It is said that there’s always more than meets the eye and this phrase couldn’t be more apt for the entertainment industry in Korea. While there are great moments to experience in being a K-pop idol, there are also dark times that come with the price of fame. From an all-out witch hunt to closed-door abuse and seedy engagements behind-the-scenes, here are some of the most shocking celebrity scandals that have happened in the history of Korean pop.
#1 Epik High’s Tablo
Dan Lee, known most commonly by his moniker Tablo, experienced a damaging smear campaign when a group of Internet users banded together in an online forum called TaJinYo to attack the authenticity of his Stanford education back in May 2010. The intention behind the deep-dive investigation into his education was a result of the seemingly questionable duration of his years at the prestigious university, where he took only three and a half years to graduate with both a bachelors and a master’s degree.
As if the scrutiny into his personal life wasn’t enough, members of TaJinYo began digging up information about Tablo’s family to fit their narrative and implicate his entire family into being complicit liars about each member’s achievements over the years. With no countermeasure from his management, the personal attacks badly affected his family and resulted in Tablo agreeing for a camera crew to follow him back to the Stanford University’s registrar office where he had his diploma, transcript and credentials cross-checked with the official school records.
This last ditch effort became a two-part special on MBC, which vindicated him and cleared him of the false accusations. The rapper subsequently filed a suit against 20 of the online forum members which became a legal battle that lasted for two years, and eventually saw eight of the TaJinYo participants sentenced to prison for breaking digital network related laws.
#2 Kim Hyun Joong
The controversy started back in August 2014 when reports surfaced of assault charges filed against Kim Hyun Joong by his then-girlfriend, detailing an account of an abusive relationship with startling evidence to back up her claims. While the Internet went into a frenzy over who to believe, an official statement was released by his agency admitting to the pair’s relationship with a clarification that the incident was an unintentional one-time occurrence due to a verbal argument. They even addressed the cause of her broken ribs, which they claimed was an accident when the couple was merely joking around.
The woman in question decided to drop all charges against Kim Hyun Joong if he apologised and admitted to his mistakes. The singer obliged and all the charges were dropped, though he was still given a fine of five million KRW. While everyone may have thought that it was the last they’d hear of this, a report in the news brought both parties back to the spotlight when his former flame claimed that she was 10 weeks pregnant with his child. Although he was ready to accept his responsibilities after a positive paternity test, he found himself embroiled in an exhausting legal dispute over her alleged miscarriages.
His ex-girlfriend was ultimately found guilty of fraud and defamation as evidence had proven that she had tampered with the supposed text messages, and manipulated photos of pregnancy tests which she had submitted as evidence in support of her self-made claims.
#3 Baek Ji Young
Before she became a successful veteran in the industry, Baek Ji Young was a victim of a sensationalised sex tape scandal that nearly ruined her career. It all started in the peak of her debut when an explicit video of her and her former manager surfaced on an online pay-per-view porn site. The immediate effect it had resulted in radio stations pulling out her tracks from their playlists as well as television stations cancelling her upcoming appearances. Contrary to the expected behaviour of controversial female artistes of her time, the songstress held a press conference where she stated that she had been filmed without her knowledge. She went on to denounce the actions of her former manager as she took a firm stance to prevent other women from becoming victims like her.
While the public was left to digest her statement, her then-manager Kim Si Won corroborated her claims in a live phone call to an entertainment program where he also confirmed the authenticity of the footage. Unfortunately for Baek Ji Young, the verbal confirmation led to the video becoming highly sought after, and in a matter of days, the footage was posted to private home pages and shareware sites for easy download. Despite this setback that caused her to take a five-year break from the limelight, the ballad queen still bravely fought to stay on in showbiz, while the man who almost ruined her career fled to the US where he is currently serving time for statutory rape charges committed during his stay in the land of the free.
#4 JYJ’s Park Yoo Chun
In 2016, JYJ member Park Yoo Chun found himself the subject of shocking rape allegations when four women filed complaints against him, accusing him of sexually assaulting them in a bathroom setting. As the police was only able to ascertain that sexual activity did take place between Yoochun and his accusers, they were not able to determine if force or intimidation took place to consider the rape charge. While the police continued with their investigation, the media frenzy continued with reports that detailed his alleged mode of operation, as well as his troubling behaviour from the past.
Despite the thorough investigative process, the police failed to find any other evidence pertaining to the allegations made against the idol. As such, Park Yoo Chun was acquitted of all the sexual assault charges that had been brought up against him. It was reported that out of the four charges brought against him, only one charge was deemed relevant to the case while the other three did not have enough evidence to be made into a case and proven false. Even though he has since cleared his name, he was still charged with soliciting prostitution and fraud as he had promised money in exchange for sex.
In return for the grief they put him through, the singer-actor countersued his first two accusers of blackmail and false accusations. The court proceedings concluded with a dismissal of charges for one accuser, while the other was found guilty and sentenced to prison along with her two accomplices. Two years after the scandal, Park Yoo Chun is now reportedly facing a civil lawsuit from his second accuser, who had held off filing her lawsuit in the hopes of an earnest apology – which she did not get.
#5 Yoo Seung Jun
2002 saw the almost immediate downfall of Yoo Seung Jun, one of South Korea’s best-selling K-pop artistes from the late 90s. The singer had enjoyed a rather successful career and popularity among fans before he made the fatal decision to renounce his Korean citizenship to become a naturalised American citizen. Despite his impending enlistment, he headed straight to America following his concert in Japan to allegedly obtain his US citizenship. He claimed that the decision was made with the intention to further his career while using the opportunity to bid his family farewell before serving.
Unfortunately for him, domestic fans were not convinced by his claims as the news broke around the time he was drafted. His actions became a widespread controversy that angered many Koreans who felt he had turned his back on an essential aspect of the Korean culture as all male citizens aged between 18 to 35 years old, regardless of their status, are supposed to complete their mandatory military service.
For the next 13 years, the former K-pop singer sought opportunities in China and made no attempt to disclose any information behind his military no-show. This only proved to convince Koreans that he had intended to evade his military obligations. In 2015, a tearful Yoo Seung Jun appeared in a video where he tried to explain his actions and beg for a chance to return to Korea. However, Koreans remain hardened about their perception of the once-beloved singer, with the Ministry of Justice stating that there was never any intention to lift the ban or reinstate his Korean citizenship.
Even with the failed first attempt, the singer tried to apply for an entry visa again the following year, only to have it denied by the Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles. It was reported that this was his second and final appeal to lift the entry ban, and since he was unsuccessful in doing so, the entertainer is no longer able to return to his birth country for good.
If there is one major scandal that everyone should know about, it should be of S#arp; the first generation K-pop co-ed group made up of two male and two female members. Their idol dreams were realised by group member Seo Ji Young’s influential family, where her father spent quite a fortune to set up the entertainment company in 1998 to spearhead his daughter’s debut.
The group had initially started out with five members and had done exceptionally well under the careful guidance of Roo’Ra’s Lee Sang Min. However, as the quintet reached their peak, two members left which resulted in the company recruiting a fourth member, Lee Ji Hye, who took on the role of a main vocalist. The sudden inclusion and importance of the newest member made Seo Ji Young jealous, which began her onslaught of relentless bully and torture.
Throughout her years as part of the fairly popular group, Lee Ji Hye had endured both physical and verbally abuse by Seo Ji Young and the people around her. She had never once fought back, until the fateful day at a KBS radio show where she retaliated with a shove after receiving an insult from Seo Ji Young. Due to the intense tension and inability for the twosome to work together, the company was forced to disband the quartet. At a press conference following the announcement, Seo Ji Young had allegedly paid the group’s manager to lie on her behalf so as to pin majority of the group’s issues on Lee Ji Hye. But instead of painting Seo Ji Young as the victim she wasn’t, the manager decided to reveal the truth to the media.
Though the members have since parted ways, it was reported that Seo Ji Young continued to find ways to antagonise Lee Ji Hye, even visiting her at the hospital with a bouquet of flowers for the dead. The group eventually met up 11 years after their disbandment to clear up any misunderstandings and were thankfully able to reconcile, putting an end to the S#arp debacle once and for all.
#7 Open World Entertainment
News of Open World Entertainment CEO Jang Seok Woo’s heinous acts first broke in early 2012 when he was arrested on multiple charges of sex crimes committed against his female artistes and trainees, which included sexual harassment, assault and rape. Based on CCTV footage obtained by the police, it was reported that the crimes took place within the confines of the company’s building on the fifth floor and the rehearsal studio in the basement.
In a matter of days, the number of first-hand accounts and news reports helped to shed light on the seedy underbelly of the company’s hidden operations. Not only did the former CEO use his power and influence to abuse the people that trusted him with their careers, he was also using his position to coerce male idols into committing the same crime.
The case has since concluded with no charges made against the male idols (due to the inability to prove the allegations), while the main perpetrator Jang Seok Wook was sentenced to six years in prison for the sexual assault of his former agency’s trainees, which included two minors and one who wasn’t an official trainee at the company.
Back in 2016, the Korean entertainment industry was caught up in an alarming illegal prostitution scandal that reportedly involved sponsors and female celebrities. When news broke of an arrest made alongside the reports of four notable female artistes who had been charged, netizens were quick to speculate that former CUBE Entertainment singer Gina Choi (better known as her moniker G.NA) was somehow a part of that list. Their suspicions were indirectly confirmed later when Ilgan Sports conducted a seemingly anonymous interview that dropped hints pertaining to her real identity.
Despite admitting to the charges of prostitution, G.NA denied knowingly getting involved as she believed she had been tricked into committing the crime. As opposed to the public’s belief that she had received the money as part of a sex transaction, the songstress said that it was given to her as a loan from a friend who later told her that she didn’t need to return the money. Instead, she just needed to do him a favour by meeting with a big fan as if they were on a blind date.
While she had thought that what transpired later between her and the supposed fan was a natural progression in their relationship, she realised that it had all been a pre-arranged meeting set up by her so-called friend, and that the money she had assumed was a loan was really his payment for sexual favours. As a result of this unfortunate turn of events, G.NA was found guilty of prostitution and was fined two million KRW. Since then, she has been staying out of the limelight, only posting twice on her Instagram page in the last two years.
In late 2018, Korean news outlet XSportNews released a breaking coverage that brought to light the three-year long abuse that rookie boy group TheEastLight had suffered at the hands of Media Line Entertainment CEO Kim Chang Hwan and producer Moon Young Il – which included being beaten with a bat and getting strangled by guitar strings. Despite an official statement from the agency that refuted the claims, a press conference was held by TheEastLight’s leader Lee Seok Cheol, who openly recounted the traumatic abuse that he and his brother (and fellow member) Lee Seung Hyun had experienced since March 2015. Due to the negative attention and pressure the agency faced, a decision was made to terminate the contracts of the remaining members of TheEastLight.
Instead of banding together, the following months saw the case take an ugly turn when the agency and two members of the former boy group held a press conference in an effort to discredit the brothers. In spite of the irrefutable evidence presented alongside the recent indictment of the abusive producer, the four tried to paint a different picture of the whole fiasco, seemingly shifting the blame onto the brothers.
Fortunately, the Lee brothers soldiered on in their pursuit of justice which finally saw the agency’s former CEO and president indicted on related child abuse charges. As of now, their former producer has already pleaded guilty on all charges during his first trial on 4 March 2019, but the ordeal continues for the brothers who are due to appear as witnesses for the next trial on 19 April, which involves the two key figures of their former management.
#10 Seungri, Jung Joon Young and FTISLAND’s Choi Jong Hoon
Apart from being the first K-pop scandal of 2019, this is by far one of the biggest controversies to ever hit the Korean entertainment industry in years. Since the infamous assault case at Burning Sun (the night club that started it all), fans of the K-world have been hit with numerous shocking reports that have quickly unravelled the dark truths of showbiz. From the first big expose by news outlet SBS funE which reported BIGBANG Seungri’s alleged involvement with soliciting prostitutes for his would-be investors in 2015, to the larger-scaled allegations of the K-pop idol’s appalling group chat with other male celebrities that shared hidden camera footage of women, it always seems as if there is more to be revealed the next day.
The intense scrutiny of this case has since led to the release of more text messages which got netizens speculating the identity of the other male celebrities involved. Subsequent updates and investigation eventually revealed them to be actor Jung Joon Young and FTISLAND member, Choi Jong Hoon; who, alongside Seungri, have all announced their retirement from the industry. Though investigations are still ongoing, it has been reported that arrest warrants may soon be issued for two non-celebrities involved as well as Jung Joon Young, who could receive a prison sentence of up to seven years and six months if found guilty.
Are there other K-pop scandals that you think should make the list? Tell us in the comments below!
More related stories: Here’s A Comprehensive Timeline of How The Allegations Stacked Up Against BIGBANG’s Seungri, #MeToo Hits Korea: 5 K-Idols Who Spoke Up About Female Empowerment