2019 marked another all-time high for the K-Pop industry in terms of its commercial success and global popularity. However, there were some record lows that marred some of the great success.
Unsurprisingly, BTS set several new records with their music. To kick off the year, they projected the K-Pop industry into the global arena as presenters at the prestigious 61st Grammy Awards ceremony. Shortly after, the group released their new EP 'Map of the Soul: Persona,' which landed them a spot on the popular American show, Saturday Night Live. With their single “Boy With Luv,” BTS broke a Youtube record by scoring 78 million views within the first 24 hours of release and even tied a Billboard chart record previously set by The Beatles. When holding concerts in the West, the top K-pop acts in the past would be relegated to large basketball arena's with around 15,000 capacity, but this was not the case anymore with BTS. The boys performed at the legendary Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for two nights and at some of the largest venues all across the world. This group has truly taken K-pop to another level that was unimaginable before.
BLACKPINK also made history with their debut at the Coachella music festival and broke multiple records with their “Kill This Love” music video. Despite having a limited number of releases, they held a successful worldwide tour. Fellow girl group TWICE became the very first K-Pop girl group to take on a Japanese dome tour. Most recently, Super M partnered with major label Capital Music Group and released a No. 1 album in America.
Furthermore, there were many exciting and highly-anticipated debuts. Kang Daniel founded his independent label Konnect Entertainment and broke records for solo artists with his debut album “Color on Me.” New groups like AB6IX, CIX, and ITZY successfully entered the industry with a bang. Groups like MONSTA X, MAMAMOO, and Seventeen continued to grow while newer groups such as ATEEZ, Dreamcatcher, TXT, ITZY, X1, IZ*ONE, and more made their mark in the K-pop world.
Despite the increasing interest and tremendous growth of K-Pop globally, a series of tragedies and scandals infected the industry.
Earlier this year, the Burning Sun scandal became one of the most widely-spoken about topics not just in the K-Pop world, but also in Korean society as a whole. Allegations of sexual assault, prostitution, hidden-camera footage, drug use, police corruption, and tax evasion against a Seoul nightclub co-owned by the former member of Big Bang, Seungri, quickly developed into a national scandal. Following this incident, Seungri retired from the K-Pop industry, singer Jung Joon Young was sentenced to six years in prison, and former member of FT Island, Choi Jong Hoon, was sentenced to five years in prison. YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun Suk also stepped down following the scandal.
Shortly afterward, former iKON member B.I was accused of attempting to purchase drugs like marijuana and LSD. This eventually led to his departure from the group. Long-time Super Junior member Kangin also announced that he would leave the group following years of controversy over his connections to sexual assault and drunk driving. Hwall from the Boyz parted ways with the group due to health issues. Former Stray Kids member Woojin shocked fans when he departed the group for undisclosed reasons. Finally, Wonho left Monsta X following multiple accusations about his past.
November was an embarrassing time for the K-Pop industry after it was revealed that the results for Mnet competitions ‘Produce 48’ and ‘Produce X 101’ was rigged. Authorities confirmed that the winners from the shows were pre-determined. As a result of the backlash that followed this scandal, the futures of K-Pop groups IZ*ONE and X1 were put at risk.
Recently, fans have been concerned about the safety of TWICE’s Nayeon. Her foreign “stalker,” has visited JYP Entertainment multiple times in hopes of interacting with Nayeon and is threatening to take legal action against JYP Entertainment.
Two of the most heartbreaking moments this year, however, were the deaths of Sulli and Goo Hara. Two of the sweetest angels in the industry prematurely passed away and broke the hearts of fans all over the world. After years of dealing with cyberbullying and malicious comments from netizens, the two former girl group members took their own lives at the ages of 25 and 27, respectively.
Mental health in the K-Pop industry has always been rocky, but this year seemed to exemplify the underlying pain that idols experience. TWICE’s Mina revealed that she was suffering from anxiety and stage insecurity and eventually made the decision to opt-out of TWICE’s tour. HyunA also shared her struggles with depression, panic disorders, and a fainting condition on social media.
Despite all the positives, this year has been a terrible year in K-Pop overall. Hopefully, these events highlight the necessity of addressing the mental health issues that K-Pop idols face. While groups like BTS and Stray Kids have attempted to tackle the stigma of openly discussing these topics, it is ultimately up to fans and the Korean community as a whole to protect these idols. Hopefully, 2020 will be the year the industry takes a step in a more positive direction.