K-Pop Star’s Death Reflects Online Harassment, Lack Of Mental Health Support

By Victoria Kim 10/18/19

Sulli was known for being outspoken and was considered "controversial" in conservative South Korea. 

k-pop star Sulli
Photo via YouTube

The death of K-pop star Sulli has triggered an important conversation about online harassment and the lack of mental health support in South Korea.

The 25-year-old singer and actress, born Choi Jinri, was found in her apartment around Seoul on Monday (Oct. 14)—shocking those who remember her as “a girl that was beautiful and cheerful.”

Though no official cause of death was released, many suspect suicide.

Sulli was a member of K-pop girl group f(x), which she left in 2015.

Sulli Addressed Online Bullies, Mental Health 

The Associated Press noted that Sulli was unique in that she confronted criticism she would receive on social media for being different, and had a “feminist voice and outspokenness that was rare among female entertainers in deeply conservative South Korea.” Not only did she speak up about mental health and online bullies, she was a fearless feminist—yet another reason for people to criticize her.

To help people understand just how much scrutiny K-pop stars are under, NPR explained:

“Women in the K-pop industry are particularly scrutinized and harassed accordingly online—whether for reading a book that allegedly promotes feminism, for wearing clothes that are too scandalous on stage, or even just for sporting a phone case that reads, ‘Girls can do anything.’ These types of ‘scandals’ have been exacerbated as Korea experiences both a growing feminist movement and a backlash against it.”

In Sulli's case, she was shamed for "wearing shirts without a bra, getting drunk on social media, calling older male actors by their first names and openly supporting South Korea’s recently revised abortion law," The Washington Post noted. 

A Tragic Example

Sulli’s death is one tragic example of the unimaginable pressure and scrutiny that K-pop stars—often referred to as “idols”—face.

“Celebrities must smile even when they don’t eat or sleep well. They must be sexy but never have sex. They must be tough but never get into fights,” said Kim Dongwan of the Korean boy band Shinhwa.

The K-pop machine is also often described as a “Hunger Games”-like industry that is fiercely competitive in churning out young people who embody all around perfection—“the dark underbelly beneath K-pop’s gorgeous, glittering facade,” as Variety put it.

Kim Jonghyun's Death

Back in 2017, the release of the apparent suicide note of K-pop star, Kim Jonghyun, the lead singer of boy band SHINee, shed light on his private struggles. “I am broken from [the] inside,” the note read. “The depression that had been slowly eating me up finally devoured me and I couldn’t defeat it.”

Kim also said in the note that his doctor blamed his personality for his struggle with depression, Variety reported at the time.

More in the industry are speaking out. Taeyeon, a member of Girls’ Generation, was blunt about her emotional state during a question and answer session on Instagram this year. 

“I am suffering from depression. I am working hard to get better through treatment with antidepressants. Whether it’s depression or bipolar disorder, please don’t ‘tsk’ and treat people disrespectfully. They are all patients who are suffering,” she said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr