It should not come as a surprise to anyone following K-pop, that a score of idols, from groups that form the backbone of the industry, have gone the route of pursuing higher education. A number of them have even enrolled in some of Korea’s most prestigious universities; Sungkyunkwan University and Dongguk University are two such institutions. With several of their high school years spent in practice studios and dorms, the shadiness of a lot of these admissions comes almost naturally. Put simply, it’s hard to believe that their training demands and lengthy commutes in between, would allow for any study time at all. Often, due to their sporadic attendances, these idols have also come to be nicknamed as ‘ghost students’. In their defense, it must be perpetually difficult to maintain a balance between the life of a college student, and the life of an idol.
However, therein lies another question when it comes to idols and their higher education — what about the ones who actually end up leaving their groups? Are they (or their agencies) actually serious about it? Are these departures used as cover-ups for pursuing other activities, away from the public eye, or maybe for other reasons to downplay some damaging news?
At first, one would probably think nothing of a departing member (who announces his/her study plans), since leaving would be a natural step to take, so that he/she can keep to an academic timetable. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with living like a normal human being, and pursing college/university, right?
Recent news would suggest otherwise, as I’m sure many of you have now heard, and probably think. This piece of news revolves around A Pink member Hong Yoo-kyung, who was revealed to have taken leave so that she would be able to go back to school.
Interestingly, however, it was revealed that this was not the case at all. Yoo-kyung’s father openly disputed (via Twitter) A Cube’s official reasons, with news that sharply contradicted the company’s claims:
They media played that they had discussed the matter with Yoo-kyung’s mother… If they had just apologized and asked me to hold back for the sake of A Pink, I could’ve done that… but I feel that I need to explain what had actually happened in the process of us signing the compromise.
Yookyung suffered emotionally last year because of how much they media played about how she came from a wealthy family. But I held back, knowing that it would help bring public recognition to A Pink’s name. Even after they put out articles of her withdrawal, they were media playing about her joining the group purely to get into school for special treatment…
While Yoo-kyung’s case appears to be another clear-cut example of the ‘education excuse’ — as I’d like to call it — this looks to be more serious than most member departures. I’m dwelling on this case, and the larger issues around it because this ‘education excuse’ has been deployed one too many times, to mask or divert from undesirable outcomes.
Followers of JYP Entertainment would also remember a similar, albeit subtler case in 2010, when it was announced that Wonder Girls‘ Sunmi would depart the group to further her studies. Contrary to reports, her leave was believed to have been caused by the group’s lack of success in the US, in which the venture had taken a toll on her. One would then think that Sunmi pretty much left indefinitely and would have faded into obscurity; however, it was revealed recently that she had kept close contact with her former group, and that she would still communicate with other JYP idols.
Adding to this, rumors of her return to the group were also circulated in 2012. Rationally, one would probably surmise that there’s absolutely no problem with Sunmi associating with her former group mates, but if the wild rumors of her return actually ring true (or stir up enough to bring attention to the matter), then this whole business of her departure in favor of school would come off as rather suspicious. It would lead one to wonder about her original, widely publicized personal commitments. WG antis would probably jump at the opportunity to question her honesty and sincerity. One does not simply leave a group to go back to it later.
Another comparable case is the one with former After School member Yoo So-young; she attributed her departure to health reasons, which gave her the opportunity to focus on her studies. Considering her short attachment to the group, it’s easy to see how the hard idol life could’ve been quick to break her down, and in this case as well, letting go of a member and never hearing from her again. That turned out to last a few months; in 2010, it was revealed that So-young had other plans in the works, and that she’d been planning to go the acting route. An idol life is difficult enough to bear, but for anyone who knows how the K-drama industry works, this would seem like a somewhat odd choice; the life of an actress can be equally gruelling, both physically and mentally. As such, it does make one wonder if leaving for health and education reasons were really legit to begin with.
Along with similar reports involving Girls’ Day‘s Ji-hae, and three members from EXID, this all goes to show that what some of us now recognize as the ‘education excuse,’ could in fact be actual ruses, employed to throw off the general public. While this diversion could be indefinite or planned for the short-term, it should also be understood that a change of circumstances can change the course of events. However, in spite of all these reasons, what’s perceived on the surface boils down simply to the individual’s integrity.
Judging by the frequency of the ‘education excuse,’ it can be easily derived that each situation may not be what they seem to be. As good a screen as it is, to temporarily bury an unpleasant situation, ethics come into play and no matter the talent, such behavior will always make room for the discrediting of the artist’s efforts. This outcome is undesirable, and almost ironic, considering the fact that its occurrence is within the entertainment industry. It is as much the responsibility of the individual, as it is the artiste management companies, to re-evaluate path options before the ‘education excuse’ is brought out.