|Sulli was one of the artists who wanted to break free from the social norm of the usual standard of being a K-pop idol. / Photo credit by Marie Claire Korea via Flickr|
Everyone knows that the K-Pop world is full of rules that idols are made to follow. In the past, it was to ensure that K-pop followed a certain quality standard and that everything is as well-oiled as can be, and yet another recent death has drawn attention to the K-pop industry again and its Draconian rules for idols.
Sulli’s--real name Choi Jin-ri--death at 25 is another look at just how these uptight moral codes eventually crack those in the industry just wanting to break free from social norm and how, no matter how well-meaning some norms are, they can make these idols and artists feel very boxed in and alone.
Free Spirit, Intellectual Soul
Before her death, Sulli held the unenviable position of being an outspoken young woman in South Korea. It was a difficult time. Openness to political discussions and forward-thinking feminism really isn’t the brand of the K-pop machine. Since she’d been invariably connected to the same machine, even when her girl group f(x) broke up, Sulli was never really able to take flight with her progressive ideas. According to Billboard, Sulli stood up and spoke up at a time when almost no one would, expressing her pro-choice stand when South Korea overturned abortion, dating another artist, and even stating that she would rather not wear a bra.
In any other place in the world, these comments would probably just be taken in stride, maybe even lauded, but for a place like South Korea and an industry such as the one Sulli had been in, these comments only attracted more negative attention.
Over the past couple of years since she started off saying these comments freely, numerous articles have been released about her “penchant for provocation,” or maybe just her free-spirited attempt to take South Korea psyche out of the belief that they own their pop stars.
One particular article even made her out to be a “Kim Kardashian” of Korea. This article came out two years ago, after which, numerous “commenters called her names and criticized her body, talent, and mental well-being.”
K-pop idols are heavily monitored to keep up a certain persona every time the camera is on, and Sulli was ostracized for the most normal things. Because of her image in her years in f(x), she drew flak for method-acting in the movie “Real” in 2017. The main point of hate stirred when fans and observers learned that Sulli watched films about drugs “five times a day” to try and nail the role she was given.
But the South Korean collective’s verdict was that she shouldn’t have taken the role at all due to its sensitive subject matter, and from there, she was spun to be some kind of crackhead, even though she only watched films and had not taken the drugs herself.
Away from the Limelight
|Sulli was free-spirited that she has her own set of principles, thoughts, and beliefs. / Photo credit by Glenn Batuyong via Wikimedia Commons|
Obviously, someone like Sulli who did not fit the traditional drone-like mold that the K-pop industry so enforced in its talents would draw the ire of many from different backgrounds, but music journalist Taylor Glasby told the BBC, an international news channel, that it just came to the point that Sulli did not much care anymore.
"She was one of the idols who decided to live her life in the way she wanted to and that didn't always sit well with the general public. For idols, everything is about appearance, everything is quite monitored and she just didn't [monitor her content]. She was herself. She clapped back and she wouldn't take people's narrow-mindedness,” said Glasby, and one good look at the big-name girl groups as of late illustrates just why Sulli’s behavior did not fly with the public: it is very individualistic.
By all accounts, Sulli was an individual who had her own set of principles, thoughts, and beliefs held so strongly that it displaced the traditional Korean audience. Free spirit though she was, one can only handle the kind of invasive paparazzi that South Korea has. Instead of breaking the industry, it broke her.
Gone was the sunny girl who took a stand in a “no bra” movement, which she joined to “make a statement about expectations and judgment of their bodies.” It did not sit well with conservative Korea, so she got a lot of hate for it.
Sulli stepped away from the limelight briefly for all the hate she got, but continued to live as freely as she could.
Sure enough, her death has called into question the many problems that South Korea should be fixing regarding the status of mental health in their country. Idols don’t feel like they own themselves at all, which is evident even in another South Korean singer and actress Goo Hara’s attempt at possibly taking her own life after she posted a cryptic “Goodbye” on her Instagram in May due to pressures in the industry. According to Refinery 29, instead of understanding her situation, fans saw fit that she should apologize to them “after being found unconscious at her home.”