In the glossy world of K-pop, any breach of decorum can quickly become a major scandal for the stars — called “idols” — and their legions of fans.
Earlier this week, 28-year-old singer Seungri, one of five members of major K-pop boy group BIGBANG, made headlines when he was charged with supplying prostitutes during the investigation of assault and misconduct between security and a patron at a nightclub that he sat on the board of. Following the charges, Seungri posted a resignation letter from his work in entertainment on Monday. A number of other South Korean stars are being questioned as the scope of the investigation continues to snowball.
Here’s what to know about Seungri.
Who is Seungri?
Lee Seung-hyun, known to the public as Seungri, has been a K-pop star since BIGBANG’s debut in 2006. The group was one of the most popular acts when it comes to the K-pop sound, playing a major role in defining the industry as it exists now. For his part, Seungri is known in pop culture as a celebrity with a taste of finer things, picking up the nickname “The Great Seungri” (á la F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby), and even titling his 2018 solo album with the same moniker.
Outside of his role with BIGBANG and as a solo singer, Seungri is also an actor and entrepreneur. In the past, he opened a dance academy to train upcoming K-pop idols, started a record label and has been involved in the nightclub and restaurant businesses. He is scheduled to enlist in the South Korean military on March 25. (Military service is mandatory for young men in South Korea.) His talent agency, YG Entertainment, recently said he will begin his service as planned. YG has since terminated their exclusive contract with Seungri. YG has not returned TIME’s request for comment on this story.
What is Seungri accused of?
During a police probe into prostitution and sexual misconduct at Seoul nightclubs, Seungri’s name surfaced in what local news said appeared to be leaked text messages containing incriminating information. He was booked Monday on charges of supplying prostitutes through a nightclub, Arena in Seoul’s Gangnam district, with reports that he is allegedly suspected of offering to arrange sexual services for club patrons.
Seungri denies the accusations, and announced he would step down from all his entertainment roles. He shared his resignation on Instagram:
Who else is being charged and what are the charges?
In late January, CCTV footage surfaced of an alleged assault at Burning Sun, a nightclub in Seoul for which Seungri sat on the board that has since shut down, reception at the hotel it was housed within confirmed to TIME. A man identified only as “Mr. Kim” claimed he was the victim in an attack involving security personnel, but when police showed up they identified him as the assailant and handcuffed him. As the investigation into the circumstances of his assault continued, police went on to launch further investigations into suspicions of on-site drug use and women’s sexual services. Both drug use and prostitution are illegal in South Korea.
In late February, a series of text messages on the popular messaging app KakaoTalk were reported on by local news. According to police reports, they were obtained by a cell phone repair worker who discovered them on one of the message sender’s phones. The messages reported on by local news that said they were between Seungri, the Korean singer and actor Jung Joon Young and a number of other men, showed people discussing arrangements for providing escort services to attendees at a nightclub. Seungri has denied wrongdoing, and his management agency YG Entertainment has suggested the messages have been fabricated. On March 10, Seungri and others were questioned by Korean police.
Jung released a statement on Tuesday to Korean news outlets taking responsibility for illicit filming and putting his career on hold.
“I admit to all my crimes,” he shared in Korean, Billboard reports. “I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom, and while I did so I didn’t feel a great sense of guilt.” Police say he recorded videos of at least 10 women without their consent.
On Thursday, both Jung and Seungri were seen entering police facilities in Seoul for questioning which appears to have lasted several hours, according to the Associated Press. Both stars shared apologies with journalists assembled at the station.
How is illicit filming a big deal?
Illicit filming is something of an epidemic in South Korea. Last year, Seoul’s municipal government employed as many as 8,000 workers solely for the purpose of finding and removing hidden cameras from public places, including restrooms and changing rooms. Over the past five years, as many as 30,000 cases of “surreptitious filming” were reported in police statistics, according to the New York Times. Tens of thousands of women participated in one of South Korea’s largest public protests last year to decry the epidemic and call out for better enforcement of punishment for perpetrators.
What is BIGBANG and why does it matter in K-pop?
BIGBANG was one of South Korea’s first acts to break through onto the global stage in 2006, setting themselves apart from the crowd by maintaining a level of individual creative freedom not usually seen in “idol” groups. They are known for their edgier compositions and distinctive personalities.
By 2012, they became the first Korean group to make it to the main Billboard 200 album charts with their EP Alive. Their 2015 world tour is considered one of the most-attended Korean act tours in history, drawing 1.5 million people, clearing the way for more K-pop groups like BTS, EXO and BLACKPINK to become international hits just a few years later. BIGBANG has reportedly sold more than 140 million records globally, besting groups like the Backstreet Boys for title of best-selling boy band. Lately the group has been on hiatus, as four of its five members are currently enlisted for their mandatory military service. The other members are G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang and Daesung.
What’s going on with YG and its stock?
YG Entertainment is one of the “big three” K-pop management agencies, the others being SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. YG was responsible for the development of BIGBANG, on which it has built its K-pop empire, following it up with similarly beloved girl group 2NE1 in 2009. The rapper Psy then became a viral sensation globally in 2014 after his “Gangnam Style” video broke YouTube records, continuing to buoy K-pop’s visibility on the world stage. Most recently, YG’s latest girl group BLACKPINK has made a major push into the U.S. market, appearing on the cover of Billboard and performing on late night shows.
This week, YG’s stock dropped about 14%, SM’s took a 11% dip, while JYP’s went down 4.5%, Bloomberg reports. K-pop is big business globally, making up a nearly $5 billion industry. The big three groups also have an upstart competitor in BigHit Entertainment, a smaller management company that launched the careers of the blockbuster boy band BTS and unveiled a new group, TXT, over the past month.
- Taylor Swift Is TIME's 2023 Person of the Year
- Meet the Nation Builders
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- Column: It's Time to Scrap the Abraham Accords
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- In a New Movie, Beyoncé Finds Freedom
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time