The harsh policies idols and actors abide to keep their clean image leave sometimes little room for their less popular behavior. In this context, the rumor treadmill specializes in venting all sorts of suspicious photos about their nasty little habits, such as smoking. Officially frowned upon in most of the countries due to the large spectrum of diseases it can cause, it’s still an everyday issue without a proper solution. MOGEF is famous for banning songs strictly for the simple mention of smoke or alcohol. At this rate, it’s not completely unexpected for idols to meet general disapproval when they are caught red-handed. I’d say though there are different reactions, depending on the celebrity’s status.
Predictably, the news gathers everybody’s interest when it comes to A-list artists with a smoking problem. Ex-DB5K’s Junsu is the only one with an uptight anti-smoking policy, with Yoo-chun on the heavy-smokers league (the manager issued a warning for him, since it damaged his vocal cords) and the others largely-suspected, but unconfirmed adepts of puffing a cigarette. Big Bang’s G-Dragon openly admitted to be a smoker once with his marijuana scandal and T.O.P. was a smoker, but he quit some time ago. Super Junior‘s Heechul confessed he used to smoke, but he quit. The higher the expectations, the loudest the scandals explode when any of them decides to light that damned cigarette. Actors though deal more carelessly with smoking than singers. Lee Min-ho was seen smoking and had little problem with it; Kim Bum, Gong-yoo and Jang Geun-suk are still on the maybe-yes-maybe-not-smoking bandwagon and love teasing their fans with smoking-themed photoshoots. Yoo In Na outed Ji Hyun-woo as a smoker and it was received more as a cute gesture than anything worrisome.
But besides the fun in digging through idols’ dirt, there’s a reason singers become automatically a hot issue when they smoke. Long-term smoking causes damage to the fragile vocal cords, which ends in altering a singer’s vocal range. A smoker experiences a hard time singing in the upper register. Also, the voice encounters changes in tone and quality. While it doesn’t mean an automatic voice loss, the vocal cords could be irritated or swollen. The strain put on lungs affects their breathing and it becomes increasingly hard to have a good vocal control. Some other health issues are involved (such as how smoking is not cool when you’re suffering from asthma, Yoo-chun), but this usually concerns only their private life, and not necessarily their careers.
What’s curious is how some music artists get a free pass. Most of Shinhwa members (except for Andy and Dong-wan) smoke and don’t get much flack for it. H.O.T.’s Kang-ta and Tony Ahn received also netizens’ stinging eye due to rumors of smoking, but they never made a big fuss about it. The hierarchical structure of Korean society allows the senior members of the entertainment industry a lot more than to its beginners. A distinct case consists in the R’n’B or hip-hop artists like Kim Bum-soo, MC Mong or Eun Ji-won, who don’t feel bothered as much when smoking photos surface (if it’s on air though, people request the scenes to be edited). J.Y.P. told Leessang’s Gil about how he quit smoking, only to receive his employee’s joking answer that he now smokes two packs a day. Cho PD is acknowledged as a chain-smoker, but due to both his level of activity and time spent in the business, he puffs calmly and happily.
On the other hand, those who aren’t usually allowed to even be touched by this type of rumors represent an entire social category: women. When Fin.K.L.’s Sung Yu-ri learned how to smoke for the movie Romance Town, the public thought she looked too natural with the cigarette in her hand and assumed Yu-ri was a smoker, which attracted countless critiques. Moreover, not many female artists are known as smokers. While stats show that about 50% of the male population in South Korea smokes (once 80%, in 2011 about 40%), female smokers went from 4% to 2% in 2011. Old stats from 2007 showed 83% of Korean men are adverse to the idea of a woman smoking and half of the female smokers are secretive about their habit. South Korea is trying its hardest to combat smoking as a whole and it’s far from encouraging a better perception of female smokers: different areas in Seoul are under the smoking ban, including parks and a one-kilometer street in Gangnam, and authorities plan to worsen their attitude towards smoking at the workplace.
Still, another bad habit is by far more common among South Koreans and their idols: drinking. Variety shows are full of drinking stories with people passing out or embarrassing themselves with their drinking habits. Not a drama episode goes by without a nice hangover. Sadly, on par with these news are those of drunk-driving. Drinking is embedded within a handful of social situations, which makes it more acceptable than smoking. You have a glass of wine for a fancy dinner, champagne to celebrate, beer for a football game or absinthe for artistic moments. And for all the above, South Koreans have soju, preferred due to its long tradition and low price (a bottle of soju costs $1-2, a bottle of water $1.1 and a pack of Marlboro $2.4). Kim Hyun-joong‘s part on KBS‘ Happy Together, when he said he likes his girl to hold her liquor and drink just as much as him strangely passed unnoticed, while he had to go through a trial to be able to mention ‘expanding cigarette smoke’ in “Please.” It’s not my intention at all to have more material banned form K-pop, but I can’t help but notice the contradictory nature of these bans.
Despite all the taboos and regulations, there are still those enjoyable WTF moments in K-pop which are hilarious because of their randomness. Eugene asked Lee Hyori out of nowhere if she has quit smoking and after a slight hesitation, the diva jokingly answered she’s smoking electronic cigarettes now. And my favorite moment out of everything smoking-related, Cube Entertainment showed its middle finger (unfortunately, not literally) to the over-attached fangirls when photos about Beast’s Kikwang smoking came out by saying:
We’re not sure whether it is Kikwang in the picture. Even if it is, he is of legal age to smoke in Korea, so we fail to see the problem.
So what do you think of smoking idols? Are there any smokers among you to share their opinion?
(Korea Times, KBS, MSN, Daum, MyDaily, SportsSeoul, , BoomSeoul, Nate,,, MBC, Elle, Asiae, Harper’s Bazaar, SBS, Naver, newscj, Newsen, CNNGo, numbeo, Global Health, blnktime, Korea.com)