Another star quits in K-pop sex scandal
Retirements of Jung Joon-young, Seungri expose pervasiveness of abuse
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 said.
In the space of just two days, singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young and Big Bang band member Seungri have announced their retirements from show business.
Jung, 30, admitted filming himself having sex 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.
South Korea 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-organised admirers at home and abroad who spend enormous amounts of time and money to help their favoured stars climb up the charts and attack their perceived rivals.
With fortunes at stake, the stars 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 country over the past year.
Seoul-based popular culture critic Lee Moon-won said the multi-lingual Seungri - who has multiple business interests - was popularly seen as an "ideal cultural export".
"Most of his fans would agree that Seungri is an exceptionally hardworking star," Lee said.
"On top of his singing career, he somehow mastered Japanese and Chinese, which made him a useful member whenever Big Bang visited those countries.
"Learning two foreign languages while being a K-pop star is definitely not an easy thing."
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.
The 29-year-old is also linked to a police investigation into Burning Sun, a nightclub where he was a public relations director, where staff are alleged to have filmed women with hidden cameras and used alcohol and drugs to sexually assault them.
Before the scandal, Seungri had been nicknamed the "Great Seungsby" after the protagonist of the Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby, for his good looks, his seemingly successful business and the lavish parties he had thrown.
"It's ironic how Seungri and Gatsby turned out to have more things in common after the scandal broke," Lee said.
"Both have engaged in illicit and corrupt activities to gain fame and wealth."
For South Korean women's activists, the scandal is unsurprising. In addition to the secret filming of women in schools, toilets and offices, revenge porn - videos men take without their sex partner's consent and then release online if the relationship sours - is believed to be widespread.
In a society where patriarchal values are still deeply ingrained, circulation of such content can significantly damage a woman's reputation.
According to activist Han Sol at Flaming Feminist Action, spycam videos have long been watched and shared by South Korean men as a form of entertainment and a way to strengthen their "brotherly ties".
"This case just shows that male K-pop stars are no exception when it comes to being part of this very disturbing reality that exploits women," said women's rights activist Bae Bok-ju. - AFP