South Korean singer Som Hein just did something very unexpected for a K-pop celebrity. The former contestant of reality TV show Idol School not only opened up about her dating life, she has also come out as bisexual.
Her coming out made headlines in South Korea, where celebrities are expected to never talk about their romantic relationships and where being gay is still considered taboo.
She first came out in an Instagram photo posted on July 31, where she said that she’s bisexual, but the public didn’t notice until she posted another photo of her kissing “her girlfriend” on the cheek on August 9.
Korean media outlets caught wind and immediately wrote about the photo, moving the singer to confirm her relationship status in her Instagram Stories a few hours later.
“I am in a same-sex relationship,” she said.
Following the reports, Som instantly became the top searched term on Google Korea and the number one trending topic on search engines Naver and Daum.
Relatively unknown before her coming out, Som's announcement captured the public’s attention because being an openly gay celebrity is almost unheard of in Korea.
Today, comedian Hong Seok-Cheon is the only well-known showbiz personality to be openly gay. He first came out in 2000 and no one has done the same until singer Holland made his debut as “the first K-Pop idol to be openly gay” last year.
For this, Holland was featured in international publications like i-D, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Vogue, but the reception was not as warm in Korea, where music videos featuring him making out with another man was rated 19+ by regulators. This means his videos cannot be aired on national or cable television, even though other videos featuring straight couples kissing are allowed.
While there have increasingly been more gay characters in Korean TV shows and movies recently, it remains difficult for Koreans to be openly gay in real life. Same-sex marriage is still illegal, and in March, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked South Korea as the fourth least friendly to the LGBTQ community out of 36 countries.
Korean celebrities are also expected to stay single, at least in the eyes of the public, because being in a relationship is perceived as betraying their fans.
Reports of Korean celebrities dating almost always come from paparazzi shots and some idols are made to issue public apologies when their romantic relationships are made public.
In September last year, singer Hyuna and labelmate E’Dawn were kicked out of their agency, Cube Entertainment, for revealing that they were dating.
Since coming out, Som has received a lot of messages, with many applauding and supporting her courage. However, she has also gotten hate messages.
To the haters, she said: “I did not come out to attract attention. And I am not forcing anyone to accept or understand my sexuality. I merely want to love openly and with confidence.”