K-Pop Scandal: Are Our Korean Idols Leading Double Lives?
In one fell swoop, South Korea has come to a painful reckoning that's been a long time coming; the Asian country is now being forced to re-evaluate its attitudes towards women and women's rights, all thanks to a series of explosive investigations that have revealed that some of its most famous K-pop stars might also be some the country's worst sexual predators.
When the news made headlines in February, K-Pop fans from all corners of the globe were shaken to the core.
How could it be that their idols with squeaky clean images—men well-loved for being meek, well-mannered, and overall nice guys—were sexual deviants behind closed doors, who used their influence to prey on vulnerable women?
For those familiar with the #MeToo movement that took off in the United States and spread to neighboring western countries more than a year ago, the narrative is a familiar one. Powerful men, regardless of how spotless their public personas might be, with pitch black intentions, are very much capable of exploiting women and using their social status as leverage to get what they desire—especially when that desire is of a sexual nature.
While supposedly unacceptable and almost automatically punishable by law in any industry and country, sexual crimes perpetrated against women are tricky territory in South Korea.
The country has been known to downplay the promotion and exercise of women's rights, with obsolete yet deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes still shaping much of South Korean society—a value system that extends even to today's youth.
This situation makes it extremely difficult for women to report sexual assault, harassment and, worst of all, rape, to authority figures, most of whom are almost always male. Couple a patriarchal society with a toxic formula of embarrassment, shame, doubt, and fear that plague South Korean female victims of sexual crimes and it's likely that even a movement as groundbreaking as #MeToo won't gain traction as easily as it did elsewhere.
As difficult as it's been for South Korean women and advocates for women's rights to change all this, it looks like the times have finally given them their time in the spotlight, and it isn't just for 15 minutes of fame; it seems that relevant and lasting change in favor of women has finally arrived.
It all began with the massively famous Seungri—a K-pop legend who's been around since 2006 and credited for helping raise the pillars of the industry as the world knows it today—who was linked to multiple scandals in the past weeks.
The singer owned nightclub Burning Sun, a hotspot of sexual harassment complaints filed by female clients. Years went by without any serious investigations being done on the establishment's activities, until an altercation with a male patron, who was reportedly helping a woman in distress, blew the lid wide open.
The police uncovered a dizzyingly deep pit of sexual misconduct with Seungri at the helm of the club's illicit underground economy.
It was discovered that the celebrity often set up VIP meetings between potential business partners, among other men, with female patrons—sometimes, they would be drugged or intoxicated beyond control of themselves or the situation. In exchange for sex, Seungri's clients would invest in his nightclub or provide other resources.
But it doesn't end there. A female reporter, Kang Kyeong Yoon, came forward with rattling evidence that showed Seungri as part of a group chat on messaging app KakaoTalk that included other K-Pop idols. There, they made arrangements with clients who they promised would be serviced by prostitutes.
South Korean society—including Seungri's biggest fans—did not take it lightly. The 28-year-old has since made appearances in court, retired from the industry, and will soon be enrolling in military service, the last of which is mandatory for South Korean men.
Seungri would be the candle flame to set off a wildfire.
Since investigations of his indecent lifestyle have made their worldwide rounds, South Korean police have begun a serious crackdown on similar situations, and findings were shocking.
Choi Jong-hoon, FT Island's guitarist, was suspected to be part of the group chat and has been called to cooperate with investigations. The scandal has forced him to retire from his band, and from the entertainment industry as a whole.
More so, a third K-Pop idol has not only been found to be a member of the infamous group chat, but has also admitted to participating in its actvities. Highlight's Jung Joon-young owned up to taking secret videos of women he had intercourse with, with the intention of circulating them in his group.
The rapper has since quit his group.
More so, a fourth K-Pop idol, CNBLUE's Lee Jong-hyun, was also found to be a member of yet another KakaoTalk chat that existed for the sole purpose of sharing footage of women performing sexual acts or in other private situations filmed without their consent, as well as patching up the group's members with women to sleep with.
Public outrage was widespread as they learned of this, their anger exacerbated by the crass language used by Lee Jong-hyun to objectify women and diminish their value as human beings.
Has the time for South Korea to treat its women with dignity, respect, and basic decency finally come?
The world waits for the day when #MeToo becomes #TimesUp in the country, and with the speed in which the pro-women movements are catching on, it looks like it won't be long.
Photos from @seungriseyo