Scandals in KPop part 1

Posted on February 1, 2011


Living life as a ‘celebrity,’ is often said to be like living under a microscope, with your whole life being scrutinised and secrets unearthed.

KPop music is no exception and, although paparazzi aren’t as much of a problem compared to our Western standards, KPop stars still have to watch their back for netizens who have detective skills that could compete with the CIA!

For today’s post in my “K-Pop Newbie” thread, I thought I should share with you guys some stories and examples of the sort of ‘scandals’ that have been floating around the KPop world in recent memory. Moreover I find it interesting what some might consider a ‘scandal’ and how these scandals are dealt with and received- What are your thoughts on these ‘scandals?’ are they really that scandalous?

“Sunbaes 선배” and “Hoobaes 후 배”

To understand Korean culture, one should understand and appreciate that, the differences between Korean and Western culture is more than just racial. Like most of Asia, South Korean society is still very much instilled with Confucian thoughts and one of these thoughts is to hold respect for ‘rituals.’ Rituals become most apparent in Korean culture when you look at the hierarchy in relationships, where the general consensus is that you should show respect to your elders and that elders should show “benevolence and concern towards juniors.”

In KPop music, ‘respecting your elders’ is broken down in two ways- the first is (obviously) by age and it should be noted that the way you address somebody who is even ‘just’ a few months older than you could mean the difference between a lifelong friendship or being deemed offensive. Generally speaking, if somebody is older than you, then you would have to ask their permission if you want to talk to them in a more ‘buddy’ way than as a ‘sunbae’ (senior.)

The second way we’d break down this relationship of respect in KPop is to consider who debuted first but this is where things can get a bit confusing and wires easily crossed- so bear with me.

So lemme use an example here; Victoria from girl group f(x) was born in 1987, making her older than some of the members in boy group Super Junior, however, her group debuted a few years after Super Junior did; consequently, in their personal life, some of the guys in Super Junior might have to call her Noona (a respectful term to mean ‘older sister’), but if she was talking about them in public then she would have to show respect to them all (as a whole, regardless of age) and the fact that they debuted before her and call them her ‘Sunbaes.’

Krystal from girl group f(x) received backlash for disrespecting her Sunbae

This whole hierarchy is taken very seriously in KPop and a few ‘hoobaes’ (newbies) have faced a backlash from their seniors and the public for not showing respect in this way; for example Krystal, a member of girl group f(x), appeared on a Korean variety program in 2010 and appeared to be disrespecting an elder by being preoccupied with her mobile phone whilst they were telling a story- as a result, she faced public criticism and had to make a public apology. By our Western standards, I’ll admit that having to apologise to somebody for your actions, simply because they are older than you seems odd; however, it should be understood that ‘respecting an elder’ is part and parcel in Korean society and without this factor, Koreans wouldn’t know how to address one another.

Dating and relationships

Seriously, should dating be considered a scandal? I’ll admit, this is a topic that I’d feel mixed reactions about if it was my favourite celebrity who was out there and ‘doin his thing;’ if that person ended up in a relationship, any unbiased sentimentally I may feel would turn to mush and something innately ‘fangirl’ might take over! I’m not saying I’d be boiling rabbits here or anything, but you do (at least) end up feeling jealous. And yet, when you see your favourite celebrity hit 30 and they say that they wish they had found love and had got married sooner- your ‘human’ side takes over and you just feel for them.

In KPop, dating and relationships is made difficult for various reasons; firstly (from my perspective) Korean culture (like my Chinese/Vietnamese roots) still places a lot of value on the ‘purity’ of a woman i.e. that she’s not ‘tainted’ by dating so freely. Consequently, I feel that female Korean celebrities might have hard choices to make if they do decide to admit to dating because there is a fear there that they might become labelled as ‘promiscuous’ and/or will find it hard to be accepted as a daughter-in-law later on in life because of this.

Secondly, there is that undeniable problem with fans; sometimes there’s a small margin of whom who can’t deal with the fact that their celebrity wants to date and get married and so, make it difficult for them to justify any relationship. With backlash and being made to feel like an outcast- dating in KPop is (understandably) a guarded secret.

Shinee member Jonghyun bravely confirms his relationship.

However, change is slowly coming; in October 2010, Jonghyun, member of popular boy group “Shinee,” addressed some dating rumours that had been floating around and confirmed that he was dating actress Shin Se Kyung. This act of bravery (of confirming his relationship) was surprising because of his popularity and (relatively) young age. Whilst Shin Se Kyung did receive hate messages on her own webpage, the majority of feedback on the couple’s relationship was positive – the backlash could have been extreme enough to have destroyed their careers!

Ultimately, dating and relationships should be treated the same regardless of stardom- I think that if two people love each other enough, then they should be able to handle and understand any ‘consequences’ that come with it and so should be left free to date. KPop celebs and dating shouldn’t be known as a ‘scandal,’ it should just be acknowledged as the truth and accepted- even if it may cause fits of jealousy amongst the fangirls.

Drink driving

In any society, drink driving and it’s consequences, are naturally abhorrent. But, maybe through my own naivety, drink driving is even more shocking when you hear about a famous KPop star committing such crimes because most of these stars are often called ‘idols’ are worthy of adulation. Being an ‘idol’ is not an empty title, with it comes the responsibility of ‘leading by example’ and so these idols should live, relatively, trouble free lives.

However, in 2009, the story of Super Junior member Kang In blew things out the water when he was put in the spotlight for assault charges and drink driving charges.

This is a ‘scandal’ topic which I can understand whole heartedly- there are no excuses for dangerous driving whilst under the influence of alcohol. However, with this story, I find the consequences of such actions really interesting. For months, Kang In was removed from his group’s activities but not from the group- he was and still is a Super Junior member- slowly with time he disappeared out of the limelight, until his recent enlistment into the military in 2010. Some saw forgiveness, feeling that time in the military would allow him to mature, and things seem to have quietened down a lot for him- I’m just wondering what’ll change when he leaves the military in 2 years time; like most scandals, this one was an explosive headline when it hit but can it easily be forgotten? Are scandals so easily forgotten?

Source: Han Cinema,, wikipedia, allkpop

Posted in: K-Pop Newbie