In South Korea, prospective K-pop stars spend countless hours practicing singing, dancing and acting with hopes of becoming famous. When they hit it big, they are worshipped like gods and goddesses. Fans have imposed unrealistically high expectations onto their favorite performers. They expect these entertainers to maintain an innocent public image, so when a scandal breaks out, stars are met with substantial backlash, which can be a lot to handle. Hate comments and death threats can take a toll on one’s mental health, causing idols like Sulli and Goo Hara to feel depressed and take their own lives.
The latest breaking news relates to EXO’s Chen, also known as Kim Jong-dae. He caught fans off guard by releasing news of his upcoming nuptials. He would be the first member out of the group to marry before going off to complete his mandatory military service. On Jan. 13, he apologized in his letter on Instagram, telling fans that he has found someone that he truly wants to spend his life with. He is currently engaged to his pregnant fiancée and will be expecting a blessing soon.
In response, SM Entertainment congratulated him. Most of the fandom, known as EXO-L, also appeared to be supportive and happy for this new milestone. They are also receptive to the pending release of his new song, titled “Alone,” with many saying that they will want to listen to his beautiful voice.
However, unsupportive fans of the EXO-L ACE faction wanted to kick him out of the group. They were angry at Chen and deemed him a selfish traitor since negative news ruins the reputation of the group. Having a child out of wedlock goes against conservative traditions within the Korean culture.
In South Korea, there is a strong emphasis placed on Confucian values and in bringing pride to one’s family. Giving birth to children without being married first would show that the family did not raise their child well. Additionally, many are unsure if such dynamics are stable enough to support child rearing. Other concerns include maintaining family harmony and preserving blood lineage.
Additionally, the fans felt betrayed for spending time and energy on the celebrity and were quite shocked by the sudden news. To fans, they felt like they were cheated on by a significant other. They gave all their love and support to someone who hid secrets from them. As things continued to boil over, fans staged a protest in front of the SM Town Coex Artium. Fans revoked their allegiance to Chen by burning merchandise and chanting that there was no future for him in EXO.
As shown, K-pop culture can become toxic when fans feel like idols belong to them. Admiration becomes an obsession. According to professor Kwak Keum-joo, the “saesang phenomenon” occurs when people overindulge in this form of entertainment. Fans have nothing else to do, so they spend time obsessing and chasing after stars. They constantly stalk their prey and watch the moves that these entertainers make. This in turn, suffocates the idols that crave privacy and peace. In this situation, Chen is not fully able to be happy since he has to consider the effect his life has on his fans.
At the end of the day, fans have to realize that their idols are people too. Despite being under constant scrutiny, most of them want to lead normal lives. They want to be happy with whomever they choose to spend the rest of their lives with. It is not up to fans to control the actions of their stars. Instead of leaving malicious comments, fans can try to be open-minded and accept the circumstances of the situation. Moving forward, it’s also important to proceed with tolerance and respect because this leads to more social acceptance of people who have children before marriage. Fans can change the narrative and turn this moment into a positive learning experience.