“Will you marry me? Will you marry me?” — K.Will in his song “Marry Me”
No. Marriage is perhaps a recurring headline in Korean entertainment, but a rare term for K-pop (besides the show We Got Married). When interview questions point towards this direction, the default response is to push its possibility to the far future.
On a variety show last week, Girl’s Day‘s leader, Sojin, announced her plans to marry when she’s 37 years old. Born in 1986, Sojin is currently 29 (27 internationally), meaning that her hypothetical marriage would take place in 2022. If Girl’s Day were to remain active until then, the group would be celebrating its 12th anniversary.
Along with her thoughts on marriage, Sojin shared her plans for having children:
I want to give birth to one daughter and share her son. This is my first time saying this, but my dream is to raise three children. I’m going to give birth to one son and one daughter and then I will adopt one no matter what. During my lifetime, I received so much help, which is why I definitely want to adopt.
Like many other idols, Sojin is focused on her work in the present so starting a family can only be an aspiration tucked away for later. After all, with Girl’s Day just reaching the prime of their popularity, any news of dating or marriage (after Hyeri‘s romance) could undermine their current success.
Perhaps already living Sojin’s future dream, Sunye of the Wonder Girls married in January 2013, making her 24 years old (23 internationally) when she tied the knot. A baby followed soon after, and the singer has been away from the stage ever since. For the current generation of idols, Sunye is a first in both the marriage and baby department.
Currently, the average age of marriage is 32.1 years for Korean men and 29.4 for women. Over 40% of women marry in their late 20s, making Sunye part of this popular group and Sojin somewhat behind. In comparison, 39.7% of Korean men married in their 30s, so male idols have an advantage in postponing settling down.
Nonetheless, Shinhwa‘s Kim Dong-wan said he wished to marry as quickly as possible during the press conference for a drama in 2012. He also included that his original goal was to find a wife by the time he was 35 years old, but he was already 34 at the time. Unfortunately, his wish hasn’t come true yet, and I’m sure many other idols’ similar wishes have been suppressed as well.
Some of his fellow first generation idols, however, have found their beloved others. Sechs Kies‘s Eun Ji-won married in 2010 at age 33 (31 internationally), Baby V.O.X‘s Kim E-Z married the same year at age 32 (30 internationally), and S.E.S‘s Shoo also married in 2010 at age 30 (28 internationally), while her ex-bandmate Eugene married in 2011 at age 31 (30 internationally). And of course, ex-Fin.K.L member Lee Hyori married just last year at the age of 35 (34 internationally).
One thing these idols all have in common is that their original groups disbanded prior to their marriages. Most of the first generation groups came to an end while the members were still in their 20s so there was time to branch out and develop solo careers. Fans of the idols also matured, and are perhaps not as demanding with their biases’ relationship statuses. Even if a public relationship or marriage did damage an idol’s fanbase now, it wouldn’t affect the other members’ anymore. Therefore, going solo offers much more freedom when it comes to private lives.
Today, K-pop is still loved by a wide range of audiences, from elementary schoolers to elderly grandparents. A huge portion of fans, however, are a selection of teenagers who have grown overly attached to their idols. And what happens when these idols are revealed to be taken? Even though the correct answer would be to feel happy and wish the best for them, not everyone can think this way.
Fans constitute the basis for K-pop. As a result, a pristine, single idol — or at least the image of one — is the ultimate goal of entertainment companies. In order to protect this reputation, companies have often resorted to dating bans or similar tactics to keep the fans happy. More idol couples have been announced in the past few years, but not all have been met with positive responses. SHINee fans attacked Shin Se-kyung to the point where she closed down her Cyworld when her relationship with Jonghyun went public in 2010, and 100,000 fans left Se7en‘s fan café without hesitation when he came clean about his romance with Park Han-byul in 2009.
And since a dating scandal already has the power to rapidly repel fans from a group or solo artist, a K-pop marriage could potentially match the devastation of a magnitude 7 earthquake.
As we’ve seen with Sunye, who’s actually just a mild case, her hiatus following the marriage has partially been blamed for the recent decline of the Wonder Girls. The singer had always been a fan favorite — even among non-Wonderfuls — for her loving personality and charity work. As a result, the initial announcement of her relationship was met with good wishes. Nevertheless, a number of these approvals quickly turned to disappointment and even anger once the Wonder Girls’ activities were halted.
Amongst fans, Sunye’s gender has cushioned the impact. Disappointed fanboys could be balanced by well-wishing fangirls, but the same can’t be said for fans of the opposite gender. Imagine a male idol getting married — it’s just plain terrifying.
Coming up on April 12th, we’ll be hearing wedding bells for Busker Busker’s Jang Bum-joon who is 24 years old (23 internationally), and actors Oh Ji-ho and Park Jung-chul who are both 39 (37 internationally). Although none of them are K-pop idols, we can see that, apart from singer Jang Bum-joon’s shotgun wedding, actors are marrying at an older age too.
There’s no doubt that getting married would affect an idol’s career. However, even members of national girl group SNSD are starting to jump aboard the dating train so how long can it be until we hear about marriage from one of them?
Perhaps around 12 years, when they’re 37.