K-pop fans often engage in creative and productive fan activity, but sometimes they don’t and media is always there to capture it. Nothing stirs up the spectre of the “obsessed K-pop fan” like a “scandal.” As we know, K-pop fans are diverse, but the kind of recent “scandals” experienced by Park Bom (of 2NE1) and Sulli (of f(x)) shed some light on the role cultural context and media plays in global fans’ understanding of “scandal.” Unlike global fans, Korean K-pop fans experience K-pop within the context of Korean culture and their responses are captured by Korean media. Because of their proximity to the K-pop scene, the displeasure of Korean fans can affect change beyond the control of the Korean agencies.
In June 2014, major English-langauge K-pop media sites reported a “scandal” involving Park Bom. Many based their coverage on Korean-language sources that characterized the resurfacing of a drug investigation of Park Bom four years ago as a “scandal.” Based on a report by Segye Ilbo, a Korean-language publication published in New York, allkpop reported: “However, it has been revealed that the prosecutors (back in 2010) decided to suspend her case, meaning they would neither investigate nor punish her for the crime. This news has left many wondering why she was let off so easily and whether it was due to her celebrity status.” seoulbeats used sources that include Ilyo, a Korean site: “But despite registering a case against her, the case was suspended a month later, with presumably no progress made on the case since. ‘Since’ being late 2010, because this case happened four years ago and we’re only learning about it now. Naturally, questions are being asked. Mainly: how did Bom get away without being charged?”
Similarly, Korean media cited by English-language outlets characterized fan response as a backlash. hellokpop cited an article from the Korean portal site Naver that called for Park Bom to retire: “The top comment on a Naver article, which has more than 1,100 thumbs up said Park Bom should ‘retire’: ‘She needs to retire from the industry. Doing drugs alone is an extreme crime but smuggling them in? If this was China, she’d be given the death sentence.’ A similar comment received more than 7,500 thumbs up in another Naver article.”
A similar pattern happened with the “scandal” involving Sulli and Choiza (of Dynamic Duo). Sulli’s relationship with Choiza was characterized as a “dating rumor” by Korean media, a characterization passed on in English-language coverage. Using sources from Star News, a Korean language site, and Nate, another Korean web portal, Koreaboo reported that “Dynamic Duo’s Choiza and f(x)’s Sulli are under fire once more with rumors rebounding about their relationship.” Koreaboo had earlier reported on “a scandal after photos of their alleged date circulated online.”
English-language media outlets using Korean-language sources is nothing new. The practice is essential for global fans who want information about Korean artists. In the case of “scandal,” these stories highlight the cultural differences between fans. I am reluctant to give such responses the side-eye just because they do not resonate with my own experience as an American fan. Our celebrity culture is quite different. Global fans may be perplexed at how a four-year-old investigation of Park Bom and rumours about Sulli’s dating life are relevant, but Korean media suggests that Korean fans see such incidents as scandalous.
In addition, the displeasure of Korean fans has real-world impact. Korean K-pop fans are unique in that they are at ground zero for K-pop. They are often the first and primary audience for the activities of K-pop artists, including concerts, fan meetings and television shows. Many Korean fan clubs have developed formal relationships with Korean agencies through official fan clubs, many of which international fans are not able to join. While some believe this arrangement puts Korean K-pop fans at the mercy of Korean agencies, “scandals” in K-pop demonstrate how much agency such fans have.
Both Park Bom and Sulli have withdrawn from professional activities as a direct result of the negative perception of very vocal Korean fans. Negative public perception played a role in Park Bom’s withdrawal from the variety show Roommate: “Park Bom said through her agency, YG Entertainment, ‘I am very sorry to all for having a great controversy because of me. Because I feel terrible, I don’t have the confidence to film for ‘Roommate’.'” SM Entertainment’s official statement offered this explanation for Sulli’s break from promotions: “Because she is suffering physically from her ailments and mentally from the malicious and untrue rumors that are spreading about her, Sulli has requested that she take a break from all entertainment activities.”
Such events suggest that the perception of Korean fans are contextualized by Korean culture. Rather than pawns in the public relations game of Korean agencies, Korean K-pop fans have in impact on the careers of Korean artists. At the same time, those perceptions are shaped by Korean media for global fans.
CallMeNOONA. “Park Bom Will Not Attend ‘Rommate’ Filming.” Soompi. 5 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
—–. “f(x)’s Sulli to Take a Break From All Entertainment Activities.” Soompi. 24 July 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
Gaya. “Park Bom Revealed To Have Tried Drug Smuggling.” seoulbeats. 30 Jun 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
ohgelie. “Sm Entertainment and Amoeba Culture Respond to Sulli and Choiza’s Dating Photos.” koreaboo. 26 Sept 2013. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
Philip. “Breaking: 2NE1′s Park Bom hit with drug smuggling allegations.” hellokpop. 1 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
—–. “Netizens saying Park Bom should ‘retire’ and be thrown in jail.” hellokpop. 1 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
“Rumors About Dynamic Duo’s Choiza and f(x)’s Sulli Dating Re-Ignite From Photos of Sulli Found in Choiza’s Wallett + Amoeba Culture Releases Statement.” koreaboo. N.d. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
“[Updated] 2NE1’s Park Bom revealed to have attempted to smuggle drugs + YGE preparing to release a statement.” allkpop. 30 Jun 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.
Media, K-pop Fans and Scandal: Park Bom and Sulli by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.