Asian Americans that has persisted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s not wrong to be different," Suga said through an interpreter. "Equality begins when we open up and embrace all of our differences." V said that "everyone has their own history."
"We hope today is one step forward to understanding and respecting each and everyone as a valuable person," V added.
The band members wore black suits and ties and took turns briefly stepping to the podium. BTS was set for a closed-door, Oval Office meeting with Biden later Tuesday.
The normally cramped White House briefing room was even more jammed than usual, as journalists on-hand to cover BTS packed the aisles alongside the rows of seats assigned to outlets who regularly attend. The White House livestream — not known for attracting large, middle-of-the-afternoon audiences — attracted more than 230,000 viewers before the event even began.
After the band members spoke and had their comments translated, reporters began to ask them questions, but Jean-Pierre — who had said previously that members wouldn't take questions — intervened, saying, "We're gonna go." That prompt BTS members to offer, "We're sorry" as they filed away from the podium.
The band thanked its fans, with Jungkook saying, "We still feel surprised that music created by South Korean artists reaches so many people around the world, transcending language and cultural barriers."
"We believe music is always an amazing and wonderful unifier of all things," he added.
Jean-Pierre said the band is hoping "to combat racism, xenophobia, intolerance" that Asian communities have faced. She noted that Biden signed legislation combating COVID-19 hate crimes and issued an executive order reestablishing the White House initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders, while helping to promote research to prevent racism against such communities.
BTS, the K-pop band from South Korea, and Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, address the media before the group met with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination on Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
"President Biden and BTS also discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion and BTS’ platform as youth ambassadors who spread a message of hope and positivity across the world," the White House statement said in part.
The law expedites Justice Department reviews of hate crimes by putting an official in charge of the effort. Biden said it would also provide more training to help law enforcement properly identify and investigate hate crimes.
"Hate can be given no safe harbor in America," Biden proclaimed at the signing.
BTS was named artist of the year and favorite pop duo or group, and also won the favorite pop song award for "Butter" at the American Music Awards in 2021. The group has had six No. 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100.
Since their debut in 2013, BTS has garnered global recognition for their self-produced music and activism, which includes giving a speech at the United Nations and publicly calling out anti-Asian racism.
In the U.S., hateful attacks against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities surged during the pandemic, with many sharing stories of blatant attacks from people blaming them for the rise of COVID-19. The Stop AAPI Hate coalition out of San Francisco State University tracked more than 10,000 incidents of hate from March 2020 through September 2021.
A separate study by UC San Francisco found that in the week after then-President Donald Trump tweeted about "the Chinese virus" on March 16, 2020, the number of coronavirus-related tweets with anti-Asian hashtags spiked.
Last year, a white gunman killed eight people at three metro-area massage businesses in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims of the attacks were of Asian descent, including two of the four victims who were killed.
"We cannot put into words the pain of becoming the subject of hatred and violence," the band said in the March 29, 2021, statement, adding that their experiences made them feel powerless and chipped away at their self-esteem. In early 2021, a German radio station drew ire when a host compared the band to the coronavirus.
BTS said that although the discrimination they endured is "inconsequential" compared to "events that have occurred over the past few weeks," they felt the need to speak out.
"What’s happening right now cannot be disassociated from our identity as Asians," the band concluded.
FOX 5 DC, FOX 5 Atlanta, and the Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.