The world is full of rare sicknesses — some are contagious, some are incurable, and some do more harm to innocent bystanders than the actual patient.
Already a common term in Asia, perhaps you’ve heard of the “prince/princess syndrome,” known as “wang-ja/gong-ju byung” in Korea. Symptoms of this illness include, but are not limited to, vanity, materialism (for certain individuals), and egotism. Anyone can become a victim, but there’s a more serious variation that’s mostly specific to the people inside the entertainment industry: the celebrity disease.
In recent years, we haven’t had a shortage of idols who’ve been criticized for coming off as impolite or unconcerned in public. With unending pressure to present and maintain a near perfect image, every celebrity is under constant scrutiny for seemingly inappropriate behavior.
On last week’s episode of KBS‘s Happy Together 3, the leader of legendary idol group H.O.T, Moon Hee-jun, announced his celebrity disease in the past:
I had the celebrity disease during my H.O.T days. I tried to be modest when I was outside, but as soon as I got into the SM office, I acted from that moment as if I caught the celebrity disease. For no reason, I would walk very slowly and when there was one door for five members, I would always enter all by myself.
From his account, we can see that Moon Hee-jun at least attempted to hide his illness in public, a decision that not every patient can make. Either way, he’s recovered now, and through openly talking about it on broadcast, perhaps he can inspire a few juniors to follow his footsteps in self-diagnosis and recovery.
Moon Hee-jun also cited the mass of fans who waited in front of his house on his birthday during his H.O.T days as part of the reason for catching the disease. Increasingly intense fandoms for the stars of today have most likely caused the syndrome to spread quicker than ever, so K-pop idols are also asked more often about their health on broadcasts nowadays.
When 2PM guested on The Human Condition, the members named Taecyeon as the one with the celebrity disease. Junho revealed Taecyeon’s love of receiving greetings from juniors in the waiting room while Jun. K described witnessing the idol asking people if they wanted to take a picture with him.
Exo chose Tao as their candidate on a radio show. According to his teammates, the Chinese maknae can often be found in front of a bathroom mirror, taking his time to adjust his hair or simply admire his looks.
Back in 2011, on KBS’s Hello, Kara also told their story of an idol group member who suffered from the celebrity disease since his trainee days. Seungyeon added that the disease eventually spread to another male and female within their company, leaving her with unfortunate memories.
Interestingly, Kara was under fire last year themselves for shedding tears, refusing to perform aegyo, and blaming drama viewers for their criticism on Radio Star. Perhaps the members wouldn’t have complained about aegyo problems if there were still rookies.
Infinite‘s Sunggyu also claimed that his group isn’t “that low of a level to be doing [a certain type of aegyo] anymore” on an episode of Weekly Idol, implying that celebrities’ behavior can be based on the degree of their fame and achievement.
Fellow members Hoya and Sungjong also repeatedly claimed that the rankings were manipulated when Girls’ Day‘s Minah placed third in a survey on girl group members for JTBC‘s High Society. Hoya even admitted to growing arrogant following the success of Reply 1997 on another ep of Weekly Idol, but fortunately Sunggyu gave him a scolding to clear his head.
Undoubtedly, most of these mentions by idols are meant to induce laughter and provide entertainment on variety shows. Nevertheless, pretending to have the celebrity disease or pinpointing members to be victims is probably not the best way to impress passing viewers.
Therefore, perhaps the focus on this topic on nationwide shows isn’t healthiest choice. Idols are consistently asked for stories regarding their fame and (at times) fortune, so it’s becoming more necessary to save up a few tales to tell. After all, what better headliner than a focus on aspects of celebrity life that citizens know less about?
The celebrity diseases these idols have (or discuss), however, can only be classified as mild cases. While theirs may do some basic image-damaging or awkwardness-inducing, more severe victims can cause more damage, revealing the true danger of the disease.
Lee Jun-ki admitted to once having a severe case of the epidemic. During his worst phase, the disease blinded him from seeing the betrayals of many people close to him, resulting in nights spent drinking, crying, and even butchering his furniture with a knife when he found out the truth.
Korean news agencies are also known to release blind items — or “entertainment radar” articles — anonymously revealing the difficulties caused by celebrities with the “top star disease,” along with dating rumors and other news. Reported troubles include actors and actresses arriving late on set and delaying schedules by hours, refusing to film certain scenes or ignoring directors’ orders, criticizing dramas to be below the status of movies, changing scripts due to personal preference, and much more. In a specific case where a director gave out advice for filming a scene, a top actress supposedly replied, “Director, how about you worry about yourself first?”
The 2014 drama You From Another Star also had its main character Cheon Song-yi often brag about her star status. Her mother also caught a bad case of the celebrity disease despite not being the one directly in the spotlight. What seemed comical in the drama, however, can easily bring company directors and staff many troubles in real life.
Fortunately, a number of celebrities also search for immunity shots to try to avoid the disease completely. Actress Park Shin-hye discussed her tactics in staying immune during a 2013 interview. Although she started out as a child actor, she stays humble by taking public transportation in her spare time and tackling many tasks alone without her manager. Her parents also chide her for choosing her job if she ever complained to them, showing the importance of a healthy, disease-free family.
In every industry, the longer you’ve worked, the more you learn, so, naturally, you climb higher in terms of status and position over time. And when your job is to make the public like you and your work, experience and success can easily corrupt your mind, causing the balance between self-esteem and arrogance to become one of the most difficult goals to maintain. In my opinion, it’s completely understandable for celebrities these days to feel that they’re popular and widely loved. With endless seas of fans and world tour stops or movie premieres in numerous countries, staying humble is the most precious — and attractive — quality.
As a result, even for the most prominent doctors, this illness is a difficult one to cure. In Lee Jun-ki’s case, he was only able to escape the dangers by encountering a major difficulty. But if everyone could avoid this road bump on the journey to recovery and maintain a smooth career, the entertainment industry might just become slightly more bearable.
For the time being, which one of you readers would like to bake some humble pie for our potential patients, or take them on a visit to Dr. Yoo Jae-suk?