LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
If you don't know, this is what K-pop sounds like.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FANTASTIC BABY")
BIGBANG: (Singing in Korean) We gon' party like (singing in Korean).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's enormously popular around the world. But in South Korea, K-pop has taken a big hit. Two of its hugest stars are caught up in a sex scandal. Seungri, the youngest member of the boy band BIGBANG, rose to fame in 2006, winning the hearts of teenagers and college students. Known as Korea's Great Gatsby for his lavish lifestyle, he also became a businessman, opening nightclubs around Seoul. Now Seungri is being investigated for facilitating prostitution through his entertainment company. The other K-pop celebrity - Jung Joon-young.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISTAKE")
DRUG RESTAURANT: (Singing in Korean).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 2012, he was a finalist on Korea's talent-style contest called "K-pop Star," winning the audience over with his mix of punk rock and K-pop sound. In addition to a successful music career, he became an actor and a TV personality. Now Jung Joon-young has admitted to releasing a spy-cam video in a messaging chatroom that shows him having sex with a woman who didn't know she was being filmed. There are, apparently, other similar videos filmed by him. The revelations have prompted nationwide protests and condemnation in a country where K-pop is not only popular but a billion-dollar industry. Joining us now to talk about it is reporter Jihye Lee, who has been covering the scandal for Bloomberg News. And she's in Seoul.
JIHYE LEE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So these two men - I mean, what this really is about is an abuse of power, right? I mean, they were very popular. And the revelations about them all came about because they had a kind of chat group where they would talk to each other. And a lot of unsavory revelations came out of that.
LEE: Indeed. There were - part of this chat that's consistently sharing videos and photos of women, basically, that don't know that such photos and such videos of them are being circulated amongst numerous celebrities that are in this group chat.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The allegations against Seungri are a little bit different - facilitating prostitution through his entertainment company. Can you tell me a little bit more about those allegations?
LEE: Sure. So the allegations that Seungri is facing is that he used some sort of derogatory language, basically, describing these women that he could introduce some foreign investors to that were visiting Gangnam. Seungri, in the chat, he said something along the lines of, I will introduce you to some women that will, quote, unquote, "treat you well." And if you translate that back into the Korean language, it's a very derogatory way of introducing - basically, facilitating prostitution on the premises of a club.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As a result of this, both men have said that they are retiring, which is an odd use of language because they're 29 and 30 respectively. So these are young men. Is that a common response to something like this?
LEE: Basically, it is. It's them hiding behind their big, entertainment agencies that are pretty much just like corporate power in South Korea that not only allow the celebrities to defend themselves for committing such heinous crimes, but also, it shows relations of these entertainment agencies having alleged ties with the police, the prosecution, as well as the government. And so it's all connected in a network of power that allows these constant abuses of power to take place.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When we say that there have been protests, I mean, what does that look like? I mean, how are people feeling there?
LEE: A lot of the women are seeing all these revelations and saying, it could've been me. This, actually, isn't something new. They're saying that this is a revelation of what's been happening for a very long time, which is a very, you know, rapey (ph) culture - what you find in South Korean clubs. You walk into a club. And you have to know that men are going to grab you. And that's something that everybody has at the back of their mind, including myself. And we've put up with it for so long. And a lot of the women are now speaking up because the media is focusing on it, because the police decided in 2019 to look into it. And so a lot of the women are boycotting clubs. And they're sharing their experiences and what they had to go through as well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jihye Lee of Bloomberg News, thank you very much.
LEE: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.