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K-pop label SM Entertainment, home to NCT and Exo has vowed to take action against invasive fans, known as ‘sasaeng’. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

K-pop label home to Exo and NCT tackles invasive fans as South Korea updates anti-stalking law

  • K-pop label SM Entertainment says it will no longer turn a blind eye to bad fan behaviour, and promises to take legal action
  • Obsessive fans, known as ‘sasaeng’, follow stars and invade their private lives, sometimes endangering them
Tamar Hermanin United States

Last week K-pop label SM Entertainment announced that it would no longer ignore the aggressive behaviour of fans known as sasaengs.

Invasive sasaeng behaviour – the word means “private life” in Korean – has long been an issue in Korean entertainment, with many of the biggest stars regularly followed and watched outside their regular work schedules.

Since K-pop idols became popular in South Korea in the 1990s, home break-ins and car accidents attributed to sasaengs have been reported regularly. SM Entertainment, which was an early innovator in K-pop, has largely benefited from the tight bonds between artists and fans, which some feel has enabled the invasive behaviour of sasaengs.

SM has long been recognised for its particularly hands-off approach towards fans who overstep the norms in pursuit of celebrities, which it acknowledged at least in passing in a statement on July 16.

These [activities] are not shows of affection by fans, but illegal acts that invade privacy and can be considered criminal acts
SM Entertainment

“The excessive invasion of artists’ privacy by ‘sasaengs’ will no longer be tolerated,” the company declared.

The label said it plans to take action against invasive behaviour, including by those who follow artists excessively in taxis, pursue them to their homes or, when they do their compulsory military service in South Korea, their military base.

K-pop band NCT 127 are on the SM Entertainment label. Photo: SM Entertainment

Additionally, if people cause mental or physical harm to artists or those around them, including their family and neighbours, that will be cause for SM to take action against them. The company revealed it had already compiled evidence against some sasaengs.

South Korea recently enacted a law that increases the punishment for stalking, which comes into effect on October 21. In the SM statement, the company referred to the law, and the potential prison sentences for stalkers it introduces.

In recent years, SM Entertainment artists have increasingly asked sasaengs not to invade their privacy and harass them. Members of Exo, NCT 127, WayV, Super Junior, and other SM groups publicly call out bad fan behaviour, such as calling artists during live-streams or standing outside their apartments.

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Other K-pop artists also regularly call out invasive behaviour. On Wednesday, Apink’s Jeong Eunji posted in now-deleted tweets that her privacy was being invaded at her home. She said she was uncomfortable, but emphasised that it was causing trouble for those who live around her and that she was angry with people circulating pictures of her dog.

Sasaengs have also been known to follow artists in taxis that specialise in closely tracking the movements of stars, often disregarding the rules of the road to keep up while chasing them. In the past, several K-pop artists, including SM acts, have been in car accidents caused by this dangerous behaviour.

“These [activities] are not shows of affection by fans, but illegal acts that invade privacy and can be considered criminal acts,” SM says in the statement. Notably, SM does not describe them as “sasaeng fans”.

SM also used the statement to reiterate that it would continue taking action against defamation and slander of its artists, which it has publicly addressed in the past.

Exo members have spoken out about “sasaeng”, obsessive followers who invade their privacy. Photo: SM Entertainment

Previously, stalking was treated as a misdemeanour in South Korea, and the revision to the legal code will criminalise the behaviour.

The law targeting stalking-related crimes is seen by some as too little too late, however. Invasive “spy camera” cyber harassment, deepfake pornographic abuse, and invasions of privacy are widespread throughout South Korea.

In June, Human Rights Watch issued a report titled “My Life Is Not Your Porn” about digital sex crimes in the country, in which it reported on the pervasiveness of sexual cybercrime targeting women there and the harm it does.