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The K-pop Industry Must be Held Accountable for the Stars Gone Too Soon

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Editor’s Note: This article contains content and information surrounding suicide and mental health.

ASTRO member Moonbin passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 25 on April 19, 2023. Shortly after, his company, Fantagio Entertainment, tweeted “Moonbin suddenly left us and has now become a star in the sky.” According to initial police reports, Moonbin appeared to have taken his life. Unfortunately, the suicides of K-pop superstars are a common and unsurprising occurrence. 

Moonbin’s death encourages the public to more closely examine how the K-pop industry treats its idols and the extent to which the industry’s work environment encourages poor mental health. 

The extreme stress that idols deal with throughout their careers is heavily documented, but often not addressed in earnest or scrutinized enough for its potential consequences on their health. You don’t have to look deep to see the environmental factors that contribute to mental health issues in the K-pop industry. 

Moonbin is only one of many idols who have passed on too soon. Fans were shocked by the death of SHINee idol Kim Jonghyun in December of 2017. At the time, SHINee was one of the most successful boy groups, with chart-topping songs like “Ring Ding Dong,” “Lucifer” and “Sherlock.” However, the fear of living up to rising expectations after the success of his first solo album took a major toll on his mental health.

After his passing, Jonghyun’s heart-wrenching suicide letter revealed that he never felt good enough for his company or fans. In the end, he simply asked that fans “just tell [him he] did well.”

Jonghyun’s passing also highlighted a lack of support from his agency. Short hiatuses did nothing to improve his mental health. He and many other idols, such as Sulli, Goo Hara, Ahn So Jin and unfortunately many more, needed mental health help and support that their companies failed to provide. 

The attacks on idols’ appearances are the strongest. Many idols debut young, facing constant criticism for their appearances and performances before they even step on stage. To maintain thin appearances, idols have used extreme methods to lose weight and are subjected to regular, sometimes daily, weigh-ins.

Former idol Kyla Massie of the now-disbanded girl group Pristin debuted at a weight that fans deemed “unacceptable.” Most companies encourage female idols to achieve specific beauty standards, especially maintaining a weight of around 90 pounds. Kyla’s profile, however, displayed 132 pounds, a perfectly healthy weight for a 5’5” girl. Yet, Korean fans refused to acknowledge Kyla or cheer for her when she was at the center of performances. During fanmeets, attendees refused to photograph or even look at Kyla. 

She was just 16 at the time of her debut and soon went on a hiatus that never ended.

The expectation of sheer perfection is impossible for idols to live up to, yet that doesn’t stop companies from demanding it.

In addition to handling public scrutiny, idols are expected to perform and produce content at an unhealthy rate without rest. Agencies set vigorous schedules for their idols, who constantly pump out new content in hopes of debuting as the next megastars. Throughout the year, successful idols release multiple albums and singles to maintain the attention of fans and hopefully gain more. Even during the pandemic year of 2020, BTS released multiple albums, held virtual concerts, spoke at the UN and constantly filmed content like “BTS Memories of 2020,” which included 722 hours of behind-the-scenes content for their fans. 

In their documentaries, BTS has included scenes where they have performed while injured or sick. Clips show the men using IV drips and respirators in order to overcome physical exhaustion during their concerts. 

The extreme lengths to which idols resort to continue performing while injured should be concerning. Idols deal with high levels of mental and physical stress as well as constant criticism from their management. Yet they receive little to no support from their companies. With this kind of work environment, it shouldn’t be a shock that the work of our beloved idols takes such a large toll on their minds and bodies.

In light of Moonbin’s passing, Korean entertainment companies need to be held accountable for the well-being of their talent. It should be mandatory for entertainment companies to monitor the health of their talent, provide proper and extensive mental health resources and allow for proper rest.

Until then, fans can still take action. Boycott companies that mistreat their idols until the tides change. By purchasing albums and merchandise, we are funding the exploitation of idols. Furthermore, fans need to stop praising idols for only their appearance because this response produces an expectation for idols to maintain unrealistic beauty standards. 

Let’s stop turning a blind eye to the not-so-secret suffering behind the scenes of our favorite K-pop artists.

Asia Boyd is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at asiajb@uci.edu.