An investigation that began with prostitution and drugs at a Seoul hotspot has now engulfed the world of K-Pop. Earlier this week, Big Bang member Seungri retired from entertainment after his ties to the Burning Sun nightclub’s involvement in sex work and drug distribution became public. Now, three more prominent South Korean idols have also quit the business after confessing to filming women in sexual acts without their consent or knowledge, and sharing the recordings in a group chat and via social media.
According to CNN, approximately 10 individuals were involved in the group chat in which images and video of unsuspecting women were being disseminated. In addition to Seungri, TV personality and leader of the band called (this is real) Drug Restaurant Jung Joon-young and F.T. Island lead guitarist Choi Jong-hoon have been identified as members of the chat, with both retiring as of today. A fourth individual, Highlight’s Yong Jun-hyung, left his band after admitting he watched an illegal video “through the 1:1 chat and exchanged inappropriate conversations about it.”
The case around Joon-young is actually even bigger than the sex scandal, as it also incorporates police collusion. Investigators allege that Seoul police helped suppress evidence of a 2016 inquiry into reports of Joon-young’s illegally filming women. South Korea’s National Police Agency Chief Min Gap-ryong confirmed a “strong internal investigation” is currently underway.
Joon-young, meanwhile, has been dropped by his MakeUS Entertainment management company. The star, who first found fame on Superstar K (the Korean American Idol) and later on the show 2 Days & 1 Night, is fully cooperating with police. He’s already been fired from the latter and will be edited out of the two unaired episodes that have already filmed.
In stark contrast to how such scandals are typically addressed in America, Joon-young has admitted to his wrongdoings and apologized “to all those women who have suffered great damage, and to those who have felt angry beyond disappointment:”
“I acknowledge all my guilt in relation to the content of the talks about me. I have filmed women without consent and distributed it over social media and acted without much guilt during those actions. It was an immoral act unworthy of being a grateful public figure, and it was an act that was too rash.”
Though the extent of Jong-hoon’s involvement in the chats is not clear, he too has stepped away from entertainment and admitted to his misdoings. His management company, FNC entertainment, said in a statement,
“[Choi] feels deep shame for his past wrongful actions and is deeply regretting how he had disappointed many people, also how he had damaged his team through his actions. Until all the investigation concludes, he will comprehensively suspend planned solo activity and activity as a member of F.T. Island.”
Lastly, Jun-hyung denied having been involved in any of the criminal activities, but his knowledge and witnessing of the matter were enough to cause his agency, US Entertainment, to force him to cut ties with Highlight “in order to avoid tarnishing the group’s image and prevent secondary damages.”
In a post on his Instagram, Jun-hyung clarified that the texts and video in question were sent by Joon-young in 2015 and 2016. While he admitted “all of these behaviors were so immoral,” he added that he “could not think of it as a criminal act, but I thought it was uncomfortable.” He went on to say he “was aware of these facts” and he accepted that his inaction “about this serious problem… could cause many other victims.”
The spiraling scandal is the biggest to ever hit the squeaky-clean K-Pop industry. The genre’s stars, known as idols, are held to incredibly high standards by both their management companies and fans. Performers are told when and who they can date, and something as simple as a romantic relationship can seriously tarnish their image. It’s hard to fathom how these extensive admissions of criminal sexual misconduct are being perceived by South Korean culture at large.
From an American perspective, it’s fascinating to watch as each new accused star readily admits to their actions and steps away from the spotlight — something that rarely occurs here in the #MeToo or #TimesUp era. Perhaps there’s something to be said for celebrities living up to the high standards the public sets for them.
(Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly used an image of B1A4’s Jung Jin-young in place of Drug Restaurant’s Jung Joon-young, and the error has been corrected. The author offers his sincere apologies for the mistake, especially to Jung Jin-young.)