Is CEO the cause of Jung's exile from Girls' Generation?
For rabid fans of Korean pop's biggest girl group, it is their worst nightmare coming true - Jessica Jung has been kicked out of Girls' Generation.
Korean management agency SM Entertainment (SM) announced this yesterday but added that the singer, 25, remains signed to SM.
The nine-member K-pop group reportedly renewed their contracts for another three years in August.
Just before SM's announcement, Jung posted on Chinese microblog Weibo that she was "devastated" that she had been "forced out" without justifiable reason.
So what has she done to deserve such a horrible fate?
SM's official reason in a statement yesterday pinned it on her lack of commitment to the group.
Earlier this year, Jung, citing her personal situation, said she would stop group activities after one more album, SM added.
Although the group continued working hard, recent developments such as Jung starting a fashion business had created a situation where the team could no longer go on.
Girls' Generation left for a fan meet in China yesterday without her.
The eight remaining members - Taeyeon, Tiffany, Seohyun, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung and Yoona - looked suitably solemn when they declined to answer media questions about Jung's sudden ouster at Incheon International Airport in South Korea.
But if online speculation on "Jessica's exile" is anything to go by, the truth is that Jung is about to commit one of K-pop's cardinal sins: It seems she has had the temerity to find herself a man who wants to marry her.
The lucky man is Tyler Kwon, the Korean-American CEO of Coridel Group, whose interests include asset management and entertainment.
It was previously rumoured that Jung was the third party in Mr Kwon's break-up with Hong Kong actress Gillian Chung, although all parties have denied it.
Three weeks ago, Chinese media reported that "it looks like Jessica and Tyler will be getting married soon".
They been seen together in China, the US, Hong Kong and South Korea. Mr Kwon has also reportedly met Jung's parents.
As a K-pop industry insider explained it, marriage is like kryptonite for any Korean girl group member. And the typical penalty for the "transgression" is banishment.
The insider, who has worked with many K-pop girl groups, said: "In the past, contracts would state that the girls cannot have boyfriends. So they have to break up with their boyfriends before they are allowed to join the group.
"Nowadays, we are not so strict, but marriage is still frowned upon because of its implications. Our No. 1 goal is to make sure the girls remain scandal-free."
The insider explained: "A husband has every right to take intimate videos and pictures of his wife and that's something we can't not allow.
"What happens if the marriage turns sour and he decides to post these videos online to destroy her? Her image will be ruined and she will take her group down with her."
The insider feels that Girls' Generation will continue to enjoy success as "SM will use this opportunity to shake things up and this may even create more publicity for them".
"In the past, contracts would state that the girls cannot have boyfriends. So they have to break up with their boyfriends before they are allowed to join the group."
- A K-pop industry insider
JUNG'S DEPARTURE UPSETS FANS
Please let this be temporary insanity on SM Entertainment's (SM) part.
This was the online plea from many Girls' Generation fans who could not come to terms with Jessica Jung's sudden departure from the group.
Those who had her as their "bias" - the term used for one's favourite member in the group - were devastated.
Local fan, student Alec Tan, 18, told The New Paper: "It's heartbreaking to see Sica having to leave the team. After all, Girls' Generation would not have come so far if not for every member's contribution.
"I hope this is a temporary arrangement and Girls' Generation will be back to what they were after Sica has settled down with her fashion business."
Tutor Sulin Lim, 23, said that even if it were true that Jung was getting married, SM should not "punish her for finding happiness".
She said: "What will happen when every member wants to settle down? Do we discard them all?"
Full-time national serviceman Muhammad Amirul Pa'at, 21, said: "I'm shocked, devastated and in disbelief. It's like the news just appeared out of nowhere.
"But I'm hoping for the best for Jessica and Girls' Generation."
Some netizens directed their anger towards SM while others were disappointed in their idol.
Wrote superjaaaa: "(To SM) All nine girls recontracted with your company. And just because Jessica has dreams not related to music, you're dropping her like a hot potato?"
Wrote orangethecarrot: "This is inexcusable. SM does not know what loyalty means."
One netizen, vrod187, blamed Jung, saying: "Jessica is not the innocent victim here. She was only thinking about herself."
"What will happen when every member wants to settle down? Do we discard them all?"
- Tutor Sulin Lim
5 THINGS ABOUT GIRLS' GENERATION
1 The group got its name from the title of a 1989 song by Korean rocker Lee Seung Chul.
2 Record company SM Entertainment started recruiting the girls in 2000, with Jessica Jung the first to join.
After having great success with boy group Super Junior, SM wanted a female version.
3 Jung was talent-spotted at a mall in Korea. Seohyun, the youngest, was approached by talent scouts in a subway.
The rest were chosen after auditions or by winning singing and dancing competitions.
4 In 2011, Girls Generation's 2009 single, Gee, was named Song of the Decade by melon.com, one of Korea's most popular online music sites.
5 Entertainment magazine The Sisa Journal named the group Korea's most influential entertainers for 2011 and 2012, and Forbes Korea called them the Most Powerful Entertainers in South Korea thrice.