A Guide to the Major Sex-Video Scandal Engulfing K-Pop

Jung Joon-Young and Seungri.
Jung Joon-Young and Seungri. Photo: Getty Images

On March 12, a news story broke that rocked the world of K-pop: Seungri, who rose to fame as a member of the wildly popular and influential group Big Bang, was accused of “supplying prostitutes” to VIP customers at a night club in Seoul. Within a day, the probe had widened to include Jung Joon-young, a singer and TV personality, when police discovered a group chat he was in with Seungri and several other men, in which Jung reportedly shared footage he had taken of women during sex without their consent. Other stars, such as Yong Jun-hyung of the band Highlight and Lee Jong-hyun of the rock band CNBLUE, have recently made confessions regarding the group’s existence.

The Burning Sun scandal, as it’s been called, comes in the midst of a national conversation about misogyny and power — as well as spy-camera porn epidemic — and the momentum behind it has the potential to dramatically transform Korean society, or at least put several powerful men in serious legal trouble. When asked of the implications of this scandal in comparison to others that the industry has weathered, K-pop expert and Billboard columnist Tamar Herman told the Cut that this is “on a whole other scale.”

“This isn’t just a scandal,” she said. “This is a reckoning.”

Below, here’s a guide to the scandal.

How did this all start?

It all goes back to Lee Seung-hyun, popularly known as Seungri, who was once nicknamed “the Great Gatsby of Korea” for his opulent lifestyle. But per authorities, the Big Bang star’s lifestyle was not simply luxurious — it was criminal.

In late January, police began investigating the Burning Sun nightclub in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district, where Seungri was an executive director, after a video of a sexual assault on the property started to circulated online. Per South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, authorities believed staff members were drugging women and providing them to VIP clients to sexually assault. On February 15, they raided the business; two days later, the club closed and is currently being investigated.

From the beginning, Seungri has denied the allegations. But at the end of February, more incriminating evidence surfaced: a series of text messages exchanged in a KakaoTalk group chat in 2015, where he and around nine others discussed providing sex workers to investors and shared hidden video footage and photos of men sexually assaulting drugged and intoxicated women.

On March 11, Seungri was booked and charged with “supplying prostitutes,” which carries a three-year jail sentence; that same day, he announced via Instagram that he was retiring from the business.

“This scandal is too big,” he wrote. “As for the ongoing investigation, I will take it seriously to clear myself of all the allegations.”

Per Variety, on March 28, police handed Seungri an additional charge of illegal distribution of pornography after finding that he shared a nude photo of women in the KakaoTalk chat.

And how did Jung Joon-young get involved?

Per K-pop website Soompi, when K-pop star Jung Joon-young — one of the men involved in the KakaoTalk chat — took his phone to a repair shop, a staffer discovered the chat and sent the messages to the Anti Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency investigated.

In one chat, reported by broadcaster SBS, Jung wrote, “Let’s all get together online, hit the strip bar and rape them in the car.” In response, an unidentified person reportedly said, “Our lives are like a movie. We have done so many things that could put us in jail. We just haven’t killed anyone.”

In mid-March, Jung was accused of filming ten women in non-consenting sex acts and of later sharing the videos of the encounters, which he admitted to before being arrested on March 21.

“I am truly sorry,” he said, per The Straits Times. “I admit to all charges against me. I bow my head in apology to the females who were victimized by my actions.”

On March 29, The Jakarta Post reports that police recommended to the prosecution that Jung be indicted on charges that he secretly filmed the sex videos and distributed them; police are also looking into new allegations that he attempted to cover up the KakaoTalk chat evidence by asking everyone who was involved to get rid of their phone.

(It’s worth noting that this wasn’t Jung’s first run-in with the police over sex crimes: In August 2016, his ex-girlfriend accused him of filming her during sex without her consent. However, Soompi reports that the woman withdrew her sexual-assault charge one month after filing it; she has not spoken to press about her reasoning behind this decision.)

Who else is suspected of being involved?

Police have confirmed that Choi Jong-hoon of the rock band F.T. Island (who also retired amid the sex-video scandal) was also in the group chat that illegally shared the videos, though the nature of his involvement is yet unknown. On March 21, police booked him for bribery; per another officer’s testimony who came forward during the current Burning Sun scandal, Choi tried to offer him 2 million won (approximately $1,778) after being pulled over for drunk driving in 2016. Choi reportedly discussed what happened in the KakaoTalk chat. “The chrome hearts [handcuffs] were pretty painful,” he wrote, SBS’s 8 O’Clock News reports. “Anyone who hasn’t worn them before can’t talk.”

Yoo In Suk, the COO of Yuri Holdings, was in the KakaoTalk chat, and has since resigned. Per All K-Pop, it is suspected that he used his ties to the Seoul police department to help cover up Choi’s DUI. However, he claims that all the messages shared in the group chat were “jokes or just false.”

Furthermore, two band members have admitted to being involved with the group chat: Lee Jong-hyun of the rock band CNBLUE, who confessed through his management company, FNC Entertainment, that “he deserves criticism for watching videos on KakaoTalk, disparaging women and having improper conversations about sex,” and Yong Jun-hyung of the band Highlight, who voluntarily admitted that he knew of the group chat’s existence, per E! Online — though he denies any involvement. He too resigned from his K-pop group.

As previously stated, authorities say there about 10 people in the chat.

What kind of effect has this had on K-Pop?

South Korea’s major sex-video scandal in K-Pop likely couldn’t have happened at any other time in the country. In the past few years, South Koreans have meanwhile been grappling with a widespread spycam epidemic and #MeToo. Therefore, when these reports emerged, the scandal wasn’t swept under the rug.

“The industry in Korea … is a boys’ club,” Jang Yun-mi, a spokeswoman for the Korean Women Lawyers Association, recently told Bloomberg, and in that world, women are expected to portray either highly sexualized or highly innocent images. Indeed, when the government’s Ministry of Gender Equality recently attempted to crack down on “the problem of … uniformity among singers,” the government faced so much criticism it withdrew the guidelines.

And while those for women are higher, all K-pop stars are held to extremely high standards — both by fans and managers. This scandal, however, has shaken the public’s view. Seungri’s agency, YG Entertainment, and Yong’s agency, FNC Entertainment, are in PR crisis mode, and their stocks have dipped; furthermore, the former is being audited.

The implications of this scandal go well outside the world of K-Pop. On March 19, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for a serious investigation not only into Burning Sun sex crimes, but also into another, older case: the 2009 suicide of actress Jang Ja-yeon, who wrote in notes that she had been sexually and physically abused multiple prominent entertainment executives, but whose death was met with an investigation that the public deemed inadequate. While Jang reportedly named prominent figures who assaulted her in the notes, prosecutors did not charge any of them, citing lack of credibility as the reason.

“The common factor is that [the cases concern] developments that took place among the privileged, and there is circumstantial evidence suggesting that the prosecutors and police purposely conducted incomplete investigations and actively prevented the truth from being revealed,” Moon said. “If the truth is not revealed, we cannot say it’s a just society.”

In response to the current sex-video scandal, some stars, such as Ku Hye Sun, have posted tributes to Jang. “Rest peacefully in heaven,” her caption reads. “You are a beautiful soul.”

As the scandal grows in scope and scale, it’s likely that it will have a ripple effect across the entire country, Herman says.

“I think this has less to do with the immediate effect on the K-pop industry and more the immediate effect on how prominent men use their power in South Korea, and hopefully will spur discourse and even legal changes in the country,” she said.

This post has been updated with additional information.

A Guide to the Major Sex-Video Scandal Engulfing K-Pop