Debuting and Getting Kicked Out: Looking at Korean Cancel Culture


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South Korean K-pop fans wait for their idols at a parking lot

Junhyoung (Edward) Kim, Staff Writer

From Crash Landing On You in 2019—reaching nearly two billion views worldwide—to Blackpink—a globally recognized K-pop girl group—breaking records at the 2022 Video Music Awards, Korean media is being focused on by fans worldwide. Ironically, behind the glamor and shining lights, Korean media’s domestic audience has been quickly turning its back on celebrities who fail to meet moral standards, especially when it comes to celebrities’ academic records. This has led to widespread accusations that have tarnished these celebrities’ reputations. Recently, a new question rose to the surface. Are these accusations always correct? 

In Korean society, celebrities go through multiple years of training in their field before making their public appearance. Individuals under an entertainment company to start training to become an idol or an actor come from a variety of backgrounds. Their origins and backgrounds range from middle school students to part-time workers. However, fans have recently been focusing on celebrities’ school records. 

In February 2021, there were many bullying accusations on social media regarding Soojin, a member of (G)-Idle, a popular K-pop girl group. The descriptions specifically revolved around certain negative keywords: hateful speech, drinking, and smoking. “She would call my sibling and my sibling’s friend to the bathroom and make them slap each other and would send group texts saying that my sibling is a loner/outcast,” explained an anonymous writer. A few days later, Seo Shin Ae, a Korean actress who attended the same middle school as Soojin, wrote on social media that she was also a victim of bullying, which “caused deep pain in [her] heart and remain[s] with [her] to this day.” Netizens later figured out that this message was directed at Soojin. Immediately afterwards, Soojin’s international fans came to her defense, which prompted a barrage of hateful comments towards Seo Shin Ae, the alleged victim. 

After a series of denials, CUBE entertainment, Soojin’s management company, admitted that “it is true that there were quarrels between Soojin and the student” and that they have fact-checked many times. “We have proposed a face-to-face meeting between the authors of the posts and us to clearly check the facts, but the parties involved stated that they do not wish to meet,” explained CUBE entertainment’s representative. Despite efforts to mediate the situation, advertisers began ending contracts with Soojin after the rumors were proven true, and Soojin was never found on Korean media again. 

In July 2022, a member of Le Sserafim—a recent K-pop girl group that was named one of the best rookie idol groups to debut this year—ended her career in a matter of months after her debut. Kim Garam, an ex-member of Le Sserafim, received many accusations of inappropriate behavior during her middle school career. After accusations were made, netizens split into two sides. Eventually, netizens found that there were documents revealing that Kim Garam received disciplinary actions from her school, which revealed that she was a involved in bullying others, smoking, and drinking as a minor. Although her management company, HYBE entertainment, initially disagreed with all accusations, in July 2022, the company admitted that the allegations were true, leading to her release from the industry. 

It is soon coming to light that fans’ love and admiration for their celebrities can become a double-edged sword. Cancel culture has been a buzzword for Gen Z, and its buzzing can become really loud when it comes to global stars who can come and disappear in a matter of months. The fact that Korean media has gained a lot of international support also means that many people from different cultures will have different opinions on different situations. As fame can rise and pop like a bubble, fake news that people write from a behind screen can easily contribute to the destruction of an individual’s entire career. Drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable is clearly a subjective matter, but right now, in South Korea, celebrities are constantly disappearing and reappearing. Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves to take one moment before we write something about a public figure, and recognize the power of our words.