The death of idol Moonbin has caused a stir among fans of the kpop from around the world, once again highlighting the intense pressures facing South Korean artists.

The 25-year-old member of the boy band Astro was a singer, actor and model.

His death occurred in the middle of a world tour of his duo with Sanha, another member of Astro.

Although the exact cause of death is still being investigated, police said he “apparently took his own life.”

Moonbin’s is the latest in a series of unexpected deaths of young celebrities in the South Korean entertainment industry.

Actress Jung Chae-yull, 26, was found dead at her home in early April. Yoo Joo-eun, also an actress, died at the age of 27 in August last year. Sulli, a former member of the girl group f(x), passed away in 2019 at the age of 25 after a long struggle against online bullying. And her close friend Goo Hara, also a K-pop star, was found dead at her home a month later.

Moonbin’s departure has put the focus back on the overly competitive Korean show business.

The hard road to stardom

Known for its ultra-competitive culture, South Korea has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. And while its overall suicide rate — across all ages — is falling, deaths among 20-somethings are rising.

Being a celebrity in South Korea comes with much more pressure than pop stars from North America or Europe, says Rob Schwartz, Asia correspondent for Billboard magazine.

Competition is fierce right from the start: working in the entertainment industry is a very common career aspiration among young South Koreans.

A survey by the South Korean Ministry of Education in 2021 showed that actor, model and singer were among the top 10 dream jobs for elementary school students.

In order to become a K-pop star, most young people have to go through a grueling period of training, which means they greatly lose connections with their friends and peers, often for years.

In the case of Moonbin, although he was an actor in the popular Korean series “Boys are better than flowers” at only 11 years old, he needed eight more years of practice before debuting as a member of Astro.

His sister, Moon Sua, also a K-pop singer with the girl band Billlie, spent 12 years preparing.

After numerous and intense selection rounds, only a small number of applicants make it onto the stage. And what awaits them is an industry that is already studded with stars.

Tight control by talent agencies and intense fan culture are two of the main drivers of the massive stress Korean stars face, Schwartz says.

Until recently it used to be common for artists to start out on so-called “slave contracts”: long-term exclusive agreements with little control over their hours or financial compensation.

While some K-pop stars have won cases in recent years that have allowed them to break unfair contracts, the expert does not believe that the relationship between the two parties has fundamentally changed.

“K-pop stars are more in control, in the sense that they’re not as controlled. [por otras personas]”, says Schwartz. “Things have changed, although I would not necessarily say they have improved.”

And fan enthusiasm, amplified by the extreme social media activity in the country, can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

“They pay attention to her every move, they comment on her hairstyles,” explains Schwartz. “It’s crazy how they look at these guys with a magnifying glass.”

Once they have debuted, celebrities not only become the object of scrutiny from their fans, but from the whole of society. In South Korea, being a figurehead means upholding the highest standards in public life.

Drunk driving, for example, is considered one of the worst crimes a celebrity can commit in the country and can easily end an artist’s career.

Well-known actress Kim Sae-ron, 22, received a harsh reaction from the South Korean public after crashing her car while driving with alcohol levels above the legal limit.

“Compared to other countries, South Korea has a very strict moral standard for celebrities,” says Korean pop culture critic Ha Jae-kun.

“If a celebrity behaves just slightly different from what is perceived as ‘decent,’ the public attacks them.. And it’s hard for a star to ignore this type of aggression, due to the high social pressure that comes from entrenched collectivism” in South Korean society.

the stigma

For a celebrity, dealing with mental health problems could be an extremely difficult situation, experts say.

In an interview with the BBC’s Korean service in 2017, rap star Swings, who has been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders, revealed the burden it can take.

“It’s like walking naked,” he said. “They say things like ‘I thought this guy was sick, how does he get on stage to perform?’ They obviously don’t know what’s happening to you,” the rapper said.

The industry is aware of the effects of the stress stars are under on their mental health, and some K-pop idols have taken long breaks to recuperate.

Jeongyeon, a member of the girl band Twice, has taken four periods off since 2020 due to mental health issues and a neck injury. She reappeared last month. And Moonbin himself also went on hiatus in 2019 and 2020 citing health reasons.

In addition, various agencies organized sessions with therapists for trainees and stars.

Naver, South Korea’s largest search engine, closed the comments section on its entertainment news in 2020 after acknowledging that the environment had become potentially toxic.

But not many believe that major changes are coming soon.

“K-pop is its own thing [de Corea del Sur] and everyone would like to make things better for celebrities. But how to do it?” Schwartz wonders.

“The super fans are so obsessed with these idols that it has created a vicious cycle of looking at them with a magnifying glass to make them perform at a high level.”

If you or someone close to you is depressed or in trouble, seek help. You can find support resources according to your region here:


* Yuna Ku is a reporter for the BBC Korean Service based in Seoul. Additional reporting by Joel Guinto in Singapore.

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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-65344196, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-04-21 15:40:06

* Yuna Ku is a reporter for the BBC Korean Service based in Seoul. Additional reporting by Joel Guinto in Singapore.