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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waseda chapter.

Several months ago, the Korean entertainment industry was rocked by a series of shocking events at the Burning Sun club in Seoul. What started off as a simple news report about the assault of a clubgoer eventually led to the revelation of multiple crimes such as rape, prostitution, and drug trafficking. Almost all of these offenses have been linked back to Seungri, a former member of the K-pop group Big Bang and executive director of Burning Sun. Not only was Seungri accused of organizing sexual favors for clients, but the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) also booked him on charges of bribery and distribution of [obscene] photos that had been taken secretly. The Burning Sun scandal is still unfolding and continues to outrage the public every time another famous wrongdoer is revealed, but something that has remained constant in the reactions to these exposés is the unwavering loyalty of the perpetrators’ fans. Their refusal to acknowledge their idols’ crimes raises questions about the problems stemming from hardcore idolization — when does one cross the line dividing fangirling and obsession? Are these fans defending celebrity criminals like Seungri because of their devotion, or because they genuinely believe he is innocent? If it is the latter, what can we do to help them realize their bias is affecting their ability to fairly judge a situation? Of course, there is a greater number of fans who have condemned Seungri and his circle of friends, but the vocal minority choosing to support these men in spite of their actions is both disturbing and worrisome.

K-pop fandom culture is fairly well-known for its exceptionally passionate followers. Oppalogist — a portmanteau derived from ‘oppa’, a Korean term used to address an older male, and ‘apologist’ — is a nickname for K-pop fans who stubbornly defend and make excuses for idols (usually male) who have been caught doing problematic things. It is understandable to want to protect someone you admire, but it goes without saying that there is a limit to what can be justified and what cannot; obviously, offenses like sexual assault and the usage of illegal hidden cameras fall under the latter category. When Korean journalists first began publishing incriminating messages from Seungri’s chatroom logs, numerous Big Bang fans asserted that the files were fabricated and that it was impossible for the idol to have participated in such heinous crimes. Even now, the hashtags #/SeungriYouAreNotAlone and #/SeungriYouHaveUs are frequently used by VIPs (Big Bang fans) who have pledged to stand by Seungri, painting him out to be a scapegoat, a target of the media’s mission to destroy his reputation. When Seungri’s Jakarta concert stop was canceled due to the Burning Sun investigations, his Indonesian fans gathered in front of the venue in a show of their faith in him. 

Although these oppalogists’ antics come across as childish at first — how naive do you have to be to trust the Instagram apology of a man who has mountains of evidence implicating him? — a closer look into their reasoning and thought processes make the phenomenon scarier than it is funny. The arguments that these fans offer to “prove” the innocence of the celebrities involved in the Burning Sun scandal are often subjective and emotion-fueled, highlighting the lack of rationality in the responses. Furthermore, these reactions seem to suggest that many fans are still unable to accept the enormous discrepancy between the carefully-maintained public images of the celebrities they were familiar with vs. the cruel, corrupt rapists unveiled through CCTV clips and eyewitness reports. While there are numerous factors influencing these fans, a major one may be their deep attachment to these crafted personas. This devotion to a single facet of a person’s character is dangerous because as with any other individual in the entertainment industry, a K-pop idol’s success heavily relies on how their audience perceives them. It might be a bit of a stretch to use this fact to claim that K-pop idols are two-faced because what fans see are the most appealing, TV-friendly qualities of the members being emphasized. It is difficult to actually see a celebrity’s unlikable traits, and as such, fans have no way to determine how authentic their idols truly are. Nonetheless, this extreme dedication to someone’s skewed, highly-polished appearance clearly presents many issues, and the Burning Sun scandal will hopefully be a wake-up call for people to step back and think about their approaches to celebrity-fandom relationships. As Shinhwa (a K-pop veteran group) member Kim Dongwan once famously said, “[Shinhwa] members aren’t responsible for your lives.” 

Third culture kid at Waseda who loves disposable cameras, movies, hanami season, and collecting postcards.