By Park Jin-hai, Kim Jae-heun
K-pop boy band BTS struck a chord with Americans in 2017. The seven-member band broke into the Top 40 on the United States singles charts and clinched the top social artist award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. Here are the biggest entertainment stories of the year.
BTS soars in United States
BTS dominated K-pop in 2017. Since releasing You Never Walk Alone in February, the seven-member boy band, formed in 2013, continue to smash K-pop records.
The music video for their song DNA surpassed 200 million views on YouTube in the three months following its September release, which is the quickest for a K-pop music video. The videos for three more of their singles - Fire, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Dope. also passed the 200 million views.
The band became the first Korean group to win the top social artist award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards in May. On December 5, Mic Drop broke into the Top 40 on the US singles chart, debuting at No 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, beating its previous best for DNA, which peaked at 67 on October 2, after debuting at 85.
BTS performed DNA at the American Music Awards and ranked in the Top 10 artists of the Billboard Year-End Artists of the Year chart.
Song-Song couple marry
The year started with news of a celebrity couple’s marriage. Singer Rain and actress Kim Tae-hee, after five years of dating, revealed the news two days before their wedding on January 19.
Following that were Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo, co-stars of the 2016 smash-hit K-drama Descendants of the Sun. After repeated denials that they had been dating, the couple, nicknamed “Song-Song couple,” announced that they would wed.
Various media outlets used drones to get pictures of their wedding ceremony on October 31. Other celebrity couples who married in 2017 were Lee Dong-gun and Jo Yoon-hee, co-stars of the 2016 drama Laurel Tree Tailors, and Joo Sang-wook and Cha Ye-ryun, who worked together in the 2016 drama Glamorous Temptation.
Film director, actress admit to affair
Director Hong Sang-soo, 56, and actress Kim Min-hee, 35, confirmed that they were having an affair during a media conference in March for the film On the Beach at Night Alone. Hong said, “We’re in a relationship. We sincerely love each other. The reason why we didn’t’ speak up about the media reports was because we didn’t think it was necessary”.
Rumours surfaced when Kim appeared in Hong’s 2015 film Right Now, Wrong Then. The film won Kim a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival. Hong’s extramarital affair with his muse only drew media attention at home.
Korean folk singer’s death back in spotlight
Korean folk singer Kim Kwang-seok’s suicide two decades ago was back in the spotlight after the release of the documentary Suicide Made.
The film, directed by journalist Lee Sang-ho, fanned speculation that Kim’s wife Seo Hae-soon had been involved in his death. As his only daughter’s death was only revealed much later, speculation spread that Seo had neglected her child. Their 16-year-old daughter died 10 years ago, but Seo had never revealed this to the public or to her family. The girl had been the legal heir to her father’s assets.
Following a public uproar, the prosecution cleared Seo after investigating the daughter’s death again.
BIGBANG’s T.O.P arrested for drugs, enters coma
Rapper T.O.P of popular K-pop boy band BIGBANG was charged with smoking liquid marijuana with a female singer trainee at his home four times in October. The 29-year-old, whose real name is Choi Seung-hyun, has been doing his military service with the police since February.
The prosecution indicted him in June for breaking Korean narcotics laws after a hair sample obtained earlier this year tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Choi made headlines again the day following his indictment, after he was admitted to hospital for an overdose of legally prescribed tranquilisers.
The Seoul Central District Court sentenced the star to 10 months in jail, suspended for two years. “I have suffered from depression and an anxiety disorder for many years, which led to an irreversible mistake due to my wrong state of mind,” Choi said.
He has lost his post as a conscripted policeman, an alternative to mandatory military service, and has been continuing it as a public service worker.
Artists in sync with liberals ‘blacklisted’
The conservative Park Geun-hye government ‘blacklisted’ 9,473 artists, celebrities and writers who supported liberal figures and causes such as President Moon Jae-in and his party.
Then-presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Cho Yoon-sun allegedly initiated the move and cut the government’s financial support for “anti-Park forces.”
Kim and Cho were found guilty of abuse of power. President Park is still on trial.
Netflix link causes problems for film director Bong
Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has been troubled since June when he upset the largest Korean cinema chains. US entertainment company Netflix, which invested US$53.5 million in Bong’s latest film Okja, said it would release Bong’s sci-fi drama online the same day that the movie opened in local theatres.
The three biggest cinema chains CJ CGV, Lotte Cinema and Megabox, refused to screen Okja under those circumstances.
CGV, which owns 139 cinemas in the country, said Netflix’s online release of Okja would damage the “distribution order” in the local film industry. The cinema chain agreed to screen Okja if Netflix released it for online streaming three weeks after it opened in cinemas.
SHINee member commits suicide
Jonghyun, a member of K-pop boy band SHINee, committed suicide in early December. He was 27 years old.
Jonghyun was in a serious condition when he was found by police in a studio flat in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. He was taken to a nearby hospital but did not survive.
According to a message he sent to his friend Nine of the rock band Dear Cloud, the singer suffered from severe depression as a result of his status as a celebrity. He also complained about his therapist, who only blamed his personality.
Jonghyun’s death brought into question how much pressure and stress K-pop singers face.
He wrote to his friend that he was not meant for the celebrity life. K-pop singers face exacting schedules and need to adhere to strict standards of behaviour in public.
Writer Ma dies
Korean novelist and Yonsei University professor Ma Kwang-soo was found dead at his home in Seoul in September. His family found his body with a note next to his body saying he would leave all his belongings to his family. The police concluded the case as an apparent suicide.
The 66-year-old professor taught Korean literature at one of the country’s top universities until August last year.
Ma gained public recognition with his sexually explicit novel Happy Sara published in 1992, which led to his jailing for eight months for obscenity in 1995. The Supreme Court banned the novel for teenagers.
Ma’s prison term ruined his academic reputation and pension plan, which cost him financially in later years.
Multicultural face of Korea shines
Sixteen-year-old Korean fashion model Han Hyun-min, who has a Korean mother and Nigerian father, was an ordinary middle school student until he was ‘discovered’ in 2016. He has lived in Korea his whole life.
His status as Korea’s first Korean-African fashion model got him onto more runways at this year’s Seoul Fashion Week than any other male model in an industry where racism is still rife.
He has become an honorary ambassador for multiculturalism and now stars in the TV show English Phobia that started airing on December 4.
American weekly newsmagazine TIME last month selected Han among its 30 most influential teenagers in the world.