Wedding bells are ringing more vivaciously than never before in the K-Pop sphere. The term marriage has reached its prime in the Korean media, almost becoming a norm. In April alone, we’ve witnessed the announcement of at least three marriages – Gary’s, Yoochun’s and Eric’s to actress Na Hyemi, which have stirred a roar of tidal waves amongst netizens and fans. But whether they’re taking the news well begs another question.
Living under a microscope, it’s established that idols don’t have the luxury of privacy. With people perpetually breathing down their necks, it’s already rather difficult to lead a normal life, let alone tie the knot and indulge in nuptial bliss afterward. More often than not, an idol marriage isn’t simply one between the two committed partners, but rather one between the couple and netizens and fans, who normally come in a supportive or vicious pack about the nuptial.
A sensitive and taboo topic, marriage has the ability to make or break a fandom, especially if the fandom consists of unhealthily possessive fans, who are hyper-vigilant to every interaction the idol has with someone of the other gender.
As frivolous as it sounds, appearing to be openly available to fans plays a key role in concocting the image and popularity of idols. When one ties the knot, the hefty weight of the “married” status instantly marks him as less marketable, disgruntedly chewing up and spitting out fans’ romantic fantasies with their idols.
It’s pertinent that idols avoid sharing too much of their private lives, uncomfortable about the aftermath and even the safety of the people involved, noting how extreme fans can be. Marriage, which brings about the change in relationship status to now unavailable, deters many fangirls from supporting their idols wholeheartedly, due to ill feelings of jealousy, disloyalty and even betrayal. Thus, it’s an anomaly to willingly disclose a relationship as all hell breaks loose when an idol relationship or marriage is revealed or exposed. Hence, marriages often come off as sudden and abrupt, with no signs of the couple previously dating or whatsoever.
Take Gary for example. Earlier in April, he took it to Instagram to announce that he has tied the knot to his partner privately, without informing his agency and majority of his contacts. Moreover, there are many Running Man fans who still religiously root for the Monday Couple (Gary and Song Jihyo). Hence when the news broke out, some fans felt cheated in a sense, as if being stunned by the sudden announcement wasn’t enough. Even his former Running Man members were unaware of his decision, which further appalled fans, given how the cast has always been perceived to be so tight-knitted.
It seems like secrets aren’t only kept from fans, but from fellow band members as well. When news of Eli’s secret marriage touched the Internet shores, member Soohyun admitted that he wasn’t aware of the marriage and only found out about it through SNS, expressing his disappointment. To put it simply, he was in the same plight as their fans, which questions the true relationship between idols and fellow idols. They’ve always fed us with this assumption that idol group members are akin to family members, so bonded and loving of one another, but how true is that behind closed doors? Just some food for thought.
Another example would be Yoochun, who publicized his upcoming marriage a few weeks ago. After the announcement came rolling in all the different reactions and backlash towards him and his fiancé Hwang Hana, who denied the wedding rumors initially. On her Instagram, she contradicted the statement by Yoochun’s company, “Please don’t do this. It’s not like that.” Netizens were thrown into an undeniable uproar and it doesn’t make it easier with netizens still attacking Yoochun about his past controversy.
Okay, but what’s with everyone and blasting their thoughts on social media? Jaejoong too, soon posted a huge ‘NO’ on Instagram, causing frantic fans to explore the possibilities and reasoning behind the act. Some say that he was perhaps appalled by the news, implying that he wasn’t aware of the marriage as well. Dismally, we will never know the truth. However for Eric and Na Hyemi’s marriage, Shinhwa’s agency revealed that the couple annouced the marriage to the other Shinhwa members after annoucing the good news to their parents. Regardless, I think it’s clear that idols have been pressurized to become very secretive that even their fellow celebrity friends – whom we assume they’re close to – might not be in the know of their relationships and marriages, and what not.
Another trend to be taken into account is the nasty suspicion that arouses from unexpected marriages. Often, many netizens like to condemn unforeseen marriages as shotgun ones. A shotgun marriage has become a term thrown around loosely and idols like Sunye, Dongho, Baek Jiyoung and Sungmin have been thrown under the bus, with their reputations at stake.
This is mostly evident in the case of Moon Heejun and Soyul. Prior to the announcement, Soyul had actually ceased group activities due to panic disorder in October 2016. But given how things seemed to be planned so systematically and timely with the marriage announcement in November 2016, many suspected pregnancy as the reason for her hiatus, although both parties had denied the rumors.
In monetary-driven K-Pop, one implicit rule for success is the idol’s availability, or the pretense of, in terms of relationships. The industry thrives on marketing fantasy and creating this special emotional bond between idols and fans. It is all about the bottom line and sucking the consumer dry, which often deludes fans into thinking that idols are made just for them and that they actually possess the idols.
Besides exploiting the desire and lust in fans, the entertainment business also targets on loneliness and desire for romance. All these feed fans’ wildest dreams of being romantically involved with their idols and having a certain level of entitlement towards their lives. Perhaps, that’s also why many idols are reluctant to disclose their relationships, as it automatically removes them from the subversive market which sells by filling in whatever void fans would like them to. Once marriage is in the picture, fangirls find it less desirable and motivated to feed their fantasies.
A huge portion of K-Pop’s appeal derives from idols’ interactions with fans and their expressive gratitude towards them. Remaining single has become an indication of devotion to fans. It’s almost as if it’s mandatory for idols to stay single for fans, and not because they’re too busy to date. Thus, when an idol announces that they’re in a relationship or even married, it’s only natural for fans to think that they’re not important to their idols anymore, accompanied with this brooding sense of disloyalty, betrayal, and even abandonment.
When Eli revealed that he had dated his now-wife for 5 years in the secret before his marriage, many KISSMEs couldn’t help but feel disappointed and deceived, which eventually led to the stark decrease in the fan base. Being unsupportive of an idol just because he got married isn’t something new. Although yes, it’s only natural to feel hurt – because your oppa now belongs to someone he loves, and it isn’t you – but it also reflects the mentality and maturity of fans.
How fans react to such news might be seemingly related to age and perceived maturity. But even first generation idol Moon Heejun received backlash upon announcing his marriage. Fans grew upset, suspecting that his concert prior to the announcement was held to make money for his wedding. At the wedding’s press conference, he apologized profusely, “I would like to say to my upset fans that regardless of whether or not something is true, I should have done better. I also want to say that I’m so sorry. I’m going to continue my activities with a thankful heart. I really want to apologize and say thank you.”
He’s 39 and definitely at a marriageable age. Yet, there are still fans who were discontented about the marriage, feeling a sense of disloyalty and abandonment after having supported him for many years. Hence, this begs the question: Do idols need to apologize for being in a relationship or for tying the knot and why?
Apologies are a huge thing in the K-Pop sphere, where prim and proper behaviors and politically correct statements have vastly shaped and enhanced its culture. With such a strong idol-fan base relationship cultivated, it’s not unusual for fans to feel betrayed by the lack of transparency. But do idols need to feel guilty and apologetic for finding love? This is one question that I find particularly peculiar. I think it’s more likely that idols are apologizing for killing their fans’ fantasies, and not for finding love.
If you feel unhappy about your idol getting married, what does it say about you as a person? An unpopular opinion that many fans refuse to believe is that idols, your oppas, unnies, noonas or whatever, will only be yours in your dreams. We’ve been so utterly brainwashed into thinking that idols do not have vulnerabilities and human tendencies like us.
I’m sure fans of both genders have had to fight the pang of seething jealousy and the pinch at their chests from having their fantasies crushed, at one point of time. I’m not going to deny that I didn’t feel indignant (or even jealous) upon hearing multifarious rumors of my bias dating other idols because I too, have this selfish and unspoken fantasy at the back of my mind. We all can dream, right? Yet, it’s also important to keep in mind the difference between admiration and obsession. Our biases could be happily dating someone right now and we don’t even know. I’ve learnt to be happy for my bias if he has genuinely found love, and this is something that I think fans need to understand and embrace.
It’s hard to say who the true victims are. Idols have traded their privacy for fame and this is something they ought to know before signing themselves up. It’s one steep price to pay, possibly detrimental because both the idol system and idol worship are undeniably flawed.
The issue of double standards is also abhorrently apparent, even in K-Pop idol marriages – females always tend to be more vilified by the press and netizens, expected to behave in a more conservative manner. It’s the knell of one’s career or reputation if caught in a controversy or has acted impertinently, but it’s not the same for males, sad to say.
For example, Eli’s wife, who’s 11 years older, has fallen victim to the vicious backlash by netizens, denouncing her as a “predator”, “pedophile”, and “plastic monster” for getting into the relationship when Eli was only 19. However, it’s different in the case of Moon Heejun and Soyul’s marriage, despite the age gap of 13 years. Though netizens were taken aback by the sudden news, Moon Heejun wasn’t chided or accused of being a “predator” to Soyul, who was then at the height of her career. The issue of double standards has always been one that I have trouble understanding and the fact that it’s even more pertinent in idol marriages definitely calls for the urgent need to be addressed.
Idol marriages are something on the rise and this isn’t exactly a bad thing – marriage is supposed to be a joyous celebration. While there’s nothing wrong with idolizing and fantasizing your favorites, there is indeed a fine line between admiration and obsession, so let’s be more supportive and embrace the freedom to love.
What are your thoughts on idol marriages and reactions from netizens and fans? Do you think it’s justified?
(Naver   , Nate  , IBT, Images via Nate, SBS, KBS, Naver)