Associated Press reported: South Korean pop songs, TV dramas and films are hugely popular in Asia and beyond, but the country’s entertainment world has in recent years suffered a series of sexual scandals that revealed its dark side. Male stars have faced allegations of sexual assault and abuse and reports have been made that female entertainers and trainees have been forced to provide sexual services to men in power.” In November 2019, K-pop musician and actress Goo Hara was found dead at her home in Seoul. Before her death, she suffered cyberbullying after she was engaged in a public dispute with her former boyfriend, who she said threatened to disclose a sex video of her.” A month earlier, another K-pop star, Sulli, was discovered dead at her home. She had spoken against the online backlash she received over her lifestyle.” [Source: Associated Press, November 29, 2019]

David Tormsen wrote in Listverse; K-Pop “female trainees are traded by brokers and are allegedly brought to bars and forced to engage in sexual work to get ahead, even if they are still minors. One ex-trainee claimed in an interview that the going rate for a “meeting” with a female trainee was US$220, while very young trainees, or those signed with a prominent label, cost between US$700-900. In 2010, Taiwanese singer Estrella Lin claimed that when she was a member of girl group 3EP Beauties, her agency bartered her body to potential investors. She said this is an open secret throughout the Korean entertainment industry, and actresses and singers are expected or forced to give sexual services in order to get advancement opportunities. In 2002, Jang Seok-woo, CEO of Open World Entertainment, was arrested for not only sexually abusing female trainees, but encouraging male idols in his employ to do the same. Aphrodisiac substances were administered to trainees, some of whom were underage. Open World Entertainment would go on to issue a public apology for “causing disappoinment,” with a conspicuous absence of any reference to the victims of the abuse. [Source: David Tormsen, Listverse, May 19, 2015]

Maria Sherman wrote in Cosmopolitan, K-Pop “stars regularly appear on morning shows, late-night TV, and red carpets proselytizing K-pop’s peppy, polished reputation. It’s what they’re asked and allowed to do. What they’re not allowed to do is reveal the often toxic, manipulative, and inhumane circumstances behind the scenes that push some performers to extremes. “K-pop’s history is a history of cover-ups,” says John Lie, author of K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea. “Exploitation is one of the worst abuses.” [Source: Maria Sherman, Cosmopolitan, March 10, 2020]

K-pop music video director Cha Eun-taek — who worked with some of South Korea's biggest stars, including Psy and Big Bang — was charged in the corruption scandal that ultimately brought down South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in 2016 and was sentenced to three years in jail in 2017. The BBC reported: Cha Eun-taek was put on “trial for allegedly using his ties to the president's confidante to win lucrative projects. The charges include abuse of power, coercion and embezzlement. [Source: BBC, November 27, 2016]

“His involvement in the scandal hinges around his links to Choi Soon-sil, Ms Park's close friend and the daughter of a cult leader, who is believed to have used her status to extract more than US$60 million from top firms, including Samsung. She is accused of meddling in a wide range of state affairs, including South Korea's preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Prosecutors say Ms Park herself ordered her former economic adviser to help Mr Cha pressure companies and officials so he would win contracts.

Seungri Kicked Out of Big Bang on Prostitution Charges

Seungri, the youngest member of Big Bang whose taste for the high life earned him the nickname the Great Gatsby of Korea., was ‘branded a national traitor’ and forced to quit the group on charges that he procured prostitutes for businessmen and foreign investors in some of Seoul’s most fashionable Gangnam district nightclubs. Seungri announced he would retire to fight the charges and to spare his management agency, YG Entertainment, and fellow band members further embarrassment, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea. The charges against Seungri carry a prison sentence of up to three years. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, March 12, 2019]

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: The police in Seoul said that the singer, Lee Seung-hyun, 28" — Seungri — “was suspected of “offering sexual services” in 2015. Local news reports, citing what they said were leaked posts from a messaging app, said Mr. Lee was accused of arranging for investors to receive sexual favors at a nightclub called Arena. The investigation appears to have begun after video circulated online that was said to have shown a man being assaulted by employees at another nightclub, Burning Sun, which Mr. Lee has promoted. [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, March 12, 2019]

“According to local media reports, the man said he was trying to defend a woman who had been molested at the club. Lee Moon-ho, the head of Burning Sun, was questioned by the police for 10 hours, according to local news reports. In a statement he posted to Instagram before deleting his personal account, he said that many unfounded rumors were circulating about misconduct at the club — he cited claims of police collusion, drugging and sexual assault of women, and drug sales — but that the alleged assault on the man was the only confirmed episode....Businessmen are thought to sometimes arrange illicit sexual encounters in exchange for deals. As Seungri, Lee Seung-hyun has an outsize presence in Seoul’s night life and music scene, and also has his own chain of ramen restaurants. He has cultivated an image evoking F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, with a solo tour and album under the title “The Great Seungri.”

Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian: “Police are also investigating claims that the Burning Sun nightclub, where Seungri was a public relations director, was involved in illegal drug use, sexual assaults and police corruption, Yonhap reported. The club’s owner, Lee Moon Ho, said the allegations were unfounded rumours. Seungri wrote on his Instagram account that he had decided to quit the pop industry. “It would be better for me to retire from the entertainment scene at this point,” he said. “As this scandal is too big, I have decided to retire. As for the ongoing investigation, I will take it seriously to clear myself of all the allegations.“I give my heartfelt, sincere thanks to fans at home and abroad who gave their love for the past 10 years, and I think this should be it for the sake of the reputation of YG and Big Bang.” [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, March 12, 2019]

Fall-Out of the Seungri-Burning Sun Prostitution Scandal

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: “The accusations have rocked fans from South Korea and abroad. Some defended the star and lamented his downfall, while more than 200,000 others signed a petition calling for the police to punish him, and to act on other allegations of corruption and drug crimes against women at adult entertainment venues. “We demand self-reflection among male celebrities who are the perpetrators and abettors of rape culture; who saw women as sexual tools rather than human beings to be respected, actively participated in crime or condoned, assisted or enjoyed it,” Digital Sexual Crime Out, a feminist activist group, said in a statement. “We also demand self-reflection among men who related to these male celebrities and consumed the case as simple gossip.” [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, March 12, 2019]

Seoul Metropolitan Police said an investigation into Seungri’s Kakaotalk messages (Kakao is South Korea's dominant messaging platform) found evidence of "pimping". The police said he was not only offering different types of women to investors, but he was part of a separate group chat with Jung Joon-young, another K-Pop star accused of raping drunk women and filming the encounters (See Belwo). [Source: Elise Hu, NPR, March 15, 2019]

Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian: Seungri’s decision to quit the band “came after news of the scandal spread on social media. Shares in YG slid by almost 16 percent, while other K-pop management companies also suffered losses. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, March 12, 2019]

Five major South Korean entertainment companies lose nearly 18 percent of their market value following Seungri episode and other sex abuse scandals that followed. Daniel Sanchez wrote in Digital Music News: the day after Seungri said he was leaving Big Bang: “Makeus Entertainment, another talent agency, publicly dropped Jung Joon-young. The 30-year-old singer and TV celebrity filmed sex videos with at least 10 women without their consent. He then shared the secret recordings with other entertainers – including Seungri – on chatrooms. Makeus immediately terminated his contract. Jung is also repeatedly barred from leaving the country. He remains under investigation by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for sex abuse crimes, including sexual bribery. [Source: Daniel Sanchez, Digital Music News, March 20, 2019]

“Choi Jong-hun, another K-Pop star and member of rock group FT Island, allegedly participated in the chat. In the conversations, he detailed a previously undisclosed drunk driving incident three years ago. The admission prompted the group’s agency, FNC Entertainment, to drop Choi, forcing him into retirement. Soon after, Yong Jun-hyung, another K-pop star from boy band Highlight, admitted to receiving and viewing Jung’s videos.

Now, the scandals are crushing the broader Korean music industry, at least in the local stock market. The more scandals come out, the harder Korea’s music stocks fall. According to a new report, major South Korean entertainment companies have seen their market value plummet. YG Entertainment, which manages Big Bang and Seungri, has seen its shares plummet 24.8 percent since February 25th. On that day, police questioned the young K-pop singer about drug use and prostitution. In addition, the nation’s five major entertainment companies – YG, JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, and FNC Entertainment – lost 17.5 percent in value from February 25th to March 15th. Breaking down SM, Cube, and FNC’s stock value losses, all three reported over 20 percent declines during this period. FNC alone saw its share price fall 11.1 percent on March 11th, the day Choi announced his retirement. JYP Entertainment, however, only lost 5.5 percent of its market value during this period.”

K-Pop Mogul Resigns as Drug, Sex Scandals Rock Agency

In June 2019, K-pop mogul Yang Hyun-suk resigned as head of YG Entertainment amid drug and sex scandals that have rocked his company. Yang, founder and chief producer of YG Entertainment, said he would "step down from all positions and responsibilities" in the agency effective Friday. His younger brother Yang Min-suk, who is the company CEO, also announced his resignation. [Source: AFP, June 15, 2019]

AFP reported: “Himself a member of the popular boyband Seo Tae Ji and Boys in the 1990s, Yang Hyun-suk developed YG into a K-pop powerhouse with the success of idol groups such as BIGBANG and BLACKPINK. YG was also behind the 2012 mega hit "Gangnam Style" by Psy that elevated the standing of K-pop to another level. "I have dedicated the last 23 years of my life to YG Entertainment," Yang, 49, said in a statement. But he could no longer withstand "humiliating" allegations of his involvement in a drug scandal that have been "taken as if they were true", he added.

“The announcement came after a report by South Korean broadcaster KBS that Yang had tried to silence a person who had provided illegal drugs to one of his artists. YG Entertainment, considered one of South Korea's top three entertainment agencies alongside SM and JYP, has been in hot water after some of its singers were implicated in a spate of scandals.

“K-pop star Seungri, a BIGBANG member whose real name is Lee Seung-hyun, retired from show business in March after he was accused of arranging sex services for potential investors in his business. Fellow YG artist Kim Han-bin, a member of boyband iKon, left the group on Wednesday amid allegations he had bought illegal drugs three years ago in a case Yang is accused of trying to cover up.

K-Pop Stars Imprisoned for Rape and Sharing Videos of the Victims

In November 2019, K-pop singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young and former boy band member Choi Jong-hoon were found guilty by a South Korean court of illicit sexual relations with a woman who was unable to resist because they were too drunk to do so. “The accused perpetrated sexual crimes against multiple women, degrading women and treating them as mere tools of sexual pleasure,”Judge Kang Seong-soo said in his verdict. “It’s hard to fathom the pain the victims must have suffered.”

Associated Press reported: The Seoul Central District Court said singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young received a six-year prison term and former boy band member Choi Jong-hoon a five-year term. The court said in a statement that they were convicted of committing “special quasi-raping,” which it said means multiple people collaborating to have illicit sextual intercourse with a person who was unconscious or unable to resist. Jung was additionally convicted of filming sex videos of women against their will and sharing them with friends in a group chat. Their scandals roiled South Korea’s entertainment industry earlier this year when the investigation began. [Source: Associated Press, November 29, 2019]

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “During their trial, Mr. Jung and Mr. Choi, both 30, said that the sex acts, which took place in 2016, had been consensual. But the court ruled that the women had been drunk and unable to resist. The court has not said how many victims there were. Both men broke into tears as they were escorted back to jail after the sentencing, the news agency Yonhap reported. They have a week to appeal. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times , November 29, 2019]

“The police began investigating the matter early this year, after it was reported that Mr. Jung, along with other members of an online chat group, had bragged about drugging and raping women and had shared surreptitiously recorded videos of assaults. The police have not said who originally came forward with the information, citing regulations meant to protect whistle-blowers. But South Korean news outlets have reported that it was a worker at a shop where Mr. Jung sent his smartphone in hopes of retrieving lost data.

Elise Hu of NPR wrote: “Police say the near-dozen participants in the Jung chatroom were sharing hidden camera footage of sex with drugged and unconscious women. Korean broadcaster SBS showed the leaked text exchanges, which include Jung responding to a video of one unconscious woman by texting in Korean, "You raped her, LOL." Korean wire Yonhap reports Jung is under investigation for secretly recorded and shared videos of his own sexual encounters with at least 10 women he filmed between 2015 and 2016. [Source: Elise Hu, NPR, March 15, 2019]

Jung said in a statement: "I admit to all my crimes. I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom, and while I did so I didn't feel a great sense of guilt... 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." The other men who have apologized and suddenly retired from the industry after being implicated in the chat rooms are Choi Jong-hoon, singer from FT Island, and Yong Junhyung, singer from Highlight, who admitted that he was in the chat and saw the videos and did not speak up.”

K-Pop Stars and Drugs

A number of South Korean celebrities — including Gangnam Style star PSY, rappers E Sens and Crown J, singer-songwriter Cho Yong-pil, and comedian and TV host Shin Dong-yup — have been arrested for illegal drugs, with some of them doing prison time and others watching their careers slide into the drain. According to Ranker: E Sens gained notoriety when he was arrested for and sent to jail for smoking marijuana. This probably worked out in his favor in the end because he was a nobody before the incident. [Source: Ranker, Joseph Shi, Korea Bizwire, June 9, 2017]

2NE1's Park Bom confirmed that she smuggled “psychotherapy drugs” into South Korea from 2008 to 2014. While she claims that she thought the pills were legal in South Korea, the drugs were found hidden inside a teddy bear. Emily Singh wrote in Korea Expose: “In 2014, pop star Park Bom, of the group 2NE1 made headlines with her alleged drug usage back in October 2010. The singer had ordered 82 amphetamine pills labelled ‘gummy bears’ from the U.S. and dispatched them to her grandmother’s address in the port city of Incheon near Seoul. The police verified that she had taken only 4 of the pills, the singer pleaded for leniency based on her prior use of the medication while residing in the U.S., and eventually her case was dropped. But much controversy trailed Park, owing to the public’s lack of knowledge of and demonization of narcotics. The media and the public were quick to denounce Park as a ‘drug addict.’ [Source: Emily Singh, Korea Expose, October 21, 2016]

R. Jun wrote in soompi.com: Cha Joo Hyuk, a former member of the idol group Coed School, is being prosecuted without detention for use of marijuana. According to the prosecution, Cha Joo Hyuk received three marijuana cigarettes from a woman, only referred to as Ms. Kang, in March 2016, after which he smoked them in a basement parking garage in his car. Previously, it was revealed that Cha Joo Hyuk attempted to smuggle the drug Ketamine — a prescription anesthetic that is used as a party drug — into Canada in August 2016. He was caught at the local airport and refused entry into the country. [Source: R. Jun, soompi.com March 23, 2017]

Cha Joo Hyuk first debuted in 2010 as a part of the K-pop group Coed School. At the time, his stage name was Kangho. Shortly after debut, he was swept up in a sex crime scandal, and photos came out of him visiting an adult entertainment facility despite being a minor. A year later, he left Coed School and became an actor under the name Cha Joo Hyuk. He appeared in JTBC’s “Happy Ending” in 2012, and enlisted in the military in 2013.

Big Bang Stars Arrested For Marijuana

In June 2017, T.O.P was arrested for allegedly vaping liquid marijuana four times with a 21-year-old prospective female singer in October 2016, based on her testimony alone. No drugs were found on him. He didn’t test positive in a drug test. He received a 10-month suspended sentence.

Joseph Shin wrote in Korea Bizwire: “The 29-year-old rapper, who was hospitalized on June 6 after an apparent overdose of prescribed tranquilizer, may face up to five years in prison or 50 million won in fines, although he could get away with a suspended sentence if the court finds him guilty of only one instance of smoking, as the singer initially claimed. The public was quick to condemn the singer for his drug use, which would have settled for gossip in a more cannabis-generous country overseas, while at the same time questioning the management competency of Big Bang’s talent agency, YG Entertainment. [Source: Joseph Shi, Korea Bizwire, June 9, 2017]

In 2011, G-Dragon caught smoking marijuana during a concert tour of Japan. Shin wrote: G-Dragon “admitted to having unknowingly smoked marijuana after being offered a joint by a fan at a club in Japan, while in 2010, Park Bom of 2NE1 was caught bringing in 82 pills of amphetamines from the United States through international mail. Both YG singers were ultimately not indicted, despite facing a strong backlash from the public.” Big Bang was one of the biggest K-Pop groups and G-Dragon was its leader. After he tested positive for marijuana use in 2011, the group's management company YG Entertainment reduced the size of its IPO by around 10 percent.” The incidents involving YG stars prompted some to joke that the company’s initials stand for Yak-Guk – Korean for drugstore.

T.O.P. had just started his military service when he was arrested, ironically, as part of the Korean National Police Agency. T.O.P first tried to pass off the weed as e-cigarettes — until the young woman confessed. YG Entertainment, the agency who put Big Bang together, released a statement to the press that read: "It is true that T.O.P smoked marijuana before the enlistment and we sincerely apologise for the outcome. The rapper has undergone a full police investigation, and is regretting his wrongdoing." [Source: Perez Hilton, June 1, 2017]

S. Korean Actresses Abuse Drug That Killed Michael Jackson

In 2013, three South Korean actresses — Park Si-Yeon, Lee Seung-Yeon, and Jang Mi-In-Ae were charged with abusing propofol — the same drug that caused the death of Michael Jackson AFP reported: “Three South Korean actresses have been handed suspended jail terms for abusing propofol, a short-acting sedative and anaesthetic blamed in the death of US pop icon Michael Jackson, a court official said. Park Si-Yeon, Lee Seung-Yeon and Jang Mi-In-Ae were charged in March with taking the prescription drug for "non-medical purposes." All three were found guilty by the Seoul Central District Court on Monday and received eight-month prison terms –suspended for two years, the court spokesman told Agence France-Presse. [Source: Agence France-Presse, November 27, 2013]

“Propofol is a powerful sedative used as a general anaesthetic. It reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation but may cause a person to experience hallucinations. South Korea classified the drug as a psychotropic medicine two years ago, making it illegal to prescribe or consume other than for stipulated treatments that may need anesthesia, such as a gastro-intestinal endoscopy. Park, a top actress who has appeared in many TV shows and movies, received the so-called "milk shot" containing the creamy-colored propofol 185 times from February 2011 to last December. As well as the suspended prison term, she was fined 3.7 million won (US$3,490). Lee, a prominent actress and a TV talk show host, received 111 injections during the same period, and fellow actress Jang took 95 shots in 2011 and 2012. The two also received fines of 4 million won and 5.5 million, respectively.

“All three had pleaded not guilty, arguing they had received the injections for dermatological and plastic surgery treatments or to relieve pain caused by illness and gruelling work schedules. Another top entertainer, Hyun Young, who had been charged with the trio in March, was given a five million won fine at the time and avoided a trial. Two doctors who had been accused of prescribing the drug to the actresses were also handed suspended jail terms, community service and fines. In 2011, Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray was jailed for four years after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson propofol nightly for some two months before his death, and on the day he died, June 25, 2009.”

Suicidal and Severly-Depressed K-Pop Stars

In December 2017, K-pop star Jonghyun, whose real name was Kim Jong-hyun, ended his own life after bouts of depression.. In a note left behind, the SHINee singer said he was "consumed" by depression and that "the life of fame was not for me." In his final message to his friend he wrote: "I'm broken inside ... I'm completely alone ... I wanted someone to notice but no one knew. They haven't met me so of course they don't know that I even exist." [Source: Taryn Ryder, Yahoo Music, October 14, 2019; Jake Kwon, CNN, May 30, 2019]

In January 2014, the father of Leeteuk of Super Junior boy band was found dead after reportedly killing his own parents, both of whom suffered from dementia. Associated Press reported: “The grandparents of Park Jeong-su, better known by his stage name Leeteuk, were discovered dead in bed while his father was found hanged at their Seoul home, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on its website on Tuesday. The newspaper cited an unidentified police officer saying that Leeteuk's father had left a suicide note suggesting he killed himself after strangling his parents. It said Leeteuk's father had been suffering from depression and economic difficulties while living with his parents, both of whom suffered from dementia, after divorcing his wife in 1998. Leeteuk, who has been serving his mandatory military service since October 2012, was given emergency leave to attend his relatives' funerals, reports said. [Source: Associated Press, January 7, 2014]

“Brian Joo, a K-pop star and former member of the group FlyToTheSky, told CNN in 2017 that he had suffered from depression but had found trouble seeking help. In 2018, Joo posted on his Instagram account screenshots of malicious messages he had received. "Can anyone help with some psycho people, who keep saying I did things to them, when I haven't even met them in real life? This person has been threatening me, my friends and my family for years," he wrote.Stacy Nam, a K-pop communications specialist, says its stars are under intense pressure to act "in character" in public. She says: "The image you must maintain as an idol has to be clean. However, anything you do can be spun and taken out of context by a random person on the street." [Source: Jake Kwon, CNN, May 30, 2019]

K-Pop Star Sulli Found Dead at 25

In October 2019, K-Pop star Sulli was found dead at her home in Seongnam near Seoul. Sulli, whose legal name was Choi Jin-ri, was a former member of the group f (x). She was 25. The statement released by her talent agency SM Entertainment said: "Sulli has left our side. We cannot believe the situation now and we are just filled with grief. For her family who is grieving after the sudden news of her passing, we earnestly request that you refrain from writing speculative articles or spreading rumors. We express our deep condolences." Police told CNN it appeared that Sulli committed suicide. [Source: Taryn Ryder, Yahoo Music, October 14, 2019]

Taryn Ryder wrote in Yahoo Music: “Sulli's manager found her on the second floor of her house. The two apparently spoke on Sunday evening and when he couldn't reach her Monday, he went to her residence. Police said they found a note at the scene but didn't comment further on its content. Investigations are ongoing.

“In the wake of the news about her death, fans took to Twitter to express their shock — with some mentioning her recent appearance on the show The Night of Hate Comments in which she spoke out against cyberbullying. “Sulli’s death shouldn’t be reported as a suicide but murder,” wrote one fan. “She was attacked constantly by ppl’s words she survived everyday without crumbling down but there’s only so much a person can take ... may angels lead her & take her to the stars where she can stay forever shining and happy.”

“Sulli, who was attached to the upcoming Netflix special Persona, was a child actress before joining the popular girl group f (x) in 2009. She left the group in 2015 to focus on acting. Sulli returned to music in 2018 and released her most recent single "Goblin" in June. She was cyber-bullied during her years in the spotlight, with some reportedly likening her to the underage girl in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.

Sulli: Activist and Victim of Cyber-Bullying

Sulli received a lot of heat and negative criticism online for being outspoken and talking about issues related to her body image. She appeared on a Korean show called “The Night of Hate Comments” and discussed the cyberbullying she faced. “In Korea, people are upset about why people were so cruel to her and ranged from... comments [that would be] considered sexual harassment to hating this star and all the negativity that seemed to be surrounding her from the online community,” a K-pop expert and music journalist Jeff Benjamin told Yahoo News. [Source: Paulina Cachero,Yahoo Lifestyle, October 15, 2019]

Hyonhee Shin and Hyun Young Yi of Reuters wrote: Sulli “was a rare taboo breaker in a world where K-pop stars' every move is strictly monitored by their management, but her death has exposed the dark side of the industry that propelled a global craze. She unveiled her romantic relationship at the height of her career as a member of top girl group f (x) and was vocal about not wearing a bra, defying both the K-pop world's careful brand management and conservative social attitudes towards young women - and provoking a stream of online comment. [Source: Hyonhee Shin and Hyun Young Yi, Reuters, October 17, 2019]

Before her death Sulli spoke out strongly against cyber bullying. Police said she was suffering from severe depression, “Colleagues and experts said her death revealed the constant barrage of malicious online comments faced by young female artists in the public eye. "She wasn't just an issue-maker but I hope she will be remembered as a women's rights activist who was free-spirited, who could truly speak her mind," said Kwon Ji-an, a fellow South Korean singer and painter. Sulli's most recent public appearance had been in a television programme in which K-pop stars spoke about their experiences with malevolent online postings. Among the things she was scolded about was smoking and underage drinking. According to Ranker: “Sulli's smoking habit is one of the best kept secret of SM. Rumors indicate that Sulli picked up smoking at a young age of 11.”

Sulli said her mental health struggles and the online abuse forced her to take break from music. In a an interview not long before her death, Sulli opened about her mental health battles, saying that she had been "lying to everyone by pretending to be happy." "My life is actually empty, so I feel like I’m lying to everyone by pretending to be happy on the outside," she said on Reply Night. "I asked around a lot for advice. They told me, 'Everyone has a dark side in their lives but they live pretending that they don’t. Don’t think of it as weird.'" Sulli explained she chose to "simply live a two-sided life." [Source: Taryn Ryder, Yahoo Music, October 14, 2019]

In f(x) with Sulli

Amber Liu was a member of f(x), a very popular K-Pop girls band for a while, with Sulli, who committed suicide at the age of 25 in 2019. “It was fun at first,” Liu told People magazine. “But later the loneliness and all that stuff settles in.” [Source: Brianne Tracy, People, March 19, 2020]

Brianne Tracy wrote in People: “Born and raised in Los Angeles, Liu, 27 in 2020, got her start in the K-pop industry after being scouted by one of South Korea’s largest entertainment companies, SM Entertainment, at a festival in Koreatown at the age of 15. Several successful auditions later, she packed her bags and moved to South Korea on March 1, 2008.

Throughout the six years they spent together in f (x) between 2009 and 2015, Liu says Sulli “wasn’t that type of person to actually let things get to her.” But one of the last Instagram Live videos she’d share before her death, in which she told her followers, “I’m not a bad person,” showed the toll the online hate was taking on her. “We grew up learning that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, but words do hurt,” Liu says. “They physically can hurt.”

“At the height of f (x)’s fame, Liu says she was “going on fumes.” “You’d literally wake up, go to a job, go back to sleep in the car and drive to the next job,” she says. “We were grinding.” The burden of fame and the quest for perfection felt insurmountable. “We honestly talked more about diets than music … We were taught to starve,” Liu says.

“At the time, Liu says, she had “the worst relationship with food,” sometimes drinking only a can of Coca-Cola a day. The group’s “tomboy,” she didn’t fit the mold of the typical doe-eyed, feminine K-pop idol and would get nasty comments online from people about everything from her sun-kissed California skin to her pixie cut, like, “How is she going to get married with short hair?” “I didn’t realize how much these comments actually hurt me,” Liu says. “I am now a lot more open with my friends, and this actually helped me out a lot.”

K-pop Star Goo Hara Found Dead at Age 28

In November 2019, just six weeks after Sulli’s death, her close friend Goo Hara, member of K-pop group KARA, was found dead in her home in Seoul. She was 28. A maid reportedly found her unresponsive and called police, who said they found a handwritten note at her home. On the day before her death Hara posted an image of herself to Instagram, showing her staring at the camera from beneath blankets on her bed with a message of “Good Night.” Police say a note was found at the scene in which she expressed hopelessness. Goo and Sulli were close friends. Goo attempted to kill herself in May 2019 after an ex-boyfriend attempted to blackmail her with threats of assault and the release of a sex video. Amid the dispute, Goo’s agency terminated her contract. [Source: Daniella Scott, Cosmopolitan, November 28, 2019]

Daniella Scott wrote in Cosmopolitan: “Hara was a member of four-person K-pop group, KARA, which disbanded in 2016. Hara had since been working as a solo artist and appeared on a number of TV shows. The deaths of Hara and Sulli so close together have prompted people to question the reality of life for a K-pop star. Hara made headlines a number of times last year after an ex-boyfriend claimed she had assaulted him. She then accused him of threatening to release a sex tape of her. She was subject to a barrage of vicious messages and online abuse as a result of this dispute. She was also harass for things like old photos showing her drinking and clinking glasses of soju with her classmates when she was under drinking age.

Goo dated hairdresser Choi Jong-Bum after the two first met on the set of the beauty TV program My Mad Beauty Diary. In September 2018, Choi broke into Goo's house drunk while she was sleeping and started an argument that escalated into violent assault, when he allegedly tried to break up with her. The police arrived at Goo's house after Choi reported her for assault. Goo claimed that the incident was two-sided and then both parties posted images of their injuries to the internet to explain their side of the story. During the incident, Goo suffered from uterus and vagina hemorrhage, and was also diagnosed with "cervical sprain", "facial contusions and sprain", "lower leg contusions and sprain", and "right forearm and additional sprains." Following this, Goo filed a lawsuit against Choi for threatening to release a sex video filmed without her consent in an attempt by him to end her career, and the sex video was submitted to the court per the judge's request, where it was confirmed privately by him. In August 2019, Choi was acquitted of the charge of filming the sex video without permission as the court agreed that the filming was done without her consent, but because she remained in the relationship they found him not guilty of illicit filming.However, he was sentenced to one year and six months in prison, suspended for three years of probation after being convicted of threatening to upload the sex video, coercing, physically assaulting, and destroying Goo's property. [Source: Wikipedia]

Goo Hara’s Suicide Sparks Discussion on Revenge Porn, Sexual Assault

Koo Hara’s suicide prompted calls for South Korea to overhaul laws on sexual assault and to more harshly punish revenge porn. Jihye Lee wrote in Bloomberg: “Many in South Korea were already aware of her past that included assault by a former boyfriend who she alleged was threatening to release a sex video of her. The two most popular hashtags on social media in South Korea this week called for punishment of the ex-boyfriend and for the definition of sexual assault to be revamped. [Source: Jihye Lee, Bloomberg, November 29, 2019]

“A petition filed with the president’s office demanding changes to laws had one quarter of a million signatures. Lawmakers said it is time to push forward measures stalled in Parliament that make it easier to impose harsh penalties on those who engage in revenge porn or clandestinely take sexually charged videos. Liberal lawmaker Lee Jung-mi of the minor Justice Party said in a social media post that Koo’s death shows that change is needed because the nation “cannot neglect illegal filming and circulation of videos.” Lee in September 2018 introduced a bill to revise how South Korea’s criminal law defines rape. She said recent verdicts on sexual crime show the current standards don’t focus on consent but how much “resistance” there was from the victim.

Some of those who are fighting for changes to the laws say they are frustrated with the pace of change. “The current justice system sends a message to women that it will never be able to protect them,” said Yun Dan-woo, a writer and and women’s rights activist. “In Koo’s case, a judge found her boyfriend guilty of assault yet acquitted him of illicitly filming Koo and trying to blackmail her.” After Goo’s death “dozens of people rallied in front of the Seoul District Court, demanding that the judge in the case resign.

After Goo Hara had tried to kill herself in May 2019, CNN reported: “Goo was discovered unconscious at her home in Seoul's fashionable Gangnam district shortly after midnight, police said. She was rushed to hospital. Goo apologized to fans. She had posted the word, "Goodbye," to her Instagram account, prompting a rush of comments from concerned fans. She later deleted the post."I'm recovering. Many things overlapped and I had been suffering. But I'll steel myself and work to show you my healthy self," she reportedly said. She had been due to testify against Choi in court a few days later. The South Korean public has largely been sympathetic to Goo's move to take her former boyfriend to court. The saga has played out against the backdrop of calls for greater gender equality through the #metoo campaign and #mylifeisnotyourporn, a hashtag that calls for an end to the illegal filming and distribution of sex tapes. [Source: Jake Kwon, CNN, May 30, 2019]

“Digital Sexual Crime Out, a South Korean feminist group fighting the proliferation of spycam and illegal sex videos, published a statement supporting Goo with a hashtag #WeAreWithYouHara. It wrote on Twitter: "The perpetrator Choi is living well, so why should only the victim suffer?" Nam says public perceptions have changed in recent years. "Before, for these women, having sexual images leak meant the end of their career," she said. "Today, people are not appalled at the fact that she had a boyfriend but at her choice of boyfriend."

Korean Actor Cha In-ha Found Dead at 27

In December 2019, Korean actor Cha In-ha was found dead, according to local media reports in South Korea. He was 27. “Cha’s agency, Fantagio, issued a statement confirming his death, saying it was “truly heartbroken to deliver sad news to everyone who has sent lots of love and support” to the actor. Shortly before his death, Cha (real name Lee Jae-ho) posted a picture of himself on Instagram posing with a white mug and looking moodily at his phone. “Everybody, watch out,” he wrote. [Source: Patrick Frater,Variety, December 4, 2019]

Patrick Frater wrote in Variety: “Cha’s death is the third inside three months of a young South Korean performer.” The other two were Sulli and Goo Hara who was found dead only a week before. “Cha emerged at the forefront of the South Korean entertainment scene only in the past couple of years. He was a member of Fantagio’s actor group Surprise U, and had starred in dramas including “The Banker,” and “Miss Independent Ji Eun 2.” He had recently appeared in MBC drama “Love With Flaws.”

Bad Girl K-Pop Stars

According to Ranker: After School's Nana has not been shy about her sketchy past. While she romanticizes her "bad girl" past and says that it was a phase that she needed to go through, this past included bullying, stealing, drinking, and smoking. After School's Kahi was accused of underage smoking. A young and somewhat different looking Kahi is photographed holding a cigarette. Judging by the quality of the photo, the South Koreans netizens deduce that she is around 16 or 17. [Source: Ranker]

T-Ara's Areum was making headlines before she became a member of T-Ara. Pictures of her and her friends were published in multiple articles talking about the harsh hazing rituals of the high school gangs. T-Ara's Ji-yeon was involved in sex camming while underage. She performed a little show online for a high entertainment official at the age of 14. In 2013, a video of Ailee singing and dancing naked was released by her ex boyfriend. Her reps claimed that she made the video as an audition tape for a lingerie brand which did not fool anyone. In addition, multiple photos a naked teenage Ailee (aside from the video) were found on paid websites.

Sistar's Dasom was part of a infamous high school gang known for throwing sex parties with the money that they stole from the other kids. She talks about stealing money and attending these parties on her cyworld (the korean Facebook) Sistar's Soyou is rumored to have been an "il-jin" (a type of bully that drinks, smokes, steals, and makes life miserable for fellow students) and photos of her drinking as a 14 year old help substantiate this rumor.

Brown Eyed GIrl's Gain has been accused of being a school bully that beat up other students and took their money to buy cigarettes and alcohol. Davichi's Kang Min-Kyung has been accused of underage drinking and squatting. Before being known for her lady like ways and milky skin, Min Kyung was quite the party girl. She and her friends were known to sit down and drink anywhere they felt fit.

Bad Boy K-Pop Stars

According to Ranker: In 2014, SS501's Kim Hyun-joongwas arrested on domestic violence charges for beating up his girlfriend. She sustained multiple injuries (broken arm, broken ribs) and was hospitalized for weeks. Ju Hyuk Cha in the group Co-Ed School has engaged in underage drinking, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for this singer turned actor. Before debuting, Ju Hyuk spent time in a youth detention center for raping a fellow student. Lee Hyori was a child actor accused of drinking on the job while in high school. [Source: Ranker]

FT Island's Choi Jong-Hoon was a notorious bully in school. Behind the cute and innocent facade of Jong Hoon lies a cheat and a liar. While in high school, more than 3 students transferred to other schools because they couldn't stand Jong Hoon's bullying. His bandmate Lee Hongki was a child actor and began drinking when he was 14. SS501's Park Jung-min was photographed drinking with his co-workers after a drama shoot was taken when he only 15.

Jae-Joong of JYJ took a year off in 2006 off when he was arrested for driving under the influence. While he claimed that he only had a sip of soju, his blood alcohol was 0.071 percent - enough to get his license cancelled. Exo's Baek-Hyun was quite the punk in school. Once Baek Hyun debuted, multiple photos of him drinking, smoking, and clubbing as a high schooler surfaced the internet. While he has made no comments on these occasions, his "friends" have been more than happy to provide stories about Baek Hyun's bad ways.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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