Is the latest K-Pop star's suicide attempt systemic of the industry or the country?

Lee Joon, suicide, k-pop, korea, korean culture

Is suicide unique to K-Pop or Korea as a whole?

Although K-Pop's general tone and sound is generally being upbeat, glammy and high energy, there seems to be a dystopic undertone to South Korea's music industry in the form of a high suicide rate amongst its stars.

The latest attempt on Feb. 12 came from superstar Lee Joon. Lee Joon is big in Korea, first hitting it off with South Korean boy band MBLAQ and has recently been working alone on his own material. In addition to his music career, he is an actor.

It was reported that Joon tried to commit suicide while serving mandatory military time.

However, while those reports were untrue, they did lead his management group to check on him. What they found that he was having trouble with a panic disorder, originally diagnosed when he was an actor. They released a statement stating:

“As a result of these false reports, we felt the need to share Lee Joon’s exact situation. It has not been revealed before, but Lee Joon has had panic disorder symptoms during his acting career. It was difficult around the time that he enlisted, but he voluntarily enlisted due to his strong personal will to overcome it. With that mindset, he worked to overcome his disorder with a positive manner, receiving a certificate of excellence for completing basic military training in first place.”

“However, despite his will, the symptoms recently worsened, and through the active support of his army base, he is carrying out both treatment and his military duties.”

While the report on Joon's suicide attempt was false, this cannot be said about many others. Suicide is rampant in K-Pop, which is what made the fake news so believable. We reported in December that Kim Jong-Hyun a 27-year-old, K-Pop singer and songwriter, committed suicide after leaving a detailed suicide note, which was posted to Instagram on the account of Nine, a musician with Dear Cloud, a modern rock group.

This is all set on the backdrop of K-Pop's eat or be eaten environment where artists seemingly combat each other for fame and fortune, according to Variety.

The long list of suicides goes back over a decade, according to What the K-Pop, with the deaths of Lee Eun Joo in 2005, Jeong da bin in 2007, Ahh Jae Hwan in 2008, Choi Jin Shil in 2008, Kim Seok Hyun in 2009, Jong Ja Yeon in 2009, Woo Seung Yeon in 2009, Choi Jin Young in 2010, Park Yong- Ha in 2010.

With this recent attempt by Lee Joon, it really brings to attention a brewing storm happening behind the curtains of K-Pop. The music genre is growing rapidly every year, and it seems to keep up with the pace K-Pop management of stars works them like racehorses, making them cave in.

Even BTS, the first K-Pop band to perform at American Music Awards as well as Dick Clarke’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve in the U.S., has been rumored to be overworked and not getting enough breaks. Soompi reported that a source close to the band claimed:

BTS has tight schedules including comeback music show appearances, music video filming, and advertisement shoots, and they also have two concerts at Kyocera Dome in Osaka, Japan during the week that the Chuseok holiday ends.  As a result, the members do not have free time to spend with their families during the holiday.

The larger than life stress, constant pressure to always be the best and unattainable standards applied to K-Pop stars seems to be a major cause but if the problem of stars crumbling under stress and eventually committing suicide is an ever reoccurring problem, we have to wonder if they really relate to the same super pressure they receive or are they connected and is their a direct cause of their deaths?

“Suicide is everywhere,” South Korean author Young-ha Kim has said in his op-ed for the The New York Times.

“The scourge of South Korea” encompasses all classes, ages and genders at exceptionally high rates. It is the fourth most common cause of death in South Korea; about, 40 people commit suicide every day. South Korea has the highest suicide rate according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The South Korean Health and Welfare Ministry says about 90 percent of Koreans who are victims of suicide in 2016 had a psychiatric mental health disorder. South Korea has the highest rate among children ages 10-19 on the globe and is extremely high among the elderly (60+), according to the Berkley Political Review.

For example in 2015, there were 13,500 suicides, around 37 a day.

"It is a social phenomenon that stems from a combination of individual, societal and generational issues," said Kim Hyun-Jeong, a psychiatrist at the National Medical Center and collaborator at the Korean Assn. for Suicide Prevention. Another hypothesis Kim postulated is that many, "South Koreans think they would rather die than suffer humiliation when honor is at stake."

South Korea is familiar with its stars, and even politicians, committing suicide. Roh Moo-hyun, a former president and leader lept to his death from a cliff in 2009 while in the middle of a scandal.

A 23-year-old Yonsei University student asking to be identified by her family name of Shin told the Los Angeles Times, "Our society pressures us too much... When I think about studying in high school, I don't wish that kind of pressure on anyone." She also said, "In Korea, we care a lot about expectations, and maybe people are sick of living up to them... Maybe even celebrities get sick of being who they're asked to be."

The constant pressure to perform under grueling standards is an issue that permeates the society. K-Pop stars, in particular, have left behind notes about the damaging and stress-ridden industry.

Korean-American singer Charles Park, also known as when performing, Seo Ji-won, on Jan 1, 1996, was at the start of this trend, with K-pop celebrities taking their own life amidst a sense in Korean entertainment of do or die as an emerging industry. His note stated that with the success of his debut album, he was worried his second album would be a flop, which he finished recording before his death at 19.

Female performers and actresses are not immune from the pressures, sending cries of help as they are crushed under pressure from the industry. Jang Ja-Yeon, a supporting actress in the Korean TV series, Boys Over Flowers, wrote that she was sexually assaulted by being forced to have sex with sponsors so she could gain roles on the screen, according to Star2.com.

Mike Suh, head of strategy and global business at entertainment conglomerate CJ E&M, said idols go through a long period of training prior to their debut,  "so that they immediately attract fans when they first appear," he told CNN.

K-Pop in the early 1990s was constructed by labels such as JYP, DSP and YG which robotically put into place a formula for all of their stars in acting and music to become instant K-pop success stories relying on its perfect outward display to the world. Stars cannot be caught dating, receiving plastic surgery or become involved with scandal, Tamar Herman, who covers K-Pop for Billboard.com, told CNN earlier in 2017.
What we've learned is that while suicide is certainly systemic in Korean culture, more concerning is that behind the scenes of Korea's entertainment industry there dark indicators that the industry abuses its workers by drilling them into perfect spotless idols, driving them to the unthinkable.
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