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serial suicides among K-pop stars – Liberation

In the space of two months, two singers and a singer took their own lives. Industry harshness and online harassment are blamed.

This is a new wave of emotion after the one we have seen in the community of music fans in South Korea in recent months: a few weeks apart, singers Sulli and Goo Hara, both victims of cyberbullying, committed suicide. And last week, singer and actor Cha In-ha, 27, was found dead.

Even though the family refused the autopsy, for his fans, his psychiatric history leaves little doubt as to the cause of his death. These tragedies have sparked a debate about the harshness of the K-pop industry, and the pressure its stars face on a daily basis.


K-pop stars are scouted at a very young age by talent agencies, says Gyu Tag Lee, a professor at Mason University in Icheon, reached by phone. From then on, they received very intense training, dancing and singing lessons, which they had to follow every day after school. They are subject to a special regime, their social life is scrutinized…” Every month, they take tests to find out if they are able to continue their training, or if their career is over. And that’s just the beginning of a life of pressure that goes up and down.

For those whom Gyu Tag Lee calls the “survivors» of this training which lasts several years, it is very hard to maintain a career. Hundreds of bands and stars come and go every year. “There’s a fierce competition between K-pop stars to win the love of their audiencecontinues the specialist. He’s the one who makes and breaks a star, and he’s not forgiving.” Plus, if they fail, they have to pay back the money their agencies invested in their careers.

“Misogynistic harassment”

The K-pop community is very specialexplains Gyu Tag Lee. The stars share a lot with their fans, especially through social networks, where they are expected to show their privacy as much as possible, to interact and show kindness and gentleness. Beyond their talent, it is this involvement that will propel them to the front of the stage. “K-pop fans are very proud to support their idols. They consider that they participate actively, as by a form of unpaid work, in the creation of their fame. In return, they expect a certain behavior from them.”

And this attitude must be irreproachable, especially for women. “Many of them suffer misogynistic harassment, in addition to the pressure related to their status“, adds the professor. Sulli, for example, had become a target on the networks, in particular because she had posted a photo of herself without a bra and claimed to be a feminist. Goo Hara, for her part, had been cyberharassed since she revealed that she was the victim of “revenge porn”: her ex-boyfriend had threatened her to publish videos of sexual acts. Both ended their lives after leaving a goodbye message on Instagram.

An Instagram post from Sulli, where she appears braless in a feminist t-shirt, sparked cyberbullying on social media. She committed suicide in October. Photo DR

Stress and depression

Beyond the music industry, these tragedies reflect a larger problem in South Korea where suicide is the leading cause of death in people under 40, according to a September report by Statistics Korea (Kostat). This is the fourth highest rate in the world.

According to Gyu Tag Lee, “these deaths show the dark side of Korea as a whole. Its very rapid economic development has meant that the mental health of the inhabitants has been put aside, in favor of their contribution to society.It wasn’t until 2018 that the working week was officially reduced from 68 hours to 52 hours. Young people are particularly affected, due to the economic difficulties the country has been facing since the 2000s.

According to a public health organization in Osong, 95% of Koreans say they are stressed, and 7% are affected by depression. This number, which is higher among people over 50, has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the century.

Although these figures may seem alarming, more and more Koreans are going to see a therapist when they show signs of depression: Kyooseob Ha, director of the National Mental Health Center in Korea, points out to the magazine ozy that the number of patients has jumped from 5% to 20% in the last five years. “The government has taken stock of the importance of suicide prevention“, he explains, and more and more means are put in place to fight against the epidemic.


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