Goo Hara’s tear-stained face was swollen with grief when she took to Instagram Live in October 2019. In the live-stream, an emotional Goo – a former member of girl group Kara – held her hands in a prayer symbol as she spoke for three minutes to her “sister”, fellow K-pop star Sulli, a former member of the popular girl group f(x). The 25-year-old had taken her own life in her apartment the day before.
While not addressing the circumstance’s surrounding Sulli’s death, Goo instead said goodbye to her friend for the last time. “Live well up there and do everything that you wanted to do,” she said, as thousands of fans watched her pain unfold in real time. “I will live hard and work hard for you.”
Yet a little more than a month later, Goo, 28, was found dead in her home. She, too, had died by suicide.
... For many young Koreans, K-pop is a desirable career choice – a lucrative and exciting opportunity to be a part of the pop behemoth that has become South Korea’s best-known cultural export. It’s an industry worth $7.5 billion, and its popularity now extends beyond Asia, with members achieving a level of global success unprecedented in music history. The phenomenally popular boy band BTS had the third best selling album of 2020 (behind Taylor Swift and The Weeknd), and last year Blackpink became the best-selling K-pop girl group in history. But something is very wrong inside K-pop, and it points to a deeper malaise throughout South Korea.
There has been a spate of suicides and high-profile sex scandals involving K-pop stars in recent times. At the height of their fame, these young performers seem to have buckled under the strain, unable to live up to the demands placed on them to be polished, picture-perfect ambassadors of this effervescent pop music. Prior to the suicides of Sulli and Goo, Kim Jong-hyun, 27, a member of SHINee, took his own life in 2017 after speaking about the intense pressures brought on by success.
Then in March 2019, several male K-pop stars, including Seungri, a member of boy band Big Bang, Choi Jong-hoon, a former member of FT Island, and singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young were implicated in a spycam sexual abuse scandal, after Jung shared videos of women in a group chat. The case resulted in five- and six-year prison sentences for them respectively for their roles in gang raping drunk, unconscious women. Allegations also arose over Seungri’s ties to Burning Sun, a nightclub he founded where date-rape and sexual assault allegedly took place.
In the case of Sulli and Goo, it soon emerged both women had been harassed online for months, if not years. Sulli had experienced sexist abuse and cyber-bullying from thousands of faceless male “anti-fans” over her conduct and appearance. Goo had been hounded over a court case with an ex-boyfriend about a sex tape he allegedly filmed without consent.
According to Mano Lee, a Seoul based K-pop columnist, the sexism and misogyny that female stars face is a symptom of the way women are treated in wider society. “A lot of Korean women can relate to the issues that female celebrities deal with. They have experienced it themselves. While many feel unsafe due to the pervasiveness of molka, gender-based violence and victim-shaming,” she says.
Molka – from mollae, Korean for secret, and ka for camera – means the illicit filming of women. There has been widespread outrage over the spycam epidemic. In 2018, almost 6800 cases of hidden-camera crimes were reported to the Supreme Prosecutors’ office. In some cases, cameras were hidden in women’s public toilets and motel rooms, others involved the filming and sharing of videos of women taken by partners and former partners.
The revelations of the Jung Joon-young spycam scandal provoked fury across the nation. “K-pop tries to present a cleansed image of male stars as being kind, generous, that they are unlike patriarchal, sexist and unstylish Korean men,” says John Lie, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “The shock came because of the gulf between the illusion and the reality.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
A subculture of women who collect hyper-realistic baby dolls is growing around the world. For some, it’s much-needed therapy after losing a child or infertility, while others see the tiny toy humans as a collectible – part art, part addiction. Writer Kelli Korducki goes inside the thriving reborn doll industry
What I've LEARNT
marie claire's original cover girl reflects on the past 25 years of her life, and explains how she used her supermodel status to agitate for change
BACK TO THE '90s
Nostalgia for the ’90s has hit new heights thanks to its pop-culture power and fearless fashion. But could you really live there again? Alexandra Carlton ditches the digital world and steps back in time to find out
A NEW ERA
As the latest incarnation of Miss Dior launches, we talk to its long-time face, Natalie Portman, and ask how she has evolved with the iconic fragrance over a decade
Skinny jeans, sexy selfies, celebrity icons … With opinions diverging and society dividing down generational lines, we asked a Gen Z, a Gen X and a Gen Y (millennial) to weigh in on today’s hot-button topics
Cannes' Shining Return
After last year’s cancelled event, the 2021 Cannes Film Festival was a dazzling display of decadence as Chopard once again dressed the stars in headline-worthy jewels
Shame Pain & Fame The Dark Side Of K-Pop
Bright and irresistible, K-pop provides the beat to South Korea’s youth culture. But behind the perfect smiles and dance routines are tales of sexism and abuse, writes Crystal Tai
NICOLE UP CLOSE
Legendary actor, sought-after producer, champion for women, proud wife and mum. Nicole Kidman’s CV is studded with glory, but she insists she’s only just getting started. For our special 25th birthday issue, editor Nicky Briger chats to the homegrown superstar about longevity, love and her latest role
The Day That Changed The World
Twenty years on from the world’s worst terrorist attack, three women who were caught up in the unprecedented disaster of 9/11 share their stories of horror, heartache and hope
Fighting For A Brighter Future
In the Northern Territory where the youth incarceration rate is three times the national average, a group of First Nations grandmothers are uniting to prevent the next generation of children from being locked up and let down. Alley Pascoe meets the women on the frontline.
Evolution of the App
The introduction of the iPhone in 2007—or, more specifically, Apple opening its App Store to third-party developers in 2008—turned out to be one of the most consequential developments ever to hit the home automation market.
Adolphe Sax – How To Invent An Instrument
The story of the saxophone
Hair Metal Returns!
Investors are buying up song rights, and lots of artists need cash
THIS GOES TO TWELVE
Idaho-resident bassist Mark Rowe owns what is thought to be the world’s largest collection of 12-string basses. We meet him for a chat about the thang behind the twang...
Bass of Tomorrow
We can think of a few string manufacturers who claim to make the best-sounding products in the world. Dr Jonathan Kemp doesn’t just make that claim—he can prove it, too. Hywel Davies is blinded with science...
Reflections on ways of experiencing jazz
As We see it – Hi-fi Arcana I
Some Stereophile readers will surely remember—some may even have in their collections—Christian Marclay’s 1985 vinyl release Record Without a Cover, surely one of the oddest records ever, right up there with the dying-rabbit record and the seven-inch single that’s tinted yellow by the band’s actual urine.
Celebrate While We Incinerate
Malevitus has never sounded weirder or more beautiful.
John Paul & George's Guitar Revolution
Fifty years ago, amid the Beatles’ noxious breakup, John Lennon and Paul McCartney took six-string matters into their own hands just as George Harrison was reinventing himself as a slide guitar deity. Below, Guitar World drops in on 1970, a truly unique year in Beatles history.
Back To The Future
Actress and musician Janina Gavankar is about to break out in The Way Back