[Column] For K-pop idols, is all love forbidden love?

Posted on : 2024-03-18 16:56 KST Modified on : 2024-03-18 16:56 KST
We live in a world where K-pop artists are berated by fans for daring to have a personal life
Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com
Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com

“My sin was loving you too much,” reads one of the lyrics of K-pop band FT Island’s 2007 song, “Love Sick.” The notion of “loving too much” being a “sin” struck me as a sentiment that we would only see in songs or on TV shows, but I was wrong.
In real life, it isn’t heartache after a breakup that is labeled as a sin, but a newly blossoming love that becomes branded as a sin.
Karina, a member of South Korean girl group Aespa, uploaded a handwritten letter of apology to her social media account on March 5. The apology came a week after news of her relationship with the actor Lee Jae-wook was publicly acknowledged by her agency, SM Entertainment, on Feb. 27.
News of the relationship triggered some fans, who expressed their anger by driving trucks equipped with electronic signs condemning the situation in front of SM Entertainment headquarters.
The electronic signs read, “If you don’t apologize to us directly, you’ll see your album sales plummet and be greeted with empty concert seats.” The stock prices of SM Entertainment went on the decline for several days.
Management agencies stipulate clauses in their contracts strongly condemning dating to prevent such scandals from happening.
Korean pop group G.O.D’s Joon Park was almost kicked out of the group after publicly acknowledging that he was in a relationship with the actress Han Go-eun in 2001. However, his agency relented after the other members of the group and the group’s fans all spoke up in defense of Park to oppose his expulsion.
At a press conference, tears rolled down Park’s cheeks as he appealed to the public: “I’m 32 years old. Why shouldn’t I have a girlfriend?” Such remarks acted as a reminder to the public that members of K-pop groups are also human.
The current situation we find ourselves in, which feels like an unwelcome blast from the past, is deeply rooted in the complicated structure of the K-pop industry. Now, K-pop is not an industry that sells music, but sells fantasies.
Artists interact with their fans through various platforms, leading fans to feel as if they’re in almost romantic relationships with their artists. Dating scandals don’t just burst the bubble of such parasocial feelings, but lead to drops in sales and stock prices. In the end, it all comes back to money.
As the BBC reported, “Pop stars in South Korea and Japan work in notoriously pressurising industries” where their agencies “seek to sell them as ‘romantically obtainable’ idols.”
Recently, the virtual boy band Plave took first place in a music television program, despite artists like Le Sserafim and Bibi being strong contenders. The virtual boy band has a sizable fanbase, with all five members of the group looking like they’ve walked straight out of a comic book. These members are free from relationship gossip or public scandals.

Before we know it, we may face a future where all idol groups are replaced by virtual idols.

By Suh Jung-min, culture reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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