The Korea Herald


‘Monk DJ’ takes global stage, with caveat

By Choi Si-young

Published : May 23, 2024 - 15:43

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Poster for comedian Youn Sung-ho’s upcoming performance in Singapore (Youn Sung-ho) Poster for comedian Youn Sung-ho’s upcoming performance in Singapore (Youn Sung-ho)

A South Korean DJ-comedian in a Buddhist monk’s robe is riding growing popularity to step onto the global stage, but he is increasingly forced to deal with resurfacing complaints questioning his way of spreading the religion.

Youn Sung-ho -- the comedian known as NewJeansNim, “snim” meaning monk in Korean -- stepped into the global spotlight in late April during his first overseas tour in Taiwan, where he delivered his electronic dance music performance of echoing Buddhist verses. The one-day event was extended because tickets sold out.

The comedian, a practicing Buddhist but not an ordained monk, has so far made stops in Malaysia and Hong Kong as well. Macau and Singapore are his next destinations, but the outlook is cloudier now that a Singaporean official has openly raised a complaint denouncing the “offensive performance.”

“This would have been offensive to our Buddhist community. This is not acceptable,” Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a statement Wednesday posted to his Facebook, referring to Youn’s scheduled appearance in a Singaporean club from June 19-20. The event also was extended to meet the demand.

Club Rich officials have said the performance will proceed as planned, according to local media outlets in Singapore. The stage will be nonreligious, they said, without elaborating. The club officials could not be immediately reached for comment

Whether Youn will drop his signature monk robe or EDM or even press ahead with the stage remains unclear. A representative for Youn declined to speak on the matter, saying only that the issue at the moment is “too sensitive” to put out any statement.

The latest complaint by a Singaporean Cabinet member marks the second time the Korean comedian has faced criticism for his outreach. Earlier this month, Malaysian lawmaker Wee Ka Siong openly rebuked the Korean DJ for “angering the Buddhist community in Malaysia” and “giving a wrong perception of Buddhist values and teachings.”

Young’s second Malaysia performance was canceled. Wee has not returned The Korea Herald’s inquiries into what values and teachings, in particular, were hurt by Youn’s performance.

The reception at home, however, has been largely favorable, as the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea that afforded him the Buddhist name, appears emboldened by fresh interest in the religion.