The death of another young K-pop star reveals consequences of “perfect” industry
TW: This article contains discussion of suicide.
Today, it was announced that Choi Jin-ri, known by the stage name “Sulli,” had taken her own life at the age of 25. I knew Sulli as a member of the Korean pop group f(x), a now-defunct quartet whose songs like “Four Walls” and “Red Light” brought a unique, mature, and even androgynous perspective to the heavily feminized genre. Unlike many other K-pop groups, particularly those with female members, f(x) was known for their involvement in writing their music and directing their visuals.
In 2014, Sulli went on hiatus from f(x) due to the physical and mental effects of cyberbullying. Sulli’s hiatus ended a year later, with a formal departure from the group. While Sulli did ultimately record a solo artist, fans speculate that continued cyberbullying contributed to her death.
As devoted fan of the K-pop genre, it was chilling to read about another young artist who had chosen to end their own life. In 2017, Jonghyun of group SHINee was founded dead of apparent suicide at age 27. Friends and family suggested he had long battled depression. Earlier this year, idol Goo Hara, 28, attempted suicide amidst a public legal battle with her allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend. This list is far from exhaustive.
While each individual case may be riddled with unique complexities, the industry connection is impossible to ignore. Particularly when the industry is known for ruthlessly exploiting its performers (or “idols”) with low wages, exhausting training and performance schedules, restrictive diets, and extremely strict lifestyle restrictions, including dating bans.
These conditions are all open secrets. You don’t have to be an ARMY frothing at the mouth to know that the industry that produces artists as in-sync and flawless as BTS or Girls Generation is a grueling one. It’s worth arguing that the rigor is part of what makes the world of the music so special and so unique. These individuals must truly give themselves and their lives to their art — and you can hear it and see it in the music and performances.