South Korea’s K-pop industry hit by tragedies, scandal in 2019


SEOUL – South Korea’s K-pop culture is one of the country’s most lucrative soft power exports and has drawn a massive audience of young people internationally, especially in other Asian markets.

While the industry mostly projects a wholesome image on stage and screen, a series of scandals, public personal breakdowns and untimely celebrity deaths this year has drawn attention to the darker side of the culture.

March: Lee Seung-hyun, a member of K-pop band Big Bang who goes by the stage name Seungri (picture), was charged with providing prostitutes to foreign investors in his private club, in a scandal that sent shares of his band’s agency, YG Entertainment, plunging.

June: Yang Hyun-suk, founder of YG Entertainment, which managed Seungri and other K-pop artists, stepped down from his duties as chief producer, in the aftermath of drug and sex scandals.

October: Choi Jin-ri, a former member of girl group f(x) who went by the stage name Sulli, died in apparent suicide. She had spoken out against cyberbullying, having become the target of criticism after she spoke out about not wearing a bra in the conservative K-pop industry.

November: K-pop singer Koo Hara was found dead in her home. Police found a handwritten note in which she expressed despair. She had been subjected to vicious attacks online about her relationships with men, local media said.

November: K-pop musician Jung Joon-young was sentenced to six years in prison for raping a woman and distributing a video showing the act. Choi Jong-hoon, 30, a former member of South Korean boy band FT Island, was sentenced to five years prison for the rape of the woman. Both men were members of online chat groups that shared secret sex videos and made jokes about drugging and raping women, the court said.

December: Lee Jae-ho, a 27-year-old South Korean actor who went by the stage name Cha In-ha, was found dead in his home. The cause of death was not immediately known. The singer-actor had left an Instagram post the day before he was found dead, telling his fans to take care in the cold winter.