This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about influencers and internet culture. You can sign up here. In our column, Niche Drama, we discuss online community micro dramas.
K-pop online fandoms have exploded once more after former idol Kim Garam spoke out in response to the violence and bullying accusations that forced her to exit her girl group.
Kim, 16, was announced in April as part of the lineup for Hybe Entertainment’s (the company responsible for BTS, Seventeen, Tomorrow x Together) newest girl group, Le Sserafim. It was monumental, as Hype had not announced an all-girl group in five years. But the same day, anonymous users on Korean blogs began accusing her of bullying, underage drinking, and smoking, as well as school violence. Her management published a statement in response, denying the claims.
It’s not uncommon for K-pop idols to get involved in scandals around school bullying accusations — however, the severity of claims varies wildly. Many accusations have ended in idols being asked to depart from their groups, even if they were wrongful, to save the overall group’s reputation; other claims have been truthful, and the members stay on. The claims against Kim were severe by K-pop historical standards, and a strong anti-Kim sentiment began spreading online. Buzz around the group became overwhelmingly against Kim’s debut.
When an accuser came forward with a statement via a legal representative and photos of documents purporting to show disciplinary action taken by the school, the mounting criticism against Kim reached a pinnacle. Hybe released another statement disputing the accusations in detail.
“It’s not to late to kick her out,” one comment read. “i just dont get why hybe y kno defend kim garam THAT much…im not tryna be rude but she has no presence whatsoever for the group,” another fan said.
However, public opinion was entrenched at this point, and when the announcement came of Kim’s contract termination in July, fans responded online with jokes about Kim packing up her things.
“The memes coming out of this are too much for me,” one wrote.
But then #JusticeForGaram trended on Twitter this week after Kim spoke out via a friend’s Instagram (K-pop idols are usually not allowed to have their own personal social media platforms without permission). In a four-screenshot-long statement, Kim described arguing with another student after they took a lewd photo of Kim’s friend. She said she faced disciplinary action for confronting the accuser, and that led to their bullying claims.
“I'm going to try harder to make my future bright,” Kim wrote. “Debut was the time I fought for my dream.”
The tides turned quickly. “fuck all of you freaks that participated in the harassment of kim garam,” one tweeted. Fans began reanalyzing public interactions between the members, this time in Kim’s favor.
In response to the new twist in this dramatic saga, Hybe Entertainment representatives said, “Due to the termination of Kim Garam’s contract, further comments are inappropriate so there is nothing for us to say.”