The ‘Friends’ reunion airs in China — without Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS

Society & Culture

Pop quiz! What do Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS have in common? If you didn’t immediately answer “They are on the wrong side of the Chinese government, of course,” then perhaps you want to follow China news more diligently.


On Thursday, after much speculation and several delays, the highly anticipated reunion of the cast of the iconic U.S. sitcom Friends finally dropped on WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max. Much to the delight of the show’s Chinese fans, the special was available almost simultaneously for viewing on Youku, iQIYI, and Tencent Video, three of China’s biggest streaming platforms.

There’s a catch, though: The Chinese version of the reunion episode was different from the original, as the aforementioned sites edited out several scenes featuring American superstar Lady Gaga and Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber, as well as South Korean megaband BTS.

The deleted parts include a scene where Lady Gaga joines Lisa Kudrow for a duet performance of the series’ character Phoebe Buffay’s infamous song “Smelly Cat,” a cameo of Justin Bieber channeling Ross Geller by sporting his legendary potato-themed Halloween costume, and a brief video message from BTS, in which a member of the group reveals that the show helped him learn to speak English.

In the meantime, the appearances of other guest stars tapped for the special — including David Beckham, Cindy Crawford, Mindy Kaling, and Malala Yousafzai — remained intact in the Chinese version, which made it safe to assume that the editing was intentional.

While it’s unclear if the modification was ordered by Chinese censors or a spontaneous decision made by the platforms, there are reasons for Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS to be scrubbed from the show:

Lady Gaga hasn’t performed in China since her 2016 meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, which prompted Chinese authorities to issue a notice that effectively banned the artist from the country and asked media outlets to stop uploading and playing her work. 

In 2017, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture confirmed rumors that Justin Bieber had been barred from performing in the country because of his “bad behavior” during a visit to China, which it said had caused “discontent among the public.” 

As for BTS, the group faced calls for a boycott in China last year over an award acceptance speech, during which the members honored the shared suffering of Americans and South Koreans in the Korean War, without recognizing the sacrifices of the Chinese soldiers who fought on the side of North Korea.

The China Vibe.

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To say that Friends is one of the most beloved foreign television shows in China would be an understatement. Just as the sitcom influenced BTS members, a generation of Chinese viewers learned English and all about American culture through the series. It also “inspired” a slew of Chinese sitcoms like Ipartment 爱情公寓, which borrowed an annoying number of jokes from the American predecessor.

So naturally, the Friends reunion episode is a big deal in China. As of this writing, a string of topics related to the special are trending on Weibo, with the hashtag “the Friends gang is back together” (老友记六人组重聚) racking up almost 200 million views. Many commenters said that the reunion brought tears to their eyes. “Friends forever! I was crying and laughing at the same time while watching the episode,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

Inside the community of Friends’ Chinese fans, while most people didn’t seem to be bothered by the removal of certain scenes, some said that they were slightly disappointed that as paid subscribers of the streaming services, they didn’t get to see a full, uncut version of the episode. Meanwhile, fans of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and BTS were not complaining so much, either, as clips of the stars’ appearances were widely shared on social media.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Justin Bieber is an American singer. He’s Canadian.