South Korea

K-Pop’s Squeaky Clean Image Tarnished by Recent Sex Scandals Involving Its Biggest Stars

The multi-billion industry has a serious problem of sexual misconduct and abuse of power.

by Mustika Hapsoro
13 March 2019, 10:47am

Seungri, a member of popular K-Pop group Big Bang arriving for questioning over involvement in a prostitution ring at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seol. February 27, 2019. Photo by YONHAP / AFP

The K-pop fandom is in shambles. This morning a top K-pop celebrity, Jung Joon Young, confessed to discreetly making sex tapes with at least 10 different women and distributing them without their consent.

“I admit to having committed all the wrongs that have been reported," Jung wrote in his apology letter. "I filmed women without their consent, spread [the films] in chat rooms. I did these activities without any guilt."

Jung’s confession came after he was found sharing his own sex videos in a group chat that involved other famous K-pop male stars. Police found several clips of Jung with at least ten different women. Members of the group chat were found to swap sex videos and illicit pictures of women between them. For now, the other members of the group haven’t been identified.

Jung’s sentence is still to be determined as he’s still being questioned by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

Jung's case is a reminder that despite their thoroughly clean-cut image, celebrities are not exempt from South Korea's spy cam porn epidemic or molka, as it's referred to in South Korea, which affects thousands of women every year. Often, cameras are hidden in places like public toilets, fitting rooms, and even bedrooms, to catch women in a state of undress. Most of the time, victims of molka only find videos of themselves after their intimate moments have already been shared online.

State-run news agency Yonhap, reported that molka cases have risen from 2,400 in 2012 to 6,500 in 2017. That’s just the number of incidents that are reported. Last year, tired of the government’s lack of action and weak punishment rate, more than 22,000 women took to the streets of Seoul in protest of molka. Since then, the government has promised to increase measures by conducting daily checks on women’s bathrooms in Seoul.

Activists in South Korea have been speaking up against molka in the entertainment industry in light of recent cases, asking for the public to be more critical of their idols. "This case just shows that male K-pop stars are no exception when it comes to being part of this very disturbing reality that exploits women," women's rights activist Bae Bok-ju told Channel News Asia.

Just days before Jung's confession and apology, Seungri was charged with his involvement in a prostitution ring at South Korea's nightclubs.

On social media, female fans are torn. Many of them have expressed disappointment and disbelief over Jung's and Seungri's cases, but some are still up in arms to defend both Seungri. Seungri announced his resignation from his label YG Entertainment, with whom he had an exclusive contract, and effectively retire his K-pop career, yesterday. He wrote on his Instagram account, "It would be better for me to retire from the entertainment scene at this point,” he said. “As this scandal is too big, I have decided to retire. As for the ongoing investigation, I will take it seriously to clear myself of all the allegations."

Now some fans are condemning the label, using the hashtags #JusticeForSeungri and #BIGBANGis5FOREVER.

Seungri is currently being charged for alleged drug use and lobbying potential investors by offering them prostitutes, which is illegal in South Korea. If proven guilty, he will face a prison sentence of up to three years.

While Jung's and Seungri's cases are outrageous, they are just two out of many that have plagued K-pop in recent years. The industry is rampant with sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and mental health issues. It's also massive—in 2016, K-pop reached $4.6 billion USD in global revenue, making it one of the most influential entertainment industries in the world. This begs a question—what will it take for the K-pop industry to change for the better?