‘Hallyu’ and cancel culture: 2023 K-controversies

Korean netizens, beyond just seeking justice, now easily cancel brands, TV shows, idols and actors using their keyboards.

This has evolved into a culture where daily controversies and hasty allegations raise questions about whether “cancel culture” truly uncovers the truth or simply shamefully targets individuals.

In 2023, the fast-paced world of Korean wave, known as “hallyu,” was a particularly turbulent one, marked by the scandals, legal battles and big surprises.

Here are some of the most-scrutinized personalities and developments in the industry this year:

Yoo Ah In’s exit from ‘Hellbound’

The year kicked off with a major blow to the popular Netflix series Hellbound. Actor Yoo Ah In, a key figure in the show’s first-season success, was replaced following allegations of illegal drug use. Cocaine and ketamine positive test results led to his removal, with Kim Sung-cheol stepping in alongside new additions Yang Dong-guen and Moon Geun-young.

G-Dragon’s bold comeback

K-pop icon G-Dragon faced a drug probe earlier in the year, but emerged unscathed as authorities dismissed the allegations due to insufficient evidence. Seizing the opportunity, G-Dragon not only returned to the spotlight but also launched an anti-drug foundation, vowing to reshape his legacy.

ENHYPEN’s ‘DARK BLOOD’ Controversy

ENHYPEN’s anticipated comeback with DARK BLOOD stirred mixed reactions. While the song garnered appreciation, the choreography, particularly involving opposite-sex partners, drew criticism. Fans expressed displeasure through protest trucks outside HYBE LABELS, igniting debates over artistic freedom versus cultural norms.

Bada Lee’s Smoke Dance Challenge drama

The K-pop world was captivated by Bada Lee’s Smoke Dance Challenge on TikTok, showcasing idols like Jungkook, V, Yeji and others. While some received praise, former Produce X 101 trainee Choi Suhwan and ONEUS’ main dancer Hwanwoong faced harsh criticism, highlighting the challenge’s polarizing impact on idols’ reputations.

Stray Kids’ Bang Chan Hoobae issue

Stray Kids’ Bang Chan sparked controversy during his livestream, Chan’s Room, by sharing his dissatisfaction at a junior group’s (hoobae) failure to adhere to traditional Korean customs. When fans expressed disapproval, Bang Chan later apologized, clarifying the incident wasn’t about IVE, the speculated group.

Protest truck against Seventeen’s Joshua

Dating rumors led to a protest truck outside Pledis Entertainment, calling for Seventeen’s Joshua to leave the group. Some fans were disappointed, while others defended him, calling for more respectful discourse.

Super Junior’s Hee Chul under fire

Super Junior’s Hee Chul faced backlash for his live broadcast comments which criticized the feminist website Yeoseong Shidae and expressed controversial views on various topics. His actions stirred controversy and divided netizens.

EXO’s contract termination battle

EXO members Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen filed for contract termination against SM Entertainment, alleging lack of transparency in earnings and lengthy, unfair contracts. The legal battle shed light on industry practices, with accusations of underpayment and oppressive contracts.

FIFTY FIFTY’s Rise and Fall

K-pop girl group FIFTY FIFTY experienced a meteoric rise with the viral track “Cupid”, but faced internal conflicts and legal battles, in the end leaving only one original member standing. Their rollercoaster journey serves as a poignant reminder of the industry’s unforgiving nature.

‘Parasite’ actor Lee Sun-kyun’s passing

The K-pop community mourned the loss of actor Lee Sun-kyun, known for his role in Parasite. His untimely death amid a drug use investigation has raised questions about the pressures faced by individuals in the industry.

As fans navigate this rollercoaster of controversies, they remain hopeful for a smoother and more positive Korean wave in 2023, with fewer brutal news to jolt the scene.