Everything about K-Pop is huge. The hit singles, the economic stature, the mechanics of showbiz glamor — even the Google search and Instagram power rankings that tabulate which girl groups, boy bands, or star powered solo idols are working at the top of their game. The boy band BTS, for example, the biggest thing going in an already big international pop universe, have over a dozen Guinness World Records, including one for the most-ever Twitter engagements.
Given all of this enormity, it stands to reason that the tumult of romance rumor, relationship furor, and the drama of idols secretly hooking up would form its own ecosystem. And in K-Pop parlance, that world is where the “netizens” live, internet users and rabid fans who track down every bit (or byte) of juicy gossip or whispered rumor, and ascribe meaning to the minutiae of their idols’ every public gesture. The music and the marketing are key. But in the K-Pop universe, it’s the K-pop fans, shipping for their favorites and generally fulminating over the movements of every entertainment factory-produced young star, who make this world really move. Here’s a rundown of K-Pop’s most scandalous relationships.
Kang Daniel and Jihyo circumvent the dating ban
In August 2019, Dispatch reported that former Wanna One standout and “Nation’s Center” Kang Daniel was dating Jihyo, lead singer of the girl group Twice, and naturally this momentous news nearly broke the internet. “THIS WAS TOTALLY UNEXPECTED,” screamed the subheading on Cosmopolitan Philippines, and the topic trended on Twitter. “If there’s one thing that can console us after knowing that two of our faves are taken, it’s the memes and tweets this news has produced,” Cosmo continued.
While the social media furor of such an announcement was to be expected, what wasn’t was how officially sanctioned the union seemed to be. As a rule, K-Pop stars don’t just casually date. So how had Kang and Jihyo managed to circumvent the controls of their respective management structures?
Turns out, the rules didn’t apply. As The Netline reported, because Kang had established his own management entity with Konnect Entertainment, he essentially represented himself, and could date freely. Meanwhile, Jihyo, while still with JYP Entertainment as a member of Twice, outlasted the company-imposed three-year dating ban that was part of her rookie contract. As SBS Star reported, the two stars’ representatives issued statements acknowledging the relationship, and the internet returned to memeing and tweeting its opinions on the union. Kang Daniel wasn’t ignorant of the storm on social media, and acknowledged it in a heartfelt message to his fans. “I’m really sorry to everyone who may have been very surprised when they saw the sudden news this morning,” Kang wrote (via Soompi.)
Kangta gets caught up in a dating scandal
An original K-Pop idol, singer Kangta debuted in 1996 with the boy bad H.O.T. He has since taken up a solo singing career, and has also been taken up in some scandalous romantic static. As Soompi related, when it surfaced in August 2019 that Kangta was seeing actor Jung Yu-Mi, the report was shut down by the stars’ respective management groups, SM Entertainment and Ace Factory.
Official denials are one thing. But allegations of further hanky-panky are grounds for even more scandal. In the wake of the Kangta and Jung news, racing model Woo Joo-Ahn uploaded a video of she and Kangta getting steamy in a sauna. “The video in question was quickly taken down,” E! Asia wrote. “But not before gaining the attention of eagle-eyed netizens.” Still, the drama continued for Kangta. In an August 2019 Instagram post (via The Korea Times), Korean media personality Oh Jung-yeon suggested that Kangta had cheated with Woo while he was dating Oh in 2016. The conjecture and accusations even led The Korea Times to ask, “Is Kangta a womanizer?” As Allkpop noted, SM Entertainment was forced into Kangta damage control, and the singer shared on Instagram (via Soompi) that his to-be-released single “Love Song” would not be coming out.
By February 2020, the back-and-forth had calmed enough that Jung and Kangta’s reps could publicly confirm their relationship to MyDaily (via Soompi). And according to SCMP, all of this had started when the two idols had bonded over a surprisingly wholesome activity: hiking.
Why Bae Suzy was compared to Taylor Swift
“One of Korea’s most popular actors and one of K-Pop’s most beloved idols are in a relationship,” Koreaboo gushed in March 2018. When actor Lee Dong Wook was spotted out on the town with actor, singer and former Miss A member Bae Suzy, Lee’s management had to confirm the relationship. “Lee Dong Wook and Suzy met each other at a private gathering recently and are getting to know each other with mutual fondness,” the Koreaboo post reported King Kong Entertainment as saying.
While news of their connection set the Internet afire, things got even crazier four months later when Lee and Suzy split. Even with such a brief relationship, the social media blowback was immediate, furiously opinionated, and even mean-spirited. “Some netizens are accusing Suzy of being a ‘serial-dater,’ even going so far as to label the K-Pop star as the “Taylor Swift of Hallyu (Korean Wave) and South Korea’ on Twitter,” The Inquirer wrote, referencing not only the surge of Korean celebrity culture, but Swift’s infamous “long list of ex-lovers” line from her 2014 single “Blank Space.”
Did Suzy deserve this level of shaming? Did Swift? Perhaps not. Luckily, lively netizen discourse on K-pop romances goes both ways. Self-proclaimed “filipino swiftie” and “k-pop stan” @Swiftyves13 might have tweeted the best defense: “If Bae Suzy is the Taylor Swift of South Korea, well soon she’ll be touring a stadium tour, selling platinums and platinums of songs and albums.”
Seo Taiji's secret marriage to Lee Ji-Ah
In the public eye since the earliest days of K-pop with his group Seo Taiji and Boys, fans figured they knew everything there was to know about Seo Taiji. So it was a real surprise when news broke in April 2011 that the veteran musician had been secretly married to Korean actor Lee Ji-ah from 1997 to 2006. As The Korea Times wrote, “The news quickly kicked off a controversy as both the singer and the actress had been thought to be single.” Secretly married? Scandalous!
The clandestine union might not have emerged at all were it not for legal proceedings concerning alimony and property division stemming from the two stars’ separation. But once it became public, the stars’ respective representatives were prepared with statements. “We would like to deeply apologize to all of Lee Ji-Ah’s for surprising them and making them worried with this news,” wrote Lee’s entertainment company KeyEast, according to Aju Business Daily. “From the time of their divorce, Lee Ji-Ah wanted to end the relationship smoothly but due to disagreements they weren’t able to do that.”
With the revelations of the marriage and official statements also came rabid fan reaction, to the point that “Cyber mobs” went on the “hunt for truth,” as The Korea Times put it. The paper reported that a website devoted to tracing Lee’s past had sprung up, with anonymous commenters turning in photos of her grade school days and links to relatives’ social media accounts.
Heechul and Momo dating: Yes? No? Yes!
The rumors started swirling in August 2019: Were Heechul and Momo an item? The often flaxen-haired member of veteran K-pop boy band Super Junior dating someone from Twice, one of JYP Entertainment’s most popular girl groups, would certainly be a story built for the gossip machine. And yet, no. According to Soompi, JYP and Label SJ both denied Market News‘ report, referring to Heechul and Momo as “just friends.” But then the netizens got their wish in January 2020 when The Korea Herald reported Momo and Heechul were dating. And this time around? The report got the official blessing of their respective management groups. In a statement obtained by The Korea Herald, a rep for Label SJ said, “After getting along as close colleagues of show business, the two have recently started liking and dating each other.”
But wait, Distractify asked. “Didn’t JYP Entertainment ban Twice members from dating?” The answer is yes (remember Kang Daniel and Jihyo?), but since the three-year ban had been lifted by the time these two became an item, Momo was free to date whoever she pleased. What a relief! After all, the K-pop ecosystem always needs new gossip to feed on.
The Taeyeon and Baekhyun rumors
The Korean entertainment website Dispatch is a clearinghouse for romance rumors, and in 2013, one of its biggest obsessions was over the alleged relationship between two prominent SM Entertainment stars, Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation and EXO member Baekhyun. Photo collages clogged gossipy corners of the internet highlighting how they would wear the same headphones or bracelets; Dispatch cameras found them late at night, sitting together in a car. Clamor for confirmation of the relationship continued until June 2014, when multiple outlets revealed that the rumors were true.
“Report: Taeyeon and Baekhyun went on five dates last month,” wrote Hello K Pop breathlessly. Allkpop quoted a Dispatch source as saying the stars had been “dating for 4 months now in the utmost secrecy.” And SM finally released a statement to OSEN (via Soompi) confirming that Taeyeon and Baekhyun were an item. Scandal over? Not a chance.
“Fans call Taeyeon ‘desperate’ and ‘shameless’ over first public appearance,” wrote Hello K Pop, citing angry fans’ online posts regarding the Girls’ Generation vocalist’s arrival at Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. Soompi recounted that Taeyeon apologized to fans present at the airport arrival, apparently for not telling them sooner about her relationship with Baekhyun. Drama from the dating announcement soon hit the EXO member, too, with fans chanting “traitor” at him during a public appearance, according to Soompi.
No wonder K-Pop stars try to keep their dates under wraps!
Kai and Krystal get the netizen treatment
In the case of K-pop idols Kai from EXO and f(x)’s Krystal (or “Kaistal,” as the inevitable celebrity portmanteau put it), the two pop stars’ 2016 romantic relationship was an open secret, to the point that Internet speculation and invasive snooping from fans ran to ridiculous and invasive levels.
“Rumors say that EXO’s Kai and f(x)’s Krystal own an apartment where they elope to for their secret dates,” Allkpop wrote, and detailed the lengths one fan went to in order to identify a parking lot where Kai and Krystal were photographed together. In another post, the site explained how someone purporting to be a clerk at the convenience store frequented by the couple actually posted the receipts from their purchases online, everyday items like ramen and snacks, but also — dun dun dun — condoms.
Despite this nastiness, or perhaps because of it, the Kaistal union was short lived. The couple split after only a year of dating, with the breakup itself making the rounds of K-pop gossip and fan sites. Korea Portal even suggested that celebrity scandals and breakups might be part of government disinformation campaigns!
Choiza, Sulli, and tragedy
It was news when actor and f(x) member Sulli started dating South Korean rapper Choiza. Sulli was a big star, certainly — as Allkpop noted, she was named Korea’s Most Googled Person in 2017 — but there was also their age difference: Sulli was 21, while Choiza was 35. And though their relationship certainly fed the Internet gossip beast, it wasn’t until after their split that tragedy struck.
In October 2019, Sulli was found dead in her Seoul-area home. Authorities told outlets she died of apparent suicide, and the star’s admitted struggles with depression and anxiety, not to mention her comments on Instagram Live (via The Korea Times) where she opened up about the pressures of fame, took on a new light. Sulli’s relationship with Choiza received scrutiny, too. “After news that Sulli had taken her life, Internet users went on a rampage and attacked Choiza,” Malay Mail reported. “Some even went to the extent of accusing Choiza of being responsible for Sulli’s mental state.” Choiza offered his condolences in an Instagram post. “We spent beautiful moments together and it was with great reluctance to send you away but those memories will remain with me until I close my eyes. This heart will always miss you.”
According to Reuters, Sulli’s death inspired many fans to support a petition urging the adoption of a real-name online comment system, in order to combat toxic Internet bullying.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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