As we wrap up the year and welcome 2020, here’s a quick guide to what happened in the world of K-Pop in 2019:
The first official idol couple for the year was Exo’s Kai and BlackPink’s Jennie but the pair decided to call it quits less than a month after their romance was publicised in January.
Former Wanna One member Kang Daniel and Twice’s Jihyo made headlines when their secret relationship was revealed back in August. Both couples were met with mixed responses from fans and the media, given the squeaky clean industry’s norms about dating and the fear it could tarnish idols’ wholesome image.
2. The Burning Sun scandal
Making global headlines throughout the first half of 2019, Seoul’s Burning Sun nightclub was hit with a litany of crimes that allegedly involved the club’s co-owner, Seungri — now former Big Bang member and YG Entertainment artist.
Investigations revealed a KakaoTalk group chat room that featured many individuals including K-Pop stars, where illicit activities were discussed and non-consensual sex videos were distributed. A bulk of evidence led to disgraced singer-songwriter and TV personality Jung Joon-young being sentenced to six years in prison and former FT Island member Choi Jong-hoon to five years on criminal charges of gang raping unconscious, intoxicated women.
Things spiralled for YG Entertainment, forcing the agency’s chief producer and founder Yang Hyun-suk to step down.
The loss of two talented and outspoken women and close friends — Sulli and Goo Hara — to suicide sent shock waves throughout the industry and country. Both singers were victims of cyberbullying and struggled with mental health. Hara was also in a public battle with her ex-boyfriend who reportedly assaulted her and made revenge porn threats against her. Budding actor Cha In-ha also died, though the circumstances of his death in December are unknown.
4. Global domination
The global phenomenon that is BTS took over 2019, literally. From selling out stadiums and being the first K-Pop group to present at the 61st Grammy Awards, to setting unprecedented records, the septet’s world dominance paved the way for more Korean artists to have growing US crossover success. BlackPink, Monsta X and NCT 127 are among groups gaining traction globally.
5. Cross-cultural collaborations
As the K-Pop wave continues to grow, more global musicians have collaborated with Korea’s prominent acts. Groups like AB6IX, Monsta X and NCT Dream have teamed up with Lizzo, Sebastian Yatra and HRVY, respectively. In 2019, BTS — and its members — had the most collaborations on record with artists from Charlie XCX and Lauv to Halsey, Lil Nas X and Becky G.
6. Solos, debuts and comebacks and the rise of the rookies
Numerous soloists and groups debut every year in hopes of making it big in the competitive industry, while others make multiple comebacks with Korean and Japanese discographies. Though SM Entertainment’s new notable supergroup SuperM, got our attention, it was the year of the rookies. Itzy, AB6IX, Ateez and Tomorrow X Together are some new groups slowly making it big on their own terms.
7. Military service
Korean men are required to serve the country’s mandatory military service and K-Pop stars aren’t exempt from this rule. This year, Exo’s D.O. and Xiumin, SHINee’s Key and Minho and Highlight’s Lee Gikwang enlisted while artists such as G-Dragon returned to public life. The Big Bang rapper and singer was welcomed by around 3,000 fans outside the army headquarters in Yongin when he was discharged.
8. Mental health openness
Unlike in previous years, Korean agencies are now releasing statements openly disclosing the well-being of their artists rather than providing vague explanations. Pushing past the stigma of mental health, idols like Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, HyunA, Seventeen’s S.Coups, Kang Daniel, WJSN’s Dawon and Twice’s Mina have become more vocal about their battle with anxiety and depression.
9. Member departures
While group members are taking hiatuses and becoming more candid about their health in an industry reluctant to address these topics, some idols such as ONF’s Laun and Stray Kids’ Woojin have unexpectedly left the group for “personal reasons” or other undisclosed explanations. iKON’s B.I. and Wonho left his group Monsta X amid drug purchase and pre-debut behaviour allegations, respectively.
10. Group disbandments
While bandmates have seen departing, groups like Pristin, Boyfriend, B.A.P., MYTEEN, Nine Muses and HelloVenus have unexpectedly announced their disbandment this year.
11. The ‘Produce’ series vote-rigging controversy
It was reportedly confirmed that the results of all four seasons of Mnet’s viewer-voted K-Pop audition show — that produced temporary popular acts I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ*ONE and X1 — were rigged. The final contenders were predetermined before public voting and debuting in the series’ groups. The show’s chief producer Kim Yong-beom and main producer Ahn Joon-young were indicted on bribery and fraud charges. Active groups IZ*ONE and X1 have halted promotions and activities in light of the scandal.
12. Music chart manipulation claim
In addition to the vote-rigging scandal, music chart manipulation came to light when Block B member Park Kyung accused several artists of buying songs in bulk to rank higher, also known as sajaegi.