What is Killing Korea’s Entertainment Talent?

Singer-songwriter, JK Kim Dong-uk recently released a new single “Stay,” which delivered a message to people considering suicide. In an interview with local media, Kim said he had witnessed colleagues’ battles with depression.

The song was unfortunately timely. This week’s apparently self-inflicted death of actress Jeon Mi-seon has further raised the alarm about the mental health of those who seem to be in ever-glowing spotlights.

The 48-year-old Jeon was found dead in a hotel in Jeonju, a few hours ahead of a scheduled stage performance. Though the police reported that there had been no suicide note, her management Boas Entertainment said in a statement that she had been treated for her depression and largely left open the possibility of Jeon’s suicide.

The Korean entertainment industry is notoriously high-pressure. Actress, Lee Yoo-young (“Yourself and Yours”) recently wrote on her social media: “I hope I die. Every day feels like hell. I want to escape.” Lee has not attempted suicide, nor has she clarified her statement.

But the industry has killed several others. And as they bade farewell, some revealed how toxic the industry can be.

The most widely known case is that of Jang Ja-yeon, who had a supporting role in the Korean version of hit TV series “Boys Over Flowers.” Her suicide note said that she had been forced her manager to have sex with sponsors in order to get roles in popular TV series and films.

Since K-pop became a phenomenon in the early 2000s, pressure on immature characters has increased. Most K-pop bands are made up of teenagers or those in their early twenties.

Candidates are recruited when they are still very young. Some of them stop going to school and leave home for training. Many lack the maturity to handle the job’s discipline and scrutiny.

In the era when new bands are being debuted every day, the industry is incredibly competitive, and the public is very severe with its critiques of behavior and appearance. On social media, judgements are instant, and careers can be over almost before they have even started.

“It is the talents’ job to be loved by the public. But the love rarely lasts. Many talents are overwhelmed by depression when they try to hold on to it,” said Kim. “My music is still immature, but I hope it can encourage other (Korean) musicians to release more songs about the suicide issue.”

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