Dating in mainstream K-pop is, to say the least, complicated. It seems as though we are to expect our favorite oppars and unnies to sing and prance along to songs about love, and all shapes and forms of it, while at the same time believe they will never get entangled with the physical matter in real life. And if and when they do, it seems to be cause for serious damage control.
There is a reason celebrities don’t readily reveal information about their single or not-so single life. For one, dating and partners are pieces of their private life, something real and formative to who they are as people and not necessarily something they want to sell as an image or make vulnerable to outside criticism, much like other work they do for living. But in K-pop, it seems as though getting into and admitting to a relationship is like biting into forbidden fruit–real dating and romance are kept at the utmost DL, for many of the reasons you would expect and some you may not.
Celebrities don’t often want to share their private lives because it’s just that: private life, not the part of the public sphere they create as a commodity for the masses at large. But more than that, companies don’t want their idols to have private lives for fear of the margin of human error it might incur, because of the risk it runs of damaging artfully crafted reputations. Going out for drinks, sleeping out, hitting the clubs, and yes, dating are all normal situations that could be devastating to a celebrity reputation. And rather than risk it, these idols are sheltered as long as humanly possible.
But it’s not just reputations that idols and their agencies are dying to protect. In K-pop, the presentation of many concepts and music productions implies this idea that “oppa/unnie/dongsaeng is just for you.” Think about it–it’s not that often we see MVs where there is a concrete character fleshed out as the love interest. Whole entire productions about dramatic love songs crying over undying love go by and yet more often than not there is no elicit, complex character on the receiving end of the love.
Another hot topic that makes fans squeamish is co-ed choreography–some even take it a little too personal when idols grind all up on a member of the opposite gender a little too much. Also, when dating turbulence makes it on the airwaves, companies make up the best bull you’ve ever heard to down play reality–to reassure you that, of course oppa/unnie would never betray you.
Consider the way in which LOEN Entertainment responded to the IU/Eunhyuk scandal.
The revealed photo was from this summer when IU was very sick and Eunhyuk had come to visit her at her home, and was taken then when they sat on the sofa together…
Lastly, IU and Eunhyuk are close sunbae-hoobae who have been close since IU’s debut, Eunhyuk is close to the point that he has even dined with IU’s mother. We ask that you do not exaggerate or make assumptions about IU and Eunhyuk’s relationship due to this incident.
But let’s be real here–you, me, and all the K-pop fandom knows what really went down that day, and it seems, as Patricia points out, most netizens could really truly care less if HyukU did the naughty naughty.
Now companies comment on benign situations all the time–if two idols are seen even too remotely close to each other without obvious reason, expect an official statement regarding when, how, why, and a kindly worded please gtfo to sasaengs. And whether or not the couple in question are actually dating is not the point I’m trying to make here; rather, the ways in which companies so blatantly try to maintain the “oppa/unnie is just for you” image by making up lame excuses that there is no way in hell the two idols you see photographed together are interested in each other.
We see the same kind of micromanagement in the use of dating bans. Idols as old as Dara and Bom (both 28) still abide by dating bans (or say they do), as do many idols, in order to focus on work, among other things. The way I see it, dating is a sign of age and growth beyond the pop world, an extremely difficult thing to reel back in once gone.
This is exactly why companies try to maintain their products with as much shelf life as possible, even if that means spewing royal BS to maintain the image of the hot, available K-pop star and buying into as well as encouraging fans’ desire to see their idols cater only to the fandom, as long as they squeeze every last dollar out the idol endeavor.
Often times we look harshly upon those who react forcefully to news or rumors or photos or even scripted reality about idols becoming intimate and yet forget that we sometimes do the same when the news involves our favorite ultimate bias lovers. In the grand scheme of K-pop, the idols we see everyday are made to look like objects of our desire and our desire only, as companies alienate any intimation that could imply that others work to please anyone but the viewer.
This perverse construct has exploited the hormonally charged teenage demographic that eats, sleeps, and breaths K-pop, or in other words, has made us believe that idols are made for us, by us, and can’t belong to anyone but us. It’s the reason why companies serve up blanket statements anytime idols get too close and why idols in the dating the world persist to seem like a phenomenon.
So are we brainwashed to be this way? I certainly think so. I’m not gonna act like I don’t have a stroke every time I hear about my ultimate bias lover Jun.K flirting it up on the tvN spinoff The Romantic and Idol; in fact, I’m sure every fangirl and fanboy has had to fight the twangs of seething jealousy at some point in their K-pop lives. But realize we’ve been brainwashed to believe that idols exist outside human vulnerabilities, that idols do not come into unnecessary or intimate physical contact and are asexual amongst each other. If you sit back and really consider it, the most sexual tension in K-pop happens during choreography, when your bias makes eye contact and begins K-pop standard pelvic thrusting. Entertainment companies have mastered this subversive marketing in order to make K-pop all the more worth our while, and at the same time, are the ones responsible for making me cry every time I see gifs of Jun.k on the The Romantic and Idol.
(FY KPOP MACROS, LOEN Entertainment)