20150221_seoulbeats_taehyunNam Tae-hyun can’t seem to avoid the controversies. Mere months after his banmal debacle, Winner‘s maknae is being criticized by netizens again for allegedly being disrespectful in his actions, only this time towards a valet driver.

Apparently, old paparazzi photos of Taehyun released by Dispatch resurfaced as netizens began to call the idol out on his lack of manners while handing out money. While on an outing with his mother, Taehyun was captured paying a parking service employee with an outstretched arm, a bill wedged between his two fingers. A Pann post entitled, “The reason artists have to be careful what they do in everyday life,” compared Taehyun’s style of payment to pictures of actor Son Ho-joon’s — not a flattering face-off in the least, as Son Ho-joon was seen bowing and offering the bill humbly with both hands.

20150222_seoulbeats_exoIn contrast, Taehyun’s closed off stance and lack of eye contact were not received well, and netizens tore him a new one for acting irreverently towards an elder. Korean culture dictates a certain level of politeness in hand gestures when handing something to a person of senior status, usually with the giver propping his/her elbow or using two hands to offer the object. Money only made the situation more sensitive, as Taehyun’s flippant handling of the currency seemed to convey a sense of superiority unallowed for rookie artists, much less for young adults in the presence of an older person.

The criticism surrounding Taehyun isn’t the first of its kind, as Exo received a similar backlash from Chinese media for improperly accepting the Artist of the Year award from presenter Andy Lau during MAMA 2014. However, Taehyun is getting burned more than any Exo member for his faux-pas, and in his case it’s worth considering that the reaction of the backlash may also have something to do with his reputation in addition to the actual incident itself.

20150221_seoulbeats_taehyun 2Fans defended Taehyun by pointing out that the Pann post had conveniently posted the photos out of context and sequence, as following photos portrayed Taehyun hesitating, his outstretched arm being an action to return the bill to his wallet while his mother paid instead. Other netizens argued that the additional pictures made no difference, as those photos did not excuse the way Taehyun had held the money.

What undoubtedly fueled the fire was, for one, the existing evidence of Taehyun speaking to fans in what could be interpreted as an impolite manner during one of Winner’s stages. Making matters worse were internet rumors which had existed even before the concert incident suggesting that Taehyun had been an iljin in high school, going so far as to suggest he had been forced to transfer schools as punishment for frequent fighting. As a result, this “delinquent” reputation has done Taehyun no favors by setting netizens’ expectations against him. Call it the Krystal effect, to some extent — one single misstep or show of abrasiveness and the idol is a rude ingrate, and every following faux-pas just another nail in the image coffin.

20141207_seoulbeats_winner_taehyun2But, attributing the criticism completely to overreaction and bias is letting Taehyun off the hook a little too easily. Female idols get flamed all the time for grey-area impoliteness such as looking bored during interviews or tearing up on TV, but Taehyun handing the money the way he did is undeniably inconsiderate. In a culture where respect is emphasized, these values also manifest in an entertainment industry where ninety-degree bows are the norm and bad boys are acceptable as an image but never as an attitude. Impolitely handing a bill to an older adult servicing you is defined as rude by Korean cultural customs, and if this really happened then what Taehyun did was rude, and especially so given his celebrity position.

But does he deserve to be called a bully or a delinquent for his faux-pas? Of course not; the point is to recognize that Taehyun doesn’t really have an excuse for his action and that fans, especially international ones, should not attempt to offer one. As trite as the incident might seem, cultural etiquette can’t exactly be ignored. Taehyun doesn’t deserve to be burned at the proverbial stake nor get off scot-free for this small incident. What he could use is simply some polishing up as a public figure that will hopefully keep him out of hot water for a while.

(Nate, Sports World, NewsenPann, images via Dispatch, Mnet, YG Entertainment)