Art & Entertainment

Amidst Karina And Lee Jae-wook's Romance, Here's Why Dating Isn't Easily Accepted In The K-Pop Industry

The K-Pop industry is governed by strict contractual agreements, disciplinary guidelines, and a restricted sense of freedom, including a ban on dating.

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Karina and Lee Jae-wook Photo: Instagram
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The K-Pop industry is truly unmatched and, in the past decade, has been looked at more closely. The industry stands out due to its prolific production and top-notch talents. While on the surface, it might seem all things good and fun, there’s pressure and various restrictions behind the scenes that often go unnoticed. Within the broader Korean entertainment industry, the music scene is governed by strict contractual agreements, disciplinary guidelines, and a restricted sense of freedom. One notable aspect is the presence of dating bans.

The reason this is being talked about again is the relationship confirmation of rookie group aespa’s member Karina with popular actor Lee Jae-wook. After their respective agencies confirmed that they’re seeing each other, it garnered support as well as backlash from fans. It was to such an extent that fans drove a truck to Karina’s agency, SM Entertainment, which had an electronic billboard on it that read, “Is the love given to you by fans not enough? Why did you choose to betray the fans? Please apologize directly. Otherwise, you will see a decrease in album sales and empty concert seats.” Post this, the aespa leader penned a heartfelt apology letter shared on her Instagram and promised to “heal the wounds” she inflicted upon her fan base.

Karina, Lee Jae-wook; Apology Letter
Karina, Lee Jae-wook; Apology Letter Photo: Instagram
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However, this isn’t the first of its kind. There have been situations where dating scandals involving idols led to unfavourable responses from the public, which could have had a certain impact on the policies of entertainment agencies.

Agencies’ stance on dating policies

JYP Entertainment, which manages TWICE, and PLEDIS Entertainment, overseeing SEVENTEEN, have a no-dating policy for the first three years after an artist’s debut. The rationale is rooted in the belief that the first three years of an artist’s career are crucial for their development, with no room for distractions. The widely acknowledged three-year countdown is often a topic of discussion among JYP idols, with questions popping up about the number of months left until the completion of their third year. For instance, Wonder Girls, who debuted in 2007, appeared on the ‘Radio Star’ in 2016, and announced, “Now we are free to date anybody. So if you guys have any interest, call us, text us, whatever, thank you.”

Wonder Girls
Wonder Girls Photo: Billboard
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In contrast, SM Entertainment does not impose a specific ban on dating. Take Karina’s example; the agency passed a statement that her and Jae-wook are “getting to know each other.” Nonetheless, it is recommended for artists to keep their relationships private. What’s also interesting is that the company’s chairman Lee Soo-man himself revealed on ‘Radio Star’ in 2011 that he actively supports artists dating within the company so that any potential scandals can be handled more effectively.

As for YG Entertainment, BLACKPINK’s Rosé had mentioned on ‘Radio Star’ in 2017 that male and female trainees were not even allowed to greet each other, let alone be in the same room. On the other hand, BigHit Labels, the parent company of BTS, and Cube Entertainment, which manages (G)I-DLE, do not appear to have specific no-dating policies for their artists.

But, why?

This is done so that a clean image is maintained, and any romantic relationship could negatively impact their careers and popularity. However, these restrictions may be relaxed once they gain more experience and recognition in the industry. When debuting, the dating ban is a contractual obligation, and idols must adhere to it throughout.

Another reason is to feed the make-believe world of the fans and keep fan culture alive, which, in turn, increases business. Fans often perceive idol dating as a betrayal. Witnessing them prioritize personal relationships over their careers can be unsettling for fans who invest time and money on them.

There are various instances where fans have reacted rather negatively to idols who went public with their romance.

Instances

In June 2014, reports surfaced about a secret relationship between EXO’s Baekhyun and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon. After a few months, they confirmed the relationship. While some were supportive, many accused them of disloyalty. It went to such an extent that fans even demanded Baekhyun’s removal from the band. Both apologized for not informing fans earlier. They dated for a year and called it off in 2015.

Zico and AOA’s Seolhyun were secretly in a relationship for several months before their romance became public in August 2016. Despite public pressure, they confirmed their relationship. Unfortunately, a few months later, they decided to end it due to the overwhelming scrutiny from the public eye.

HyunA revealed her two-year relationship with Dawn in 2018 via Instagram. She revealed that she wanted to be more open with her fans, which is why she announced her relationship. In the same year, Cube Entertainment terminated her contract. Soon after, Dawn was removed from his agency as well. Despite the backlash, the two got engaged in 2022 but broke it off the same year.

HyunA and Dawn
HyunA and Dawn Photo: Instagram
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If you ask me, it’s extremely disheartening to see these idols being contractually bound to cater to their fans’ delusions and ideologies at the cost of their own happiness. One can only hope that this rule will completely go away in the coming years. After all, these idols are not just entertainers; they’re human too.

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