The Korean music industry does not allow relationships. The love of the fans must be enough

The Korean music industry does not allow relationships. The love of the fans must be enough
The Korean music industry does not allow relationships. The love of the fans must be enough

In early March, Korean singer Karina posted an apology on Instagram. Her transgression? She admitted that she is in a relationship with actor Lee Jae-wook. That the frontwoman of the Korean pop band Aespa was forced to make such an apology is not an extraordinary situation in this industry.

“I know how much I hurt my fans,” Karina wrote in her apology, adding: “I want to make it up to you now, I’ve always been honest with you. You are truly precious to me.”

When fans found out that Karina was in a relationship with a Korean actor, they protested outside her agency’s headquarters with indignant messages saying, “Are you not getting enough love from your fans?” or “Apologize or you’ll see a drop in album sales and empty concert venues.”

Karina and Lee Jae-wook’s relationship only lasted five weeks after it was made public. The couple broke up due to psychological strain caused by hateful comments from fans.

Breakups in k-pop due to fan pressure are not rare. Blackpink’s Jennie and EXO’s Kai split a month after announcing their relationship. The very first victim of k-pop’s strict relationship culture was Park Joon-hyung, a member of k-pop band god Ten was asked by an agency in 2001 to leave the group after reports that he was in a relationship.

After the wave of criticism, Park Joon-hyung spoke at a press conference where he tearfully commented on the situation. Fans and other band members protested his departure from the group. The singer later commented on this situation several times: “I was very unhappy. For the first time, someone from the industry has spoken about the relationship. Suddenly I became a criminal for all the media.’

Although idols’ love lives have since become less taboo for k-pop fans, being open about their relationship is a prerogative reserved for established stars, while newcomers – like Karina – are discouraged from dating altogether so as not to jeopardize their budding popularity. The agencies that represent the stars cannot profit enough from them.

Some “hardcore” k-pop fans form parasocial relationships with individual idols. They spend a significant amount of time and money on their favorite celebrity, creating an intense emotional bond. They feel like they know the celebrity on a personal level, while the other party doesn’t even know they exist. “The idol’s personality is expected to be romantically available,” explained Stephanie Choi, a k-pop expert at the University of Buffalo’s Asia Research Institute. A certain form of innocence is often promoted, especially among young women.

One of the most famous k-pop victims is singer and actress Sulli, who faced an onslaught of internet trolls and cyberbullying after going public with her relationship. Sulli has often criticized conditions in the industry, after which she admitted that she suffers from social phobia and depression. In 2019, she committed suicide. During 2023 alone, the media reported five deaths among Korean idols that suggest suicide.

Celebrity factory

Singer Karina’s apology and subsequent breakup with her partner are just another example of how destructive k-pop can be.

Fame and money are the biggest draw for young Korean men and women in the k-pop industry. He catches them and won’t let go. Agencies that financially support the creation of individual groups are always looking for skinny girls and boys who meet Korean standards of beauty. Smooth skin, big eyes, a thin figure and a childlike appearance are some of the most important criteria. They calmly address them even on the street.

For agencies, K-pop celebrities are just a product that can be easily replaced. And those who do not obey their rules will not be successful. They don’t even receive fair compensation for strenuous training and interference in their personal lives. Agencies make the most money from k-pop idols, which account for 60-70% of the idol’s profits.

Future celebrities have to pay for the special training they commit to. When they are successful, the agency keeps their earnings until they pay off the debt. Therefore, they are pressured to put themselves and their families in debt if they never succeed. Behind the seemingly alluring life of a Korean idol hides a cruel reality.

The article is in Czech

Tags: Korean music industry relationships love fans


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