In the wake of World Mental Health day, Korean actress Sulli (real name Choi Jin-ri) tragically passed away on Monday 14th October.

SULLI

SULLI

South Korean Artist

Sulli first rose to fame as a child actress, before debuting in the K-pop group ‘f(x)’ in 2009. She took a temporary hiatus from the group in 2014 and subsequently left in 2015 to focus on her acting career. Throughout this time frame, she remained under the management of SM Entertainment, considered one of the ‘Big 3’ equivalent in South Korea that saw groups like Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, SHINee, Red Velvet and NCT shoot to international levels of recognition.

To those who are familiar with the K-pop industry, it is no secret of how militant the system is. Trainees are recruited during their early teenage years (or even childhood in some extreme cases) and trained in dancing, acting, singing, languages, and are conditioned from anywhere up to 10 years before debut. Many trainees must make the tough decision whether to continue with their studies or to train and try to debut; even then, only a lucky few get to debut.

After debut, the marathon is only just beginning. Most trainees have their expenses paid for by their companies during the pre-debut period. Once they have debuted, they must now work to pay off this debt before they start to earn their own income. Most groups sign an initial 7-year contract, with the option to extend depending on how well a group does in terms of album sales, charts, etc.

What makes the K-pop system so competitive is that weekly music shows are hosted 5 out of 7 days a week in which groups compete to win the no.1 position of the week. There are strict criteria for groups to earn points towards winning and the more wins a group can pick up per album release, the more successful they are considered and, as a result, the company may invest in more comebacks and tours, or they may be offered more endorsement deals by brands.

In becoming idols, they are often put under immense pressure by the public to become role models and set an example for such young fans. However, the ‘netizens’ (‘internet citizens’ that post on forums) are known for scrutinizing K-pop idols, particularly their behaviour and image, continually bullying them while being able to hide behind the anonymity capabilities.

           Source: K-pop Behind

                      Source: K-pop Behind

Prior to her passing, Sulli was heavily targeted by netizens and online trolls leading up to her departure from f(x), which continued even after her schedule became less hectic and appearing in fewer public events. Cyberbullies took to her Instagram account, and heavily criticised posts in which it was clear she was not wearing a bra under her shirt, questioning if she was taking drugs due to her random posts, as well as her ‘dating scandal’ with Choiza of Dynamic Duo who was nearly 15 years older.

While South Korea is a very conservative nation, such instances have led to a serious shift surrounding mental health of K-pop idols, as well as cyberbullying. It is reported that lawmakers will seek to propose the “Sulli Act” next month to combat malicious comments, which currently has the backing of over 100 organizations and 200+ celebrities. Let us hope this is the beginning of a serious reformation in the K-pop industry and that companies will reconsider the working conditions in which their talent are out under.