In recent years, one of the hottest trends in the Korean music market has been the reality competition show. From 'Show Me The Money' and 'Unpretty Rapstar' to 'Produce 101,' viewers have loved seeing K-pop and hip-hop artists rise through the ranks and establish their careers by competing alongside their peers. With the high viewership these shows receive, a magnifying glass is placed on the actions of all involved - the production companies, music labels, judges, and especially performers. Recently, this has brought a string of controversies to light, which prompted questions about whether or not these competition-driven performers were ever ready for prime time.
For a quick recap, the most recent string of reality star controversies started around February with "High School Rapper" contestant Jang Yong Joon. As the show began, it emerged through netizen research that Yong Joon had a history of unsavory social media posts and behavior during his earlier teenage years. Allegations arose with screenshots that showed him bullying, bargaining for sexual favors, and even bad-mouthing his own mother. Once it also became clear that Jang Yong Joon was the son of politician Jang Je Won, the family became surrounded in controversy and debate. Both Yong Joon and his father issued apology statements, which culminated with his departure from the show.
Later in February, another High School Rapper contestant - Yang Hong Won - became the target of netizen questioning for his past behavior. Claims that he had stolen bikes and bullied others came to light, and the show's producers were forced to issue an apology on his behalf. Unlike Jang Yong Joon, he did not leave the show, though it's clear the allegations had an effect on the public's perception of him.
As for other competition show scandals, several have recently emerged from the Produce 101 camp well in advance of the show's second season kickoff. Contestant Jo Kyu Min got a lot of heat from netizens and V.I.Ps after it was revealed that he was a paid G-Dragon impersonator in China. He hit back, claiming that his barrage of social media posts mirroring G-Dragon's (as well as several TV appearances in which he was featured specifically as an impersonator) were essentially the result of producer influence. He concluded "I know it's love I don't deserve," but remains on the show at this time.
Another Produce 101 contestant, Hang Jong Yeon, became the topic of heated discussion when allegations that he forced a classmate to masturbate in public (among other forms of bullying) were spread throughout the press. In his case, the accusations were too extreme to simply play off, and he stepped down from the show before its first episode aired. Perhaps the most shocking part of this is not his departure, rather, the acknowledgment by his label (and thusly himself) that some of the accusations were true in the form of a meeting with the victim.
These scandals all share the common feature of past actions coming back to haunt performers and have raised a variety of concerns about the relationship between production companies and contestants. For one, it seems that background checks were either less-than-thorough or ignored entirely. Although it's clear that each show has its own vetting process, this might not have accounted for events that were lost to time - that is, until netizens were presented with a reason to speak up via the public exposure of these contestants.
Another commonality among these scandals is the fact that they occurred prior to contestants' participation in their respective shows. They were marks of past behavior that might have been corrected or at least taken seriously as an ongoing issue to work on. With some controversies arising from contestants' actions that took place as early as elementary school, one can't help but wonder if netizens and viewers are holding contestants to an unrealistic standard of behavior for such a growing-pain driven life period. Although nothing excuses the contestants' actions, and accountability is important, it's possible that netizens were "reopening old wounds" and meddling with issues that had already been addressed on a smaller scale.
To the cynical, this string of events might sleep like a rather sloppy handling of show production duties - or, worse yet, a deliberate ploy to generate press for the shows in question. This argument is a little bit complicated, given that contestants who receive this level of heat usually leave their shows. Additionally, the motto of "all press is good press" doesn't necessarily hold true for the K-pop world. Most readers of this site are familiar with how netizens can build up and break down a star on a moment's notice. Having a reputation for questionable behavior, even if it's from technicalities and misunderstandings (word to Park Bom), usually hurts you permanently in K-pop.
It's hard to pin these issues on any one cause. Most of them occurred prior to fame, although it's understandable when onlookers argue that they represent behavior that might occur after fame is established. For producers and labels, this is not a good look; in fact, it's a bad investment. For fans, it can mean a combination of wasted time (when the artist can't debut or promote) and frustration (defending said artist). The only certain notion is that if scandals continue to happen at this pace, it should be one of the most interesting years K-pop competition shows have ever seen.