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K-pop singers harassed by German 'stalker'

January 30, 2020

In South Korea's high-pressure pop scene, many stars are asked to seem romantically available to their fans. Recently, a German man with a handful of love letters was stopped from accosting pop singer Nayeon on a plane.

K-pop singer Nayeon performs
Image: picture-alliance/Yonypnews Agency

An entertainment company in South Korea said it would take legal action against a young German man for stalking one of the country's biggest K-pop sensations, Nayeon.

The man has since left South Korea, but despite the warning, he has continued to post social media messages asking Nayeon to forgive him. 

Using the Twitter handle Josh 1994, he has repeatedly expressed his "love" for the 24-year-old singer, one of the six members of all-girl band Twice. In dozens of Twitter messages and YouTube videos with Korean subtitles, he said that he wanted to contact her personally and give her gifts.

In one video from October 2019, the man said he had been many times to a posh Seoul neighborhood where he believed Nayeon frequented to ask people there if they could help him find her apartment building. 

The man's behavior, which many have said constitutes stalking, has drawn heavy criticism on social media, along with the warnings from her management company. 

Read moreHow South Korea's K-pop world takes a toll on celebrities

Observers of South Korea's powerful pop and movie industry say the case underlines the pressures that singers and actresses are under in an era of constant social media exposure.

Stalking and online bullying have turned into a serious problem in the nation's entertainment world. The suicides of K-pop stars Sulli in October, and Goo Hara the following month, were blamed in part on cyber abuse and trolling.

In-flight disturbance

Josh 1994 first made headlines in South Korea in December after he caused a "major disturbance" by attempting to approach Nayeon on a flight from Tokyo to Seoul. 

However, Nayeon's managers prevented him from approaching the singer. There was reportedly a scuffle, with officials of her management, JYP Entertainment, later claiming that although the singer was not injured in the incident, she experienced "discomfort and anxiety."

The company added that the "stalker" had been warned previously about his behavior on "numerous" occasions and that it will now take "the highest level of legal action" to protect Nayeon.

Josh 1994 was not detained after the aircraft landed in Seoul and has disputed the agency's version of events. In a series of Twitter messages that followed, he said he wanted to talk to her and give her a present.

"The managers attacked me on the plane for no good reason. I wanted to give Nayeon my love letters calmly and then two managers jumped on me," he said.

In messages posted earlier in December, Josh 1994 declared, "I really, truly do love Nayeon, she means the world to me."

"I hope she realizes that I want to make her happy," he continued, and claimed that if only her agency would allow him to meet with her that she "might realize that I am a good guy and develop feelings for me as well."

'The girls are scared of you'

Twitter users have told Josh 1994 to stop harassing Nayeon, and his feed has been deluged with messages. 

"You've basically crossed the line. Stop please! You've given them anxiety," posted one person. Another suggested: "The girls are scared of you." 

"That's not how it works, she's a superstar. You can't just approach her like that. Let her go. There will never be you and Nayeon. Accept it."

But Josh 1994 has not yet been deterred.

Read moreK-pop star Goo Hara death stokes online bullying debate in South Korea

Things came to a head on Sunday, when Chaeyoung, another member of Twice, said he leaked her personal mobile phone number on social media.

"We are at our limits of staying quiet and waiting for you to stop," she said on her Instagram page. "Due to the 11 digits that an inconsiderate person posted on the Internet, my phone has been bombarded with calls and text messages and I'm going through needless problems." 

The same day, JYP Entertainment released a statement saying it was launching legal action against the person who had posted the phone number on social media.

It's not easy being a star

David Tizzard, an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University, and a commentator on social issues, said the South Korean stars live in a regimented world controlled by entertainment agencies.

"There are young men and women who dream of being famous and they sign contracts that effectively allow management agencies to control every aspect of their lives, and it's stressful," he said. 

The all-powerful agencies act as the "gatekeepers" to the industry, he added, and are too big and too powerful to willingly give up their strangle-hold on the performers, who serve as cash cows

And to attract more fans to the all-boy or all-girl bands that dominate the entertainment scene, performers are required to cultivate an image, Tizzard said. That means celebrities cannot have a girlfriend, boyfriend or get married in order to give every fan the impression that they are available to them.

Read moreK-pop: More than a social media trend

East Asia's 'pressure-cooker' pop culture

"To me, South Korean culture today is reminiscent of Japan in the 1980s, but on steroids. It's hyper-competitive, pressure-cooked and frantic," said Roland Kelts, a lecturer on popular culture at Tokyo's Waseda University.

"It is a clash between Western capitalist delusions and fusty Confucian values," he added. "Of course, this kind of cultural crisis often produces great art and pop music. I think this is partly why South Korean pop is now entrancing the rest of the world."

However, Kelts said besides the bright lights, and flashing colors, pop stardom has a dark side.

"South Korea might be a great place for art and entertainment, but a scary place if you're a young and attractive pop star."

And South Korea's entertainment industry should be keen to avoid some of the extreme incidents that have impacted starlets in Japan.

In 2016, Japanese pop star Mayu Tomita was stabbed 60 times in the chest and neck by a fan who felt she had ignored his declarations of love. Tomita, who survived the attack, had reported threats made by her attacker to the police but her concerns had been overlooked.

Two years prior, two members of the hugely popular Japanese all-girl band AKB48 were stabbed at a "handshake event" for fans.

Julian Ryall
Julian Ryall Journalist based in Tokyo, focusing on political, economic and social issues in Japan and Korea