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Unmasking: the Toxicity in South Korean Idol’s Love Life

The portrayal of a profession as an idol, particularly a South Korean idol, has consistently exuded a sense of allure, where glamor and talent seamlessly intersect. This perception is largely shaped by the captivating visuals through which these idols are presented. Korean idols are frequently depicted as flawless, or at the very least, are expected to embody such perfection. As the landscape of K-pop has evolved over the past decades, these idols are compelled to conform to a specific image that often surpasses the conventional expectations associated with western celebrities or even ordinary individuals.

Every aspect of their public persona is meticulously managed by their agencies to ensure they are presented in the most favorable light to the public and their fans. While not universally applicable, the concept of idols usually revolves around romance or love, something sweet and feeds into the mind of adolescent teens. as conveyed through their songs, lyrics, marketing strategies, and interactions with fans, often fosters the idea of an ‘exclusive relationship’ between fans and idols. This frequently results in the development of parasocial relationships, wherein fans form one-sided emotional connections with the idols. Technology significantly contributes to reinforcing these mindsets through various services and platforms that enable fans worldwide to interact with idols publicly or through private chat rooms, such as the feature found on the Bubble app, where idols share exclusive pictures and text messages to the fans.

For a rational and level-headed person informed about this feature, being a fan can bring happiness and flattery, as it allows for increased interaction with idols, irrespective of whether the idols are actually addressing the individual fan. Unfortunately, some kpop fans are notorious for their fanaticism. While not all fans exhibit extreme behavior, a subset may go to great lengths for their idol, often failing to perceive them as real human beings and instead viewing them solely as objects of desire and admiration, this leads for some fans to think it’s okay to follow the idols to their private schedules, their dorms or house, even booking the same flight or hotel that the idols are staying in whenever they go abroad, these are the ones that can no longer be addressed as fans but stalkers, in korean they are usually called ‘sasaengs’.

These are the fans who react strongly when their favorite idols are exposed or revealed to have a partner (It’s worth noting that the term “exposed” is used here because kpop idols typically aren’t allowed to publicly disclose their relationships, or even have one especially early in their careers). From throwing fits on online forums and harassing the celeb or partner, selling or throwing out their merch, or even protesting straight to the company for the removal of the idol hence ending their career as an idol just because it breaks their little fantasy of the idol only belonging for themselves.

And sadly enough, the companies of these idols who are suppose to be protecting and defending these idols does the opposite, idols are often made to write apology letters and post them on their social media or SNS, a recent case can be seen with the popular girl group, Aespa, where their leader named Karina was exposed to be getting into a relationship with the well-known actor Lee Jae-wook.

At first most of the public actually supported the news, congratulating the couple for the blooming love and only a few was shown having a negative reaction towards the news, but a few days after the news Karina would post a apology on her instagram account for surprising & disappointing her fans with the news, and the majority of the fans thought that she shouldn’t have even written an apology for this because dating and falling in love is a very normal and human thing to do. But since it’s so looked down upon in the kpop industry (sometimes even more than actual crimes) even without heavy pressure from fans an idol felt obligated to come out with an apology. 

Another recent case, involving a rookie group member from the boy group RIIZE named Seunghan, unfolded less smoothly than Karina’s situation. Unlike Karina, who was exposed by a Korean news outlet, Seunghan’s love life details were revealed by an “friend” and a sasaeng, alleging that he had a girlfriend and engaged in inappropriate conversations during an Instagram live session with his fellow idol friend Soobin from the boy group Tomorrow x Together. It was later than debunked that some of the pictures exposed by the sasaeng had been altered to look like him, and for the instagram live, yes he might be talking in a less appropriate manner as an idol but him and TXT’s Soobin are close friends, and friend’s joke around. The revelation significantly impacted Seunghan’s career, as he had just debuted. He issued two apologies, and following the second one, the company decided to suspend his activities. Consequently, Seunghan has been on hiatus since November of 2023 and has yet to show any signs of a return.

The invasion of privacy, inadequate security measures by the company, and the failure of certain fans to treat artists with due respect as human beings represent a longstanding and serious issue within the K-pop industry. Although public outcry has somewhat diminished since the early days of K-pop, particularly in the early 2010s when the response was more severe, the repercussions for idols have remained substantial. Idols were compelled to sever relationships, with some even addressing such matters in press conferences. Additionally, the intense backlash these idols face undoubtedly takes a toll on their mental well-being. 

While K-pop serves as a form of escapism for many, it is crucial to approach its consumption in a healthy manner. It is imperative to express love and support for idols within reasonable bounds, acknowledging that they are just humans like anyone else. Idols have the right to love whomever they choose without facing judgment or shame.

Unmasking: the Toxicity in South Korean Idol’s Love Life

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