Enamouring fans and swooning the hearts of adolescents, South Korean idols are undoubtedly lovable. From robust fanchants to trendsetting, K-pop idols have left their imprint on South Korea’s entertainment industry and cultural dynamic. Many have the impression that idols are a sculpted epitome of perfection — ethereal beings with no blemishes.
To think that said idols would meddle in the world of sex trafficking, pornography and illegal prostitution sweeps beyond the image that the media crafts. Pop culture deceives us and hides the grim reality of some celebrities — we only see the edited version of their lives.
The men involved in this sex scandal are bluntly irrational and reckless, as their true colors shined through. They lack human decency — human respect and integrity to women, to themselves and to society in entirety. Their lack of self control devoid of civility is insolent to an enormous magnitude, disrespecting Korean women and amplifying the culture of misogyny; it’s horrifying and unmannered. But we’re curtained-off from this spectrum, as we don’t know what don’t really know the inner workings behind a glamorized image.
To think that said idols would meddle in the world of sex trafficking, pornography and illegal prostitution sweeps beyond the image that the media crafts.
With this, a handful of reputable K-idols have been investigated with plentiful evidence; we are still anticipating a released final verdict for the K-idols involved. Of these Korean celebrities, the most staggering name is 28-year-old Lee Seung-Hyun, better known by his stage name Seungri. Dubbed “Seungtsby” or the “Great Seungri” after the Great Gatsby, Seungri has made several heartfelt appearances on entertainment networks and variety shows, showcasing his humour and intellect. Debuted in 2006 with the boy group “BIGBANG,” an iconic group in Korea’s mainstream music industry, Seungri and the group redefined Korean pop culture.
The Interpreter, police investigated the club after a man claimed “to have been assaulted by the nightclub staff when he tried to stop another female patron from being sexually harassed in November last year.”
In the midst of BIGBANG’s hiatus, the fiasco started at a nightclub nestled in Seoul, The Burning Sun. Notorious for allegations of sexual assault, drug use and violence, the nightclub has attracted police attention and media coverage. According to
After local media reports of intoxication, rape and assault centric to The Burning Sun, the buildup of events turned its attention to Seungri, the director of the nightclub, due to testimonies. According to the New York Times, local news reports leaked posts from a messaging app quoting that Seungri was accused of “arranging for investors to receive sexual favors at a nightclub,” essentially arranging prostitutes by listing characteristic traits for business investors.
Furthermore, examinations into Seungri’s KaKao Talk account, the Korean messaging app, revealed a chat of male celebrities, including 30-year-old Jung Joon-Young, a South Korean singer-songwriter. The chat room embodied explicit unconsented pornography of women sent by Jung (filmed by spy cameras) coupled with prostitution bribery.
“Let’s all get together online, hit the strip bar and rape them in the car,” Jung allegedly typed in the chat, first disclosed by an SBS reporter.
Their indecisive choices are blatantly a exhibition of recklessness, as they put themselves over the respect of society’s women, over their fans and over their own integrity. As respectable celebrities in South Korea, both Seungri and Jung should’ve prioritized their integrity and human decency over their trivial temptations. Their actions were selfish, and were completely unjustified as they failed to assess the pros and cons of their skewed rationale and their unweighted human righteousness.
Through his Instagram account, Seungri released his formal leave from YG Entertainment and the retirement as a singer on March 11. This however, does not free Seungri from the contract binding him with BIGBANG and YG, as it’s the company’s choice to terminate the contract.
“I decided [to retire] from the entertainment industry as the issues that I caused a societal disturbance with are too major,” Seungri said, translated via Soompi, a Korean pop coverage website. “I sincerely thank all of the fans in and outside of Korea who have given me lots of love for the past 10 years, and I think this is where I stop even if it’s at least [to protect] the honor of YG and BIGBANG.”
On March 12, Jung was brought under investigation under suspicion of nonconsensual pornography. This wasn’t unfamiliar for Jung, as he has secretly filmed up to 10 women in the past. This is in direct violation of South Korea’s Article 14 of the “Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, Etc. of Sexual Crimes,” which may lead to a punishment of “less than five years in prison and fewer than 30 million won (approximately $26,549) in fines.”
This is betrayal. Betrayal of the image we once knew, of the men we used to know and of the people we used to idolize – utter betrayal. This exhibition of recklessness and immorality is saddening to witness and angering to hear. It’s a flurry of emotions – betrayal, surprise and repulsion. We’ve been oblivious, thinking that the idols the media glamorizes are perfect; we’re not aware of what goes on behind the scenes. This entire time, on reality shows, fancams, vlogs and game shows, we’ve been boggled by K-idols’ perfection to see actuality of reality.
On March 13, Jung confessed his crimes and released a formal apology through a statement:
“As a public figure, it was an unethical act worthy of criticism, and such a thoughtless action,” Jung said, translated via Soompi. “More than anything, I kneel and apologize to the women who appear in the videos who have learned of this hideous truth as the incident has come to light.”
YG Entertainment, Seungri’s entertainment label, has terminated Seungri’s contract with BIGBANG, effective since March 12. According to South Korea’s internet portal service Naver, YG officially disclosed a formal statement:
“Hello, this is YG Entertainment.
Starting with the assault case at the club that Seungri participated in, various suspicions and controversies have continuously arisen. We bow our heads and express deep apologies for causing trouble to many people including fans.
On March 12, following the announcement of Seungri’s retirement, YG agreed to Seungri’s request and decided to terminate his exclusive contract.
YG acknowledges that as a management company, we were not able to manage thoroughly, and we are deeply reflecting.
Lastly, YG realizes the need for extensive reform and promises to put in our full effort into achieving this together with all of our staff.”
However, these formal statements, apologies and retirements can’t begin to sum up the bottled repulsion, betrayal and frustration the fans are directing to these K-idols.
The once lovable celebrity was a sham – was our idolization a sham? Our trust, our love, our adoration – was that also a sham? Because surely, yes surely, if they honored themselves and lived up to the ethical code of human righteousness, they surely wouldn’t commit such atrocities. Because there’s too much history behind the fanbase and BIGBANG – 13 years since debut – and we’ve been with them as the the epitome of their success. These idols are especially binded to ethicality and virtue, as many idolize them and see them as role models. But this sex scandal makes us reconsider everything we’ve known and seen about K-idols: do we really know the dire realities they undergo?
The answer is, no.
This is betrayal. Betrayal of the image we once knew, of the men we used to know and of the people we used to idolize – utter betrayal. This exhibition of recklessness and immorality is saddening to witness and angering to hear. It’s a flurry of emotions – betrayal, surprise and repulsion.
Following a hearing, Jung was escorted in handcuffs on March 21 to a central Seoul Police Station after being issued an arrest warrant; he was penalized with unconsented pornography. Seungri was penalized with engaging in “unlawful sexual services” and violating South Korea’s prostitution act.
This scandal spirals into raging feminism current in South Korea; spy cameras were and are still secretly installed to document women going to the restroom to be uploaded on porn websites or shared. Holding up signs reading “My life is not your porn,” and spreading around #MeToo on social media, women are hoping that this controversy calls for reform.
“But one thing that we have seen with #MeToo is that when companies actually act against sexual harassment, when law enforcement act against sexual crimes, then that does help to allow for more women to feel like they can be heard and speak up,” NPR’s Elise Hu said to CBC.
Amid the controversy, this sex scandal could spiral into a large scale reform for South Korea’s women, amplifying feminism, and changing the conventional role of a woman in modernized Korean society. This sex scandal draws attention to abolish the culture of misogyny and level the playing grounds for a Korean woman.
Holding up signs reading “My life is not your porn,” and spreading around #MeToo on social media, women are hoping that this controversy calls for reform.
This scandal is a next step; though it did showcase the dark side of K-pop, a blowout like this draws attention to a sensitive topic that will help create change and reform in a place that clearly needs it. The sex scandal is an eye-opener to the severity of Korea’s sexism and to the grim reality of idolization, and will generate long term effects of awareness. This preying among women in Korea has to stop and we must demand equality.
“The larger, larger societal context of this here is that South Korea remains a place where men’s place in society is assumed, and the woman’s place in society has to be earned,” Hu said.