Photo: BTS / Instagram
In celebrity-obsessed South Korea, fame can bring wealth, but it can come at a heavy price too.
In recent months, a growing number of South Korean pop stars have received death threats.
From Apink to Twice to BTS, the entertainers have been targeted by fans online and over the telephone.
This has put the entertainment industry on edge, amid growing concerns over how celebrities can be better protected.
Most threats arise out of anger. Jealousy can bubble up over celebrities who are dating or show even remote romantic interest in someone.
The problem is that some fans think that they “own” the stars.
“When fans become infatuated with their favourite celebrities beyond what is considered rational, it becomes a turning point,” said culture expert Kim Sung Soo.
“And because the fans see the celebrities as possessions, if the celebrities do not do what the fans want, they go ballistic.”
Death threats are not new to the Korean idol industry.
Celebrities have faced threats before, with 1990s group Baby VOX getting a letter written in blood. In 2006, TVXQ’s Yunho was hospitalised after he was given a drink mixed with super glue.
But the “terror” alert to idols has escalated in recent months.
On June 13, a user of conservative online community Ilbe issued a death threat against Twice’s Mina, citing the possibility of the singer being in a relationship. Her agency JYP Entertainment responded that it would take legal action and the person posted a handwritten apology.
He claimed that he did not know his action would invoke so much fear and shock.
The next day, amid news of Apink releasing their sixth mini album, a man phoned Gangnam Police Station, saying he planned to stab the six members.
He later did a telephone interview with local media, saying he had made the comments out of anger, but without any intention to cause harm. He was upset because the group members appeared on a reality show that featured them going on blind dates with actor trainees.
He argued that he was actually the victim since he had spent years buying Apink merchandise, but the group had betrayed his faith in them and had dated other men.
He also called KBS-2TV saying that he had installed a bomb at Music Bank, a weekly music show that was to feature Apink that day. The police evacuated the site and enlisted the help of a bomb disposal unit. No bomb was found.
Twice were also subjected to menace when they began promotional activities in Japan.
Another user of Ilbe posted his outrage over the group performing abroad, accusing the members of abandoning South Korea and reaching out to Japan out of greed. The user threatened that he would wait at the airport when the group came back, with 10 litres of hydrochloric acid at hand.
In South Korea, death threats are not taken lightly by the authorities.
“It is a crime to intimidate someone or cause fear,” lawyer Yang Ji Min said. “Those convicted can serve up to three years in prison and be fined up to five million won (S$6,000).”
But safety is not guaranteed away from South Korea too.
In March, a netizen said she would shoot one of BTS’ members, Jimin, during his solo performance of Lie at the Honda Centre in Anaheim, where they held the final leg of their United States tour.
She added that she had two accomplices and even listed the seat number that she would attack from. Amid heightened security, the tour finished without incident.
This story was originally published on The Straits Times, July 10, 2017.