The Friends reunion brought in several surprise guests, but Lady Gaga, BTS, and Justin Bieber were actually edited out of the special when it aired in China. The HBO Max special touched upon the impact of Friends across the globe — people in France, South Africa, Germany, and many more were a part of the reunion, discussing the reasons they loved the sitcom and how it influenced their lives. Despite the show’s worldwide reach, however, China censored the reunion special.
The cast of Friends — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer — reunited on the set of the NBC sitcom for the first time in 17 years. They reminisced about their time filming the show and revisited some of the most popular and iconic moments. Lady Gaga dropped by the famous Central Perk set to sing with Kudrow to the tune of Phoebe’s famous “Smelly Cat”; Bieber participated in the Friends fashion show that saw him wearing Ross’ “Spudnick” costume; and BTS recalled how the sitcom helped them hone their English-language skills. But these very scenes didn’t make it to the China broadcast.
Three of China’s streaming companies — Youku, iQiyi, and Tencent — cut out all the scenes featuring the aforementioned singers, including a scene of Joey wearing underwear, and the jellyfish story from the show that saw Chandler having to pee on Monica to ease the pain. The Chinese version of the Friends reunion left Kudrow singing by her lonesome, which didn’t last long because most of that sequence was essentially a duet staged with Lady Gaga. The streamers also removed all LGBTQ references, which included a story from a gay fan about wanting to have his hair styled like Rachel Green’s locks in Friends’ earlier seasons. Overall, the streamers removed approximately six minutes of footage from the special.
The singers being removed entirely from the Friends reunion special is being attributed to past actions that have been disapproved of by the Chinese government. In 2016, Lady Gaga met with the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and is seen by China’s government as dangerous. Her music was banned and she is prohibited from touring in China as well. BTS honored South Korean war veterans in October 2020, which caused a backlash in China considering the history — the latter sided with North Korea in the Korean War. Bieber, meanwhile, was banned from performing in China in 2017. A statement from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture at the time dubbed him a “badly behaved” entertainer. It was never confirmed exactly what the bad behavior entailed — there have been a couple to note, including a controversial visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine in 2014.
There was some outcry over the fact that the Friends reunion special was edited in China, with one fan commenting that the unedited version should have aired because it was pointless to watch the censored version of the reunion otherwise. It must have altered the experience of watching the Friends reunion for many considering the cut scenes made for some interesting aspects of the special. And with the HBO Max special already out in China, it’s unlikely that it will be changed again to add the scenes back in that were already removed.