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K-pop fans uneasy about return of main culprits in ‘Burning Sun’ scandal

Music critics call for separating public and private lives of artists

July 10, 2024 - 18:02 By Kim Jae-heun
Singer Jung Joon-young is seen partying at a nightclub in Lyon, France, in this undated photo. (French netizen's X account)

The recent sights of former K-pop singers who were central figures in the “Burning Sun” scandal -- Jung Joon-young, Seungri and Choi Jong-hoon -- are raising questions about the image of K-pop and where to draw the line between celebrities' public and private lives.

The roots of the scandal began in 2016 with Jung's illegal filming and distribution of sex videos. Investigations into an assault at the Burning Sun nightclub owned by Seungri in 2019 revealed a group chat in which the illegal videos were shared and other sex crimes discussed between the three celebrities. Jung was given five years in prison for gang rape and distributing illegal footage. Seungri was sentenced to one year and six months on nine charges, including brokering prostitution and violations of the Act on the Punishment of Sexual Crimes. Choi was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for gang rape and illegal filming together with Jung.

On Sunday, a French netizen shared a photo on her X account of Jung partying at a nightclub in Lyon, France. The singer, who was released from prison in March, was seen with long hair and a beard, smiling.

According to the netizen, she encountered Jung at the night club where he introduced himself as "Jun." He was later seen kissing another woman. She further mentioned that another Korean man approached her and said “He was a famous singer in Korea.” The next day, Jung also told her in a message on a private Instagram account that he would open a new Korean restaurant in Lyon.

Jung had a similar plan in 2018 when he announced that he would start a Korean restaurant in Paris, which his then-agency confirmed. However, the project was abandoned when he was prosecuted in the Burning Sun case.

“He hasn’t changed at all. Five years in prison can't change a person, and I hate that he still has no intention of leaving the music industry,” the French netizen was quoted as saying in a Korean media report Wednesday.

Jung's private Instagram account has reportedly been deleted.

French netizen's X post about her encounter with Jung Joon-young at a nightclub in Lyon, France (French netizen's X account)

Seungri, a former member of the K-pop boy band Big Bang and another key figure in the scandal, has also been spotted at various parties since his release from prison in February last year.

In December 2023, he was seen celebrating his birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. In January, he attended an event in Cambodia, where he sparked outrage by saying, "I will bring G-Dragon here someday." In May, he performed at a birthday party for a wealthy individual in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

A Hong Kong media outlet reported in May that Seungri had settled in Hong Kong, purchased a luxury home and planned to open a nightclub. However, the Hong Kong government denied the report, stating, "We have not received any visa application from the former Korean pop star (Seungri)."

His continued performances using Big Bang’s music and mentions of members like G-Dragon have angered the boy band's fans, who believe Seungri is tarnishing the group's reputation.

Seungri performs Big Bang songs at a birthday party for a wealthy individual in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in May. (Malaysian netizen's Instagram account)

Attention has also turned to Choi, a former member of another K-pop band FT Island.

In June 2020, Choi admitted to his wrongdoing, announced his departure from FT Island, and declared his retirement from the entertainment industry.

However, Choi attempted his comeback in January under the name "Huniya" on Japan's largest fan community platform Fanicon, attempting to reconnect with fans after his release in November 2021.

The former K-pop idol’s attempt to return to the entertainment scene in Japan only four years later has raised doubts about the sincerity of his remorse, leading to increased public resentment in Korea.

Separating public, private lives

Industry insiders suggest that the former K-pop musicians’ public and private lives be viewed separately, despite the potential negative effects on K-pop’s global popularity.

Pop culture critic Jung Deok-hyun believes it is unfair to limit their private lives because of their past mistakes.

“I think their past crimes and their personal life (after completing their prison term) should be seen separately. It is not right to stop them from starting their own business if it does not affect the public. If their business causes a new problem, it should be dealt with then,” Jung said Wednesday.

Music critic Lim Hee-yun also agreed that former K-pop stars should not be scrutinized for everything they do in their personal lives.

“There are many private things (related to recent reports involving the three former K-pop singers). Since they have paid for their sins, they have the right to live their lives,” Lim said Wednesday.