Clean-cut K-pop fallen from grace

This picture taken on Tuesday shows K-pop star Jung Joon-young (C) surrounded by reporters as he arrives at Incheon international airport in Incheon. — AFP

Seoul — With wholesome looks and increasingly global fanbases, K-pop has sold its stars as the ultimate squeaky clean pin-ups. But a burgeoning sex scandal in the industry shows how pervasive discrimination and abuse are in South Korean society, activists say.

In the space of just two days, singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young and BIGBANG boyband member Seungri have announced their retirements from showbusiness.

Jung, 30, admitted filming himself in illicit act and sharing the footage without his partners' consent, while Seungri -- real name Lee Seung-hyun -- is embroiled in a sex-for-investment criminal investigation.

Both were members of the same chatroom where Jung and others shared illicit content of at least 10 women, according to broadcaster SBS.

The South has been battling a growing epidemic of so-called "molka", or spycam videos -- mostly of women, secretly filmed by men.

But K-pop stars generally cultivate clean-cut images -- and are actively promoted by the South Korean government as a key cultural export.

Many face tremendous pressure to look and behave perfectly in an industry powered by so-called "fandoms" -- groups of well-organized admirers at home and abroad who spend enormous amounts of time and money to help their favored stars climb up the charts and attack their perceived rivals.

With fortunes at stake they would have more to lose than most by being embroiled in a scandal, even after a wave of #MeToo accusations in the still socially conservative South over the past year.

Lee Moon-won, a popular culture critic in Seoul, said the multilingual Seungri -- who has multiple business interests -- was popularly seen as "ideal cultural export".

Seungri was interviewed by police at the weekend over accusations he lobbied potential investors by offering them the services of prostitutes at nightclubs in Seoul's posh Gangnam district. — AFP