K-pop, K-drama stars face social media backlash

Choi Ha Rin, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 05 2020 08:01 PM | Updated as of Nov 05 2020 09:06 PM

Korean idols are nothing without their fans. The fans of K-pop and K-drama stars are particularly supportive (and also, at times, slightly scary), buying up concert tickets, albums and merchandise and even splurging on extravagant gifts for idols on their birthdays.

But while fans’ support is a blessing, provoking fans’ disappointment or anger can be a curse. K-drama star Lee Do-hyun discovered as much this week when he became the subject of criticism over a fan gift.

Read on for the full story – and four other times K-pop and K-drama fans felt wronged by their favourites, and how they responded.

Lee Do-hyun

Lee Do-hyun has earned the nickname “melodrama prince” for his performances in Hotel del Luna, Still 17 and Prison Playbook. But the rising K-drama star recently found himself embroiled in online melodrama surrounding a fan gift.

Lee was born in 1995, the year of the pig, according to the Chinese zodiac. So to celebrate his birthday one year, fans gifted him a pig hat.

That might not sound particularly fraught so far, but the uproar started a few days ago when an Instagram photo surfaced showing a woman wearing the hat – allegedly the exact same hat that fans had gifted Lee. The photo had also been “liked” by an account that fans suspect to be Lee’s private account.

The post soon went viral and accusations swiftly followed. Not only did fans speculate that the woman is Lee’s girlfriend, but they were also steamed that Lee hadn’t thanked them for the gift. (K-pop stars typically pose with their fan gifts and post the photos to their social media accounts to say thank you.)

Lee’s agency, Yuehua Entertainment, explained that the woman was merely an acquaintance of Lee’s, and that the photo had actually been taken three years ago during an outing in which Lee and his friends had all tried the hat on. But fans don’t seem to be convinced, as they’ve called for the cancellation of the support project that funded the gift.

Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon

Instagram was the source of another scandal, this time between Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation and Exo’s Baekhyun, two of the most popular girl band and boy band members respectively, who were once in a relationship. But even though romance can be a touchy issue for K-pop stars, partly due to negative reactions from fans, some of the couple’s fans seemed to truly support them.

At least, that was the case at first. After SM Entertainment publicly acknowledged the relationship mid-2014, fans began to search the couple’s past social media posts for clues that they might have been dating. Soon, they discovered an old photo on Taeyeon’s Instagram account of a Starbucks mug with her face on it, with the caption “thank you very much”.

Again, that might not sound like much, but the problem arose due to the cute pun Taeyeon decided to make. Taeyeon and Baekhyun were known to call each other by the affectionate nicknames “Taeng-gu” and “Bae-kung”, leading fans to dub them the “Taeng Kung couple”. And in the caption, Taeyeon cleverly replaced the words “thank you” with “Taeng Kung”. (Perhaps the mug was a gift from Baekhyun?) Fans were apparently disappointed that Taeyeon hinted at the relationship so brazenly even before it was officially announced.

Exo’s Chen

Exo’s Chen was the first of the group to get married. His wedding, which took place earlier this year, turned out to be a double whammy when it came to fan ire. First off, when he announced his wedding, he said that “a blessing had arrived”, which fans interpreted to mean that his fiancée was pregnant. However, Chen’s status as a new dad wasn’t made completely clear until his daughter’s birth in April.

Exo’s fans also considered his marriage announcement “irresponsible” and “selfish” as he made his statement on January 13, the day between fellow member D.O. and Kai’s birthdays.

Super Junior’s Sungmin

Super Junior’s Sungmin also caused controversy among fans with his marriage to Korean actress Kim Sa-eun on December 13, 2014. When SM Entertainment first publicly announced the relationship, fans were initially supportive. However, by the time the wedding took place three months later, fans’ attitudes had soured, and Sungmin was even getting pressured to leave the group through the movement Sungmin Out.

So what happened? According to a Sungmin Out statement, “We heard of Sungmin’s marriage through the news. He never shared his marriage plans with us [directly]. We wanted to get feedback from him and we even left private comments on his blog. However, he deleted all those comments.”

Fans also commented on how it was impossible to get a response from him about a potential marriage even during paid fan meetings.

Sungmin apologised to fans in 2017, withdrawing from Super Junior’s album and concerts. Since then he’s embarked on a number of solo activities and has opened his own YouTube channel.

Ze:a’s Kim Dong-jun

Fans were disappointed in Ze:a’s Kim Dong-jun for much the same reasons that they were in Lee Do-hyun – they were dissatisfied with his treatment of a fan gift.

In 2015, a group of fans gifted Kim with a personalised bracelet that included a message referencing Ze:a’s 2010 single, Mazeltov. A photo of the bracelet went viral online, but it was an acquaintance of Kim’s, not Kim himself, who posted the picture. The caption was even more incriminating: “I got a gift from a celebrity. Thank you, Dong-jun oppa.”

In response to accusations that he re-gifted the bracelet, Kim apologised, commenting that it was all an accident: “One of my acquaintances thought [the bracelet] was my personal belonging – not [a gift] from fans – and gave it to her daughter unintentionally.”