Other than kimchi, K-POP may be Korea’s most famous export. Through numerous songs, pop stars from BTS to PSY have spread Korea’s culture all over the world. However the trust built between K-POP and their following is shattering as the industry’s dirty side has been revealed by a major sex-tape scandal.
The scandal started with one man’s arrest at a club called Burning Sun. Burning Sun had been popular, and one of the reasons was because Seungri (Lee Seung-Hyun), a former member of one of the hottest K-POP groups, Big Bang, was managing it as one of seven directors. On November 24, 2018, Kim Sang-Kyo was assaulted by another club director only identified by the surname Jang when he witnessed Jang harassing a drunk woman and tried to help her. Then he accused the club of physical assault and the police stepped in the case. However, the police arrested him. In spite of Kim’s black and blue face and broken ribs, the police regarded the director Jang as a victim and Kim Sang-Kyo as an attacker. He was the only one got arrested.
Kim posted the story on the website called ‘Bobaedrim’ and it went viral. The people blamed the incompetence of police, and suggested the possibility of a collusive relationship between the police department and Burning Sun. The CCTV videos and other evidence amplified these suspicions. Over 600,000 people petitioned for a re-investigation. As a result, the police started investigating everyone whose involvement was suspected including Seungri. The investigation revealed Burning Sun CEO Lee Moon-Ho’s drug use and police bribery. The messages sent through the app KakaoTalk revealed criminal act by Seungri, who resigned from K-POP, and caused damages to his company, YG. That was the beginning of the sex video scandal.
On February 26, 2019, Seungri’s conversations in Kakao Talk went public. His messages were more horrific than anyone could’ve expected. In one chatbox, he commanded Burning Sun’s staff to bring some prostitutes to their VIPs. In another, Seungri and his acquaintances, including some famous singers, had been talking about raping women and sharing videos which were taken without consent. The messages are filled with jokes and laughter. Given the innocent public persona of the entertainers, the disclosing of their distasteful messages had a stronger impact on the public.
The police department firstly summoned Jung Joon-Young. He was a well-known and likable singer, but was seen in the chat box, saying things like, “I was caught filming and sending you the video,” “If I wasn’t caught I would have dated her and did her,” “You raped her lol,” and so on. Jung even suggested to rape the women after making them take the drugs. According to one of his victims, in 2016, she once had drunk alcohol with 5 men including Jung and blacked out. When she woke up, she found herself lying on the bed naked. Beside her, Choi Jong-Hoon, who formerly belonged to FT Island, were laughing. Amid the public furor in which some said that even the word ‘garbage’ was insufficient to describe him, a lot of fans felt betrayed and demanded apologies or explanations, but right before Jung held a press conference, he sent a message to his friends, saying, “I will act as if I am really sorry.” While Seungri often suggested other members to clean them out to erase the evidence, he kept the chat boxes where he had shared his sex videos, ultimately providing more evidence to the police department.
Other singers in the chat groups included Lee Jong-Hyun, Roy Kim, Yong Joon-Hyung, Jung Joon-Young, Seungri, Choi Jong-Hoon, Kang In, Jung Jin-woon, and Eddie Kim.
The others were summoned as the investigation progressed. Jung’s chat box found that Choi Jong-Hoon had once committed drunk driving and one of the presidents of a company helped him conceal his act. Their crimes astounded Korea. Since Jung had taken so many sex videos using his spying cams, his relationships with other celebrities were in the spotlight. There was a lot of speculation about what female singers and actors who had close relationships with Jung might be victims of the spying cam. Some appalling comments implied wanting to watch Jung’s videos. A lot of female idols and actors had a hard time facing these rumors.
On May 15, bench warrants towards Seungri and other CEOs including director Jang were denied. Since the investigation processed for 105 days, and a great deal of evidence was collected, there was public outcry at the result, with some suspecting bribery. This is reflects the broad lack of trust many Koreas have in judges. The Burning Sun case has not only broken trust for K-POP supporters, but it has also raised awareness around other celebrities and the possibility of them having had committed similar acts. Although the people implicated in the sex video scandal are expected to get sentences, the maximum prison time they’d receive would only be 7 years. As said by Seungri in his chatbox, “Korean law is shitty and that’s why I love it.”
Picture from Jerome Govender, Pexels