Recently, Youngmin, the leader of rookie group AB6IX—who just celebrated their first anniversary— was caught drunk driving and had his license revoked. This resulted in AB6IX delaying their comeback, and on June 8th, their agency Brand New Music announced that Youngmin had chosen to leave the group — an appropriate decision, considering the backlash the group had received.
Established idols get into scandals all the time. Last year in particular, many left their groups due to scandals in an attempt not to sully their groups’ reputations. Drug accusations and rumours led to the departures of Wonho, previously of Monsta X, and B.I., previously of iKon, while Seungri was forced to leave Big Bang and was investigated by police as a result of his role in the Burning Sun molka scandal.
Despite the high profile of established celebrity scandals, there have also been a wide variety similar scandals involving rookies. So what happens when rookie idols mess up? There are many reasons for rookie idols to be caught up in a scandal, and factors such as popularity, K-pop fan culture, the severity of the transgression, company involvement and/or support can influence whether or not they bounce back.
The most extreme example of a rookie scandal would have to be Dahee of Big Hit Entertainment’s girl group Glam, who was sentenced to prison after being charged with blackmailing actor Lee Byung-hun, just over two years after Glam’s debut in July 2012. The group officially disbanded in early 2015. Most rookie scandals are less serious, but can still have a huge impact on the idols’ careers.
In December 2016, Wooseok, then known as Wooshin, of Up10tion and later X1, was hit by a scandal while he was MC-ing on The Show alongside Somi. A video released of the two of them offering Christmas greetings seemed to show Wooseok inappropriately touching Somi’s chest. The video went viral, prompting negative comments and allegations of sexual harassment from netizens. YMC Entertainment, the agency of I.O.I (with whom Somi was promoting at the time), said that Somi was surprised by these rumours. TOP Media, Up10tion’s agency, equally supported Wooseok, even sending the footage to the Forensics Laboratory to be analysed to confirm his innocence— which it did.
As a result of the scandal, and despite Wooseok’s innocence, he went on hiatus in June 2017, with TOP Media citing his worsening mental health as the reason for his break. He only returned to the group for the release of their mini album Invitation in March 2018.
Despite these setbacks, Wooseok remained in Up10tion, and eventually debuted as part of X1 in late 2019, indicating that his career wasn’t significantly affected by the incident— in fact, he gained much more popularity as part of X1. Overall, Wooseok managed to stay afloat. This could have been because of his hiatus, Up10tion’s relative lack of popularity, and/or the large amount of evidence proving him innocent. Unfortunately for AB6IX, they are already relatively popular rookies, and all evidence towards Youngmin’s case points solidly away from his innocence.
Although rookies’ lack of popularity may actually work in their favour when they become part of a scandal, in other cases, the idols may get hurt nonetheless. In August 2018, Hyuna and Dawn (previously known as E’Dawn) famously confirmed a rumour about them being in a relationship, after it was initially denied by Cube Entertainment, which resulted in their contracts with the company being terminated.
While many K-pop fans praised the couple’s boldness and bravery for their announcement, as they saw it as a chance for idol relationships to be destigmatised, a few considered the pair’s decision to have been selfish. Dawn was part of Cube’s rookie boy group Pentagon at the time, and the group had just gained some traction from the popularity of their sleeper hit “Shine”. Dawn’s dating announcement caused many fans to turn away from Pentagon, with fans accusing Dawn of “deluding his members and fans”, and others saying that they felt Dawn had “cheated” on them. Many more fans boycotted Pentagon’s CDs, concert tickets, and merchandise, and the group’s sales dropped once again.
Had they waited a bit longer, perhaps a few more years, for Pentagon to build a more solid fan base and/or popularity with the general public, the negative impact on the group would likely been less— for example, when Exo’s Kai and Blackpink’s Jennie announced that they were dating a few months later, the comments from fans were largely supportive, and support for Exo and Blackpink overall did not wane.
But wane Pentagon did. Recently, they were the oldest group participating in Mnet’s Road to Kingdom, a show in which talented but relatively unknown groups competed for a spot on the far more prestigious Kingdom, indicating that Pentagon still remain somewhat unknown despite being active for nearly four years. Dawn and Hyuna, meanwhile, were lucky enough to be able to continue their solo careers at Psy’s company P-Nation.
The effect of the dating scandal on Dawn’s solo career still remains to be seen, but Hyuna– aside from suffering a brief dip in charting– has seemingly continued with her career largely unharmed. Additionally, the announcement of the pair’s relationship came from her first, as she posted the initial statement, while it took Dawn over a month to address the issue — just another example of rookies having to be more careful, while established idols can throw more caution to the wind.
It is unfortunate that Pentagon, the largely innocent bystanders of the whole situation, had to be the ones to take the fall — partially as a result of the toxic culture surrounding idol relationships, but also due to the couple who knowingly placed Pentagon in such a fragile position. Similarly, Youngmin has now put AB6IX in a compromising position, and despite leaving the group, his actions may have still harmed them. It remains to be seen how their upcoming comeback will fare. They may fare better than Pentagon, as their debut song “Breathe” brought them success, as well as the pre-existing fame of members such as Woojin and Daehwi.
Pentagon, meanwhile, didn’t have this success to fall back onto. However, they were still able to continue their careers, which is not something that Youngmin might be able to say. This could be due to the fact that Pentagon themselves are still likely to receive support from fans who believe that they do not deserve to be punished for one of their members dating, while the same fans may find Youngmin putting others’ lives as risk more unforgivable.
In other cases, companies’ mistakes have actively affected the careers of rookie idols. In this case, public perception truly becomes important, as it has the potential to become judge, jury and executioner, much as it did with Pentagon.
Shortly after Red Velvet’s debut, a Japanese media outlet reported that the MV for their debut song, “Happiness”, featured some imagery which alluded to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. SM Entertainment responded that their music video director had used a collage from an image source, and that there had been “no intentions behind it”, and they briefly took down the video and edited out the offending material.
However, Red Velvet and SM eventually managed to regaining the public’s favour through their subsequent popular, high-quality releases, which have allowed them to become one of the most successful 3rd gen groups. This might be a possibility for AB6IX: whether it is through song releases, appearances on variety shows, or anything else, putting their best foot forward and showing that they are not defined by an initial stumbling block will hopefully allow them to get the success they deserve.
In another example of companies ruining rookies’ careers, it was revealed last year that all seasons of Produce 101 had been subjected to vote rigging and bribes. Iz*One and X1 were the two remaining active groups created by the series, and while Iz*One eventually continued their activities, X1 disbanded.
At the time, X1 was just a few months into their 5-year contract. Considering their season of the show had only ended recently— so the speculation around which members of their group had been unfairly added might have been stronger— as well as the fact that the controversy could continue to haunt them throughout the next five years, it might have felt easier to the boys’ agencies to nip things in the bud before they had really begun.
Iz*One, meanwhile, was already halfway through their 2.5-year long contract, and had also already had the chance to prove themselves, having released two mini albums and becoming very popular in Korea. Their decision to continue ended up being the right one: they ended up breaking the girl group first week album sales record with their album Bloom*Iz, selling over 175,000 copies in their first week. AB6IX has already been established for a year, and it remains to be seen whether their end-of-June comeback will sell more like Iz*One or like Pentagon.
In more extreme cases, companies have actively sabotaged the careers of rookie idols in horrible ways. In 2000, Baek Ji Young, who had debuted in 1999, suffered a sex tape scandal where she was the victim: the tape featuring her and her manager was filmed unknowingly, leaked online, and then used to blackmail her. The scandal nearly ruined her career, and she ended up taking a 5-6 year break from the industry. She slowly but surely worked her way back into the industry and up the charts again, and has also bounced back by becoming the “queen of OSTs”.
In October 2018, news broke that rookie boy group The East Light, who had debuted under Media Line Entertainment in 2016, had suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of a company producer and their CEO. The group’s leader, Lee Seok-cheol, confirmed the reports the next day, stating that the producer hit them with baseball bats and iron bars, and threatened to kill them if they told their parents about the abuse.
He and another member, Seung-hyun, filed a lawsuit against their producer and CEO, who were both given jail time. Their contracts with the company were eventually terminated. None of the boys have returned to the industry (as of yet)— and, of course, they may not want to.
All in all, the existing rookie scandals have all been surrounded by their own unique circumstances. There hasn’t been much precedence for rookies messing up the way Youngmin did, and while established idols have left their groups under “lesser” circumstances — depending on the way you view Wonho and B.I.’s transgressions — many established idols have been charged with DUIs, just as Youngmin was, and did not suffer the same repercussions. Jaejoong of TVXQ (also known as DBSK) and later JYJ was caught in 2006, when TVXQ was three years old. Yoon Sungmo of Supernova was caught in 2016, when the group was nine years old. Neither of these members left their groups as a result of the incidents.
Kangin, previously of Super Junior, has had two DUIs — one in 2009, four years after debut, which resulted in him suspending activities until the end of the year; and his second in 2015, which led to a hiatus which only ended when he left the group in 2019. For Kangin, a more established idol, it took two DUI’s and four years after his second to leave the group, indicating just how much more responsibility Youngmin took on immediately as a rookie idol.
At the same time, the fact that Youngmin was a rookie, and only at the start of his career, may allow him to make a return to the industry at some point.
The evidence for that? Jay Park, the leader of boy group 2PM under JYP Entertainment, who had debuted in 2008. However, in September 2009, comments he made insulting Korea on his Myspace, from when he was a trainee, were discovered. This included comments such as “Korea is gay… I hate Koreans,” which caused outrage among netizens. Park released a sincere statement of apology, but to no avail. An online petition titled “Jaebum Should Commit Suicide” was signed by over 3,000 people before it was removed. Three days after the incident, Park quit 2PM and left JYPE, but he wouldn’t be gone from the K-pop sphere for long.
Park quickly re-established his career, releasing a viral cover of B.o.B.’s Nothin’ On You in 2010, and his first EP Count On Me in the same year, which debuted at No.1 on the Gaon chart. Later in 2010, he signed with agency SidusHQ and re-debuted as a singer and rapper. Even today, he continues to peak on the charts, and has sold multi-platinum albums. He has also begun to make forays into the US market, and has started his own label, AOMG.
However, it should be said that Park’s words did not actively harm the lives of others, while Youngmin’s actions had the potential to do so, meaning that may be unlikely for Youngmin to re-establish and redeem himself as fast as Park did. While Youngmin may be able to re-establish himself in future, he may be better off taking a break from the industry at first — much as Baek Ji Young did — in order to reflect and grow, and to give the public some time to forgive him (and to forget)– if they decide to.
Based on the wide range of factors which determine the ability of both rookie and seasoned idols to bounce back, Youngmin’s fate is ultimately still unclear. It is possible he may still be able to find success if he continues to pursue an idol career, but it may be many years in the future– and whether or not K-pop wants him to return is another matter.
(Image Sources: Brand New Music, Big Hit Entertainment, TOP Media, P-Nation, Swing Entertainment, Music Works, Media Line Entertainment, and AOMG. SCMP.)