South Korean rapper Psy put K-Pop on the global stage with “Gangnam Style.” Now, a sex and drug scandal at Gangnam clubs involving another K-pop star is battering the industry’s carefully crafted image.
Seungri, a member of the internationally acclaimed Big Bang boy band, is being investigated for facilitating prostitution and has been questioned by police. Although he has not been charged, the probe has set off a media and political frenzy that is rocking South Korea. The entertainment industry has become increasingly important as an engine of economic growth — one of the country’s best-known exports alongside Samsung phones and Hyundai automobiles.
The police questioned Seungri Thursday about whether he arranged prostitutes at one club in Seoul, according to a spokesman for the department. In addition, the country’s prime minister called for an investigation into reports alleging sex crimes, drug abuse and police collusion with Gangnam clubs.
“The deviations of some entertainers and wealthy people are shocking,” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said on Thursday at a policy meeting. “Police should get to the bottom of it to bring justice.”
President Moon Jae-in, who last year praised K-Pop after BTS topped the Billboard 200 chart, hasn’t commented.
The scandal began in November when a guest at a club called “Burning Sun” was violently removed from the premises by staff. Seungri was an executive at the club and speculation over their ties has riveted the nation. Local broadcaster MBC reported last month that a club employee provided guests with drugs. The club has denied wrongdoing.
“This sends shock waves through not only entertainers but the powerful and wealthy that have fed on their charm to advance their own interests,” said Kim Jung-soo, who teaches cultural polices at Seoul’s Hanyang University.
The scandal expanded further when SBS reported separately this month that another K-Pop celebrity, Jung Joon-young, shared a spy-cam video in a messaging chat room that showed him having sex with a woman. SBS said the chat room also included Seungri and other entertainers.
Jung, 30, shot to fame in an America’s Got Talent-style contest in 2012. He has been fired by his agency and apologized while acknowledging the allegations, Yonhap News reported. Calls to the Makeus Entertainment firm that represented him weren’t answered.
Seungri and Jung Thursday went to Seoul’s police headquarters for questioning, according to television footage. Neither commented on the allegations as they passed through columns of reporters.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of two Gangnam clubs tied to Seungri earlier this month, demanding the end of what they called a persistent culture that degrades women as sexual objects.