K-pop stars are speaking out about how they are expected to be perfect as they lift the lid on the cutthroat industry in the wake of a string of suicides from high-profile stars.
The culture of K-pop is one of South Korea’s most lucrative soft power exports and has drawn a massive audience of young people internationally.
But the suicide deaths of two popular female stars less than two months apart has drawn attention to the industry’s darker side and the intense pressures that artists face.
K-pop star Sulli, whose given name is Choi Jin-ri, took her own life in October. Her friend and fellow star, Koo Hara, killed herself a month later. Both stars had been victims of severe bullying on social media.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, K-pop artist Amber Liu said there was an industry expectation to be perfect in looks, performance and discipline.
K-pop artist Amber Liu has spoken out about how artists are expected to be perfect in the cutthroat industry in the wake of a string of suicide deaths from high-profile stars
‘If you aren’t under a certain weight, you can definitely get cut,’ Liu said.
‘You’re told what to do, what to say, what to think.’
Liu, who was Sulli’s former bandmate, said she has witnessed firsthand the toll the industry, as well as cyberbullying, can have on its stars.
‘When (people) hear you’re getting help they’re like, ‘What? Why are you getting help? That’s weird’,’ she said.
‘That stigma against mental health is just so strong.’
K-pop stars, who are often referred to as ‘idols’, usually have an average retirement age of about 30.
In some extreme cases, stars can undergo training for 10 years before they can make their debut in the industry.
Alexaundra Christine Schneiderman, who goes by the stage name Alexa, said stars are often put up on a pedestal.
Alexaundra Christine Schneiderman, who goes by the stage name Alexa, said stars are often put up on a pedestal
K-pop star Sulli, whose given name is Choi Jin-ri, took her own life in October. Her friend and fellow star, Koo Hara, killed herself a month later
‘They’re called idols, because they’re put on this pedestal of kind of like untouchable perfection I guess in the public’s eyes, in the consumers’ eyes,’ she said.
‘I myself have struggled with self-confidence for years and finding the capability to love myself, but I have recently stumbled upon that.’
As an example of the pressures stars can face, Alexa said that she filmed her debut music video over a grueling 48 hours.
‘The music video took two days to film, 24 hours each day, almost,’ Alexa said. ‘With like six costume changes. Six or seven set changes.
‘Whenever I’m performing, I always get this adrenaline rush.’
While the industry mostly projects a wholesome image on stage and screen, the recent suicides and a series of other scandals and public personal breakdowns, have shed light on the culture’s darker side.
Police said Sulli, the 25-year-old found dead at her home in Seoul in October, had been suffering from severe depression in the lead up to killing herself.
The portrait of late K-pop star Goo Hara is seen surrounded by flowers at a memorial altar at a hospital in Seoul after she took her own life
Hara, who debuted with five-member band Kara in 2008, had only just launched her comeback two weeks prior and had recently toured Japan to promote her new solo single. She is pictured above on the right in 2012
Sulli had been a child actor before joining the girl group f(x) in 2009. She left the group in 2015 to return to acting before launching her solo artist career in June last year.
She had been vocal about cyber bullying and had sparked controversy in conservative South Korea in the weeks prior after she spoke out about not wearing a bar.
Her 28-year-old friend, Goo Hara, was found dead just a weeks later after taking her own life.
Hara, who debuted with five-member band Kara in 2008, had only just launched her comeback two weeks prior and had recently toured Japan to promote her new solo single.
The comeback came after a previous suicide attempt six months earlier. Following the initial suicide attempt, Hara apologized to fans for the ‘commotion’ and said it was difficult to fight depression.
Sulli had been a child actor before joining the girl group f(x) in 2009. She left the group in 2015 to return to acting before launching her solo artist career in June last year
She started speaking out about cyberbullying and pleaded with fans for more positive social media comments.
K-pop stars like Hara and Sulli are often picked up by agencies at a young age – usually in their early or mid-teens – and their lives then taken over by grueling training.
Many stars face tremendous pressure to look and behave perfectly in an industry powered by so-called ‘fandoms’ – groups of well-organised admirers who spend enormous amounts of time and money to help their favored stars climb up the charts and attack their perceived rivals.
In return, the stars are expected to tread carefully in an industry where today’s most-fervent fans can be tomorrow’s most vicious critics if their idols fail to meet their expectations – or ‘betray’ them.
Drug use or drunken driving are seen as career-breakers, while behavior that causes a ‘stir’ – anything from a social media gaffe to a failure to smile ceaselessly at public appearances – could be criticized for years.
Many are constantly chased by paparazzi and camera-touting fans who share or sell every single detail and images of the stars’ daily lives online for public scrutiny.