[12/2/19] – K-pop Star Suicides

A string of tragedies has befallen several Korean Pop (K-pop) stars in 2019. K-pop stars experience an incredible amount of stress and pressure, in part due to exploitative managers and “toxic” fans. In the last two months, two stars have committed suicide in response to this pressure. First, Sulli, an actress and former member of girl group f(x), committed suicide in October after having been bullied online by the general public. After Sulli’s death, fans petitioned for a new law to require people to use their real identities when posting online and for stricter punishments for online bullying. “Sulli’s Law” is expected to be presented before the National Assembly of South Korea in December. Next, Goo Hara, a singer, actress, and former member of girl group KARA, committed suicide this past week. Sulli and Goo Hara were close friends who both suffered from malicious online comments. Additionally, in August, Goo Hara’s ex-boyfriend was found guilty of physically assaulting her, destroying and damaging property, coercion, and intimidation. He was acquitted on the charge of sexual assault for illegally filming her. Goo Hara was consistently harassed online throughout the trial.

Popularity of K-pop is growing exponentially and is driving demand for music, concerts, swag, and interviews. If demand continues to grow and the mental distress these performers are dealing with goes unrecognized, we could see the number of suicides among K-pop celebrities increase in the future.

This week we focus on mental illness and fame through the lens of sociology. Specifically, we focus on issues related to social media and interactions with others, toxic fandoms, and suicide using Durkheim’s research.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for K-pop Star Suicides

Learning Objectives

LO1: Understand how culture contributes to understandings of illness and norms related to treatment.

LO2: Explain how Durkheim might view the issue of K-pop star suicides.

LO3: Discuss how the experience of being exploited as an employee can lead one to feeling a sense of alienation from their employer, others, and potentially their self.


Cyber bullying, star suicides: The dark side of South Korea’s K-pop world

The apparent suicide of a second K-pop artist in a month has cast renewed focus in South Korea on vicious personal attacks and cyber bullying of vulnerable young stars, and how it mostly goes unpunished.

Goo Hara, K-pop star of Kara, found dead at 28

Goo Hara was found dead at her home on Sunday. The cause of death wasn’t immediately known. She made her debut in 2008 as a member of the girl group Kara.

Fans Mourn K-Pop Star Goo Hara, Dead at 28

Fans are paying tribute to Goo Hara after the pop star and actress was found dead at her home. Goo rose to fame as part of the K-Pop group Kara. She also released songs as a solo artist and appeared in TV shows. She had recently opened up about her battle with depression and spoke out after her friend and fellow K-Pop star Sulli took her own life. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Discussion Questions

Which of Durkheim’s rationales for suicide best apply to the story of Goo Hara and Sulli? Do you think these suicides were driven by a sense of feeling too connected to people or a growing sense of disconnection? Do you think this was a response to being overly regulated, or having too little regulation in their life? Where do they fall in this matrix? Explain.

How do cultural norms related to mental illness drive the experiences of K-pop stars attempting to cope with anxiety, stress, and depression? After reading these articles and viewing these films, how does Korean culture define mental illness? Do they recognize it? Why or why not?

Have you ever been exploited by an employer? Maybe you were asked to stay later than you were supposed to and did not get paid for it? Or, maybe you had a requested day off taken away from you? What was that experience like? Alternatively, what would you assume that experience is life? How might this experience then in turn influence how the employee defines their employer?

How would you describe the concept of a “toxic” fan? What characteristics would this individual possess? How are male and female stars treated differently by toxic fans? How might these people attempt to contact and communicate with their object of their attention? What should be done to limit the access these individuals have to stars? How might such measures alter existing relationships between superstars and civilians? Explain.

Using the structural-functional approach, what is the role of the music industry in maintaining the wellness of their talent? What sort of support services would you recommend they consider implementing? Why might these supports be necessary? Explain.



Which of the following is not one of the forms of suicide identified by Durkheim?
a. Anomic
b. Egoistic
c. Fatalistic
d. Pessimistic

_______ would be most concerned with how the treatment of Goo Hara and other K-pop stars contributes to their alienation, and eventual death.
a. Max Weber
b. Karl Marx
c. WEB DuBois
d. Margaret Mead

A symbolic-interactionist would be most interested in investigating which of the following aspects of the Goo Hara suicide?
a. Ways fans are coming together to support one another during the difficult time
b. Constructing memorials where fans can come to contribute to creating a memory of Hara
c. Experiences of K-pop stars as public figures that contribute to their sense of isolation
d. All of the above
e. None of the above

Photo credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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