Imagine the TRL-shattering backlash that would have occurred back in 2004 if a member of the Backstreet Boys and a guy from Good Charlotte were both brought down in the same sex-tape scandal. That comes close to translating the scandal that is currently rollicking through South Korea and its K-Pop scene, but still doesn’t quite capture the full picture.
Bubbling for weeks, the scandal hit its crescendo this week as both Seungri, 28, a member of one of the most successful male K-pop bands of all time, and Jung Joon-young, 30, the lead singer of a rock band, radio host, and frequent celebrity reality-television participant, both announced that they would be effectively retiring from show business immediately after a scandal broke involving attempts to lure investors through the use of prostitutes and a secret group chat that involved the dissemination of photos and videos of women in sexual situations who were not aware they were being filmed. Concurrently, police are investigating the situation and the two could eventually face charges. Seungri, reportedly, will not be allowed to leave the country in the meantime.
To understand the magnitude of the scandal, however, you have to go back to the beginning of Seungri’s career. He’s not just some member of any K-pop group, but a founding member of Big Bang, a band dubbed the “Kings of K-pop” whose popularity helped to expand the reach of South Korea’s cultural offering beyond the nation’s borders. Indeed, Big Bang was among the first K-pop bands to sell out a solo arena show in America and was the first boy band from the genre to top Billboard‘s World Digital Songs charts. While rapper G-Dragon would prove to be the band’s breakout member (he’d go on to collaborate with American acts like Diplo, Flo Rida, and Missy Elliot), Seungri stood out as the band’s youngest member, a strong vocalist, and a frequent choreography of the band’s early dance moves.
Seungri was also the first member of the band to court controversy to the point of being temporarily suspended. Back in 2012, near the height of the band’s success, a Japanese tabloid published a story detailing Seungri’s sexual interludes with Japanese women, with an anonymous woman claiming that the singer enjoyed choking her during a one night stand. Seungri took time off from the band, but after detailing what he learned from the scandal in an interview (though, apparently without admitting to anything) he began promoting solo material.
While his solo career proved successful in South Korea, he also began pursuing a number of entrepreneurial ventures including a dance and music academy, a record label, a chain of ramen restaurants, and involvement in nightclubs including Monkey Museum in China and the Burning Sun club in Seoul. It’s the latter that’s gotten him into hot water.
Amid a police probe into suspicions of drug use and the solicitation of prostitution, the venue suddenly announced that it would close in February. According to the BBC, local media has also reported that Seungri’s holdings company may have attempted to lure new investors by offering them prostitutes procured through a messaging app known as KakaoTalk.
Local media is now also reporting that the singer was part of a secret group chat of men on the platform who shared videos and photos of nude women in sexual situations that were taken without their consent. That’s where Jung, a known friend of Seungri’s comes in.
Jung is not quite as notable to international audiences. His band Drug Restaurant plays a sort of garage rock reminiscent of the Strokes, but Jung might be better known for hosting a radio show, as well as his involvement in several Korean variety shows. Jung was also a part of the group chat, and admitted to as much while tendering his retirement from show business.
“I admit to all my crimes,” Jung said in a statement originally given to Korea’s Herald. “I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chat room, and while I did so I didn’t feel a great sense of guilt.”
Seungri had offered his a day before on Instagram to his nine millions followers, but unlike Jung, did not admit to any wrongdoing. According to E!, he also did not consult his record label before releasing the statement.
“At this point, I think it would be best if I retire from the entertainment industry,” he wrote. “I decided on retiring from the entertainment industry as the issues that I caused a societal disturbance with are too major. Regarding the issues that are being investigated, I will be investigated diligently and reveal all the suspicions.”
The scandal also illuminates a growing problem in South Korea of women secretly being filmed by tiny cameras that the BBC characterized last year as an epidemic. In addition to women being filmed unknowingly in private sexual situations, cameras have also been placed in locations like bathrooms and changing rooms. One women told the BBC that it was now customary to check a bathroom stall for cameras before using it, and the city of Seoul now has a small army of 8,000 employees to check all of the city’s public restrooms for cameras every day. Feminists in the country have held protests, and kits including tools to either block lenses or break the cameras are now regularly bought and sold in the country.
It is not surprising, then, that many fans are not sorry to see Seungri retire. Even before his announcement, a petition circulated online demanding that he be removed from Big Bang immediately. It’s unclear how the band will proceed. Three of the band’s other four members are currently serving their two-years of required military service (the fourth had already finished). Seungri had been scheduled to enlist later this month.