K-POP Dark world of K-Pop revealed from rampant misogyny to...

Dark world of K-Pop revealed from rampant misogyny to plastic surgery, lethal diets and even suicide

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IT was the moment that cemented the rise of “K-culture” in Britain.

Four South Korean pop princesses were left giddy with excitement after being awarded honorary MBEs by King Charles this week.

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Record-breaking K-Pop band Blackpink, with members Jisoo, Lisa, Jennie and Rose, performing at California’s Coachella Festival in AprilCredit: Getty
Girl band Blackpink meeting King Charles at Buckingham Palace earlier this week

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Girl band Blackpink meeting King Charles at Buckingham Palace earlier this weekCredit: Getty
Earlier this month, YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk was given a six-month suspended jail sentence after trying to keep the lid on a drugs scandal

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Earlier this month, YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk was given a six-month suspended jail sentence after trying to keep the lid on a drugs scandalCredit: Getty

While the move left stuffy royal watchers scratching their heads, it came as no surprise to fans of Blackpink — who became the first Korean band to headline a UK festival at BST Hyde Park in the summer.

Band members Jisoo, Rosé, Jennie and Lisa have broken YouTube records with 82million subscribers and are part of the movement known as K-Wave or Hallyu, which has seen Korean culture explode into the mainstream, fuelled by the TikTok generation.

Ever since South Korean singer Psy’s Gangnam Style burst on to the airwaves 11 years ago, UK pop fans have become increasingly obsessed with hitmakers such as boyband BTS and girl group Fifty Fifty.

Korean TV shows — dubbed K-Drama — Squid Game, All Of Us Are Dead and Oscar-winning movie The Parasite have also been a huge hit with UK audiences.

But the shiny surface of Korea’s entertainment industry conceals a dark underbelly — and at least four stars have killed themselves in the past four years.

The man behind Blackpink’s ­success was last month given a ­suspended prison sentence for trying to cover up a drug scandal involving one of his singers.

Two other agency bosses have been jailed for sex offences and another leaked a sex tape of his star when she broke her contract.

Talent signed by academies are put through gruelling training regimes while surviving on cups of vegetables and are even offered loans for plastic ­surgery to achieve the perfect look.

Kids as young as ten are made to sign crippling “slave contracts” which can lead to them earning nothing for up to 15 years.

‘I was left fighting for my life’

Executives have been accused of sexual exploitation and “pimping” girls out — while banning them from dating to keep their image squeaky-clean image fans.

Blackpink’s Rosé — real name Roseanne Park — claimed she was left “fighting for her life” during the harsh K-pop training programme with talent agency YG Entertainment.

The 26-year-old singer, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, said: “When I got to Korea I was like, ‘This is quite intense’.

“I noticed that there were 12 other girls who had been training day and night for about five years. And I had just arrived there.

“I ended up fighting for my life, training for my life because I couldn’t accept the fact that I’d just be cut and sent back.”

 Band member Jennie Kim, 27, who studied in New Zealand before finding fame, walked off stage in June this year citing sickness — but online rumours are rife that she is quitting.

Earlier this month, YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk was given a six-month suspended jail sentence after trying to keep the lid on a drugs scandal.

Seoul High Court heard how he threatened a trainee to change their police statement claiming that B.I from boyband iKon was involved in the drugs scene.

In April, Astro singer Moon Bin, 25, took his own life in his upmarket apartment in Seoul’s Gangnam district

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In April, Astro singer Moon Bin, 25, took his own life in his upmarket apartment in Seoul’s Gangnam districtCredit: Getty
Zombie Detective actress Jung ­Chae-yull was found dead, just days after Moon Bin's death

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Zombie Detective actress Jung ­Chae-yull was found dead, just days after Moon Bin’s deathCredit: Instagram
In January 2021, 26-year-old actress Song Yoo-jung died of 'unknown causes', according to her agency

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In January 2021, 26-year-old actress Song Yoo-jung died of ‘unknown causes’, according to her agencyCredit: Instagram/@u_jjooung
In 2019 Choi Jin-ri, known as Sulli, 25, took her own life after being relentlessly bullied online

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In 2019 Choi Jin-ri, known as Sulli, 25, took her own life after being relentlessly bullied onlineCredit: Getty
Singer Goo Hara, 28, is believed to have killed herself following a row with her boyfriend Choi Jong-Bum

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Singer Goo Hara, 28, is believed to have killed herself following a row with her boyfriend Choi Jong-BumCredit: Getty

The pop idol — real name Kim Hanbin, 27 — later admitted having a drug problem and in September 2021 was given four years probation for buying marijuana and LSD.

Another agency head, Jang Seok-woo of Open World Entertainment, was jailed for six years in 2012 for sexually assaulting his trainees, two of them minors. And a talent hunter, named only as “CEO Kang”, was given 20 months in prison in 2017 for “brokering” four of his female trainees to a wealthy Korean businessman in Los Angeles.

K-pop idol Baek Ji-young, 47, says she almost lost her career after her manager, Kim Shi-won, secretly recorded them having sex then leaked the tape online when she attempted to change her contract.

She tried to sue him but he fled to Los Angeles, where he was jailed for having sex with a minor — which he also recorded.

Artists have also been embroiled in a string of sex scandals, including one known as the Burning Sun plot.

Police officials were arrested in the 2019 scandal in which women were drugged at nightclubs and offered to rich businessmen to rape. Singer and TV host Jung Joon-young, 34, was jailed for five years for his part in the scandal, raping drunk unconscious women before posting footage to a chatroom.

Ex-Big Bang member Seungri was also involved and given 18 months for arranging prostitution for investors.

The past four years have seen a spate of young celebrity suicides.

In April, Astro singer Moon Bin, 25, took his own life in his upmarket apartment in Seoul’s Gangnam district just days after 26-year-old Zombie Detective actress Jung ­Chae-yull was also found dead.

In January 2021, 26-year-old actress Song Yoo-jung died of “unknown causes”, according to her agency, while in October 2019 Choi Jin-ri, known as Sulli, 25, took her own life after being relentlessly bullied online for speaking out on mental health issues and women’s rights. In a reflection of South Korea’s very conservative values, she was also vilified for not wearing a bra on TV and accidentally flashing a nipple on Instagram.

Singer Goo Hara, 28, is also believed to have killed herself in 2019 following a public row with her ­hairdresser boyfriend Choi Jong-Bum, who threatened to release sex tapes of them together.

‘Problems can be fixed with surgery’

He was jailed for a year in July 2022 for blackmail, and Hara’s death gained support from the #MeToo movement.

Experts say perfectionist culture has left the country with the highest female suicide rates in the developed world — 15 in every 100,000 deaths.

South Korea also has the highest suicide rate among the 38 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In recent years it had begun to fall overall but rose again due to more young women taking their own lives. Commentators suggest the uptick may be due to the expectation for women to earn money for their household while still shouldering the traditional burden of child rearing — while experiencing the additional pressure of misogynistic abuse.

Korean society has a stigma towards suicide, with young people expected to not reach out for help as it may affect their family’s reputation.

In an internet post, Sulli claimed her friends “left me” after she tried to talk about her depression.

 Lee Je-wook, a psychiatrist at Bright Future Neuropsychiatric Clinic, said: “The use of antidepressants is the lowest in the world in South Korea. Here, there is a tendency to regard getting medical help as embarrassing and only for ‘crazy’ people. Perceptions against such treatments are improving, it is still tough for celebrities to seek help for depression.”

The changing attitude could not come fast enough for teens in training to be the next big thing.

They face strict orders to diet and exercise — as Ladies Code singer Sojung revealed when she told on Korean TV that she starved herself so much her ­hormone levels dropped to “those of a menopausal woman.”

K-pop idols advocate unhealthy eating, and girl group Nine Muses say they found success using the “paper cup diet” — nine small cups of rice, grains, vegetables or fruit per day.

Amber Liu, of the girl group f(x) told US daytime show This Morning that female stars have to measure up to a checklist which includes whether their legs are the right shape.

She said: “My skin was too tan and I had to brighten it. I lost a lot of weight. I developed a lot of really bad eating disorders.” If the face doesn’t fit, teens are offered loans for plastic surgery, say insiders.

Kim Min-Seok, a former trainer with YG, told the website Vice: “If a girl has a bad face and a good body, the problem can be fixed with plastic surgery.”

Students are also made to sign contracts which see them earn nothing for up to the first 15 years of their careers.

Former K-pop idol Prince Mak claims studios stipulate that groups repay the amount invested in them during training and 90 per cent of income goes straight to the company until the band turns a profit.

As Blackpink received their ­honorary MBEs for environmental work, which included making videos about global warming, K-pop bosses will no doubt have been patting themselves on the back.

But many are asking if the ­country’s stars are paying too high a price for their fame.

Blackpink show off their honorary MBEs at Buckingham Palace

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Blackpink show off their honorary MBEs at Buckingham PalaceCredit: Getty
BTS stars at a show in LA

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BTS stars at a show in LACredit: Rex
South Korean singer Psy’s Gangnam Style burst on to the airwaves 11 years ago

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South Korean singer Psy’s Gangnam Style burst on to the airwaves 11 years agoCredit: Reuters

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