This is a bifurcated post. The main text discusses, sometimes
bitterly, circumstances for idols; the footnotes promote their music.
(Along with that of one or two non-idols.) I suppose it's an excuse
that the videos I suggest put faces into the discussion; and it's
only fair to those whose music I mention disliking to give you the
chance to evaluate it for yourself, but to be honest, it's mainly
that I haven't figured out for myself, yet, how to reconcile the
music with the working conditions behind it.
Post by Quadibloc
I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD
(Sonyeo Shidae) or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had
its lead singer fired by the management after she *dared* to state in
an interview that, at some time in the future, she would retire from
music to get married and raise a family.
This is, however, not quite universal. In that talk show I cited to
quote "Cha-Hee" of Melody Day , she also says that she'd love to
announce that she was in a relationship, with the strong implication
that she'd be free to do so. However, the five other girl group
members there all gasped in shock at the very idea. One was an SNSD
member - "Sunny", one of the Americans (Susan Lee); she was 27 at the
time. Heo Sol-Ji of EXID, one of whose songs I've highlighted ,
was also 27; the others were 20 (as was "Cha-Hee", whose surname is
Park) and 18.
More substantially, Min Sun-Ye of the Wonder Girls was on my list for
a time for complex reasons that didn't include my actually liking her
work.  So I knew the outlines of her story. But it turns out she
*renewed* her contract with JYP Entertainment *after marrying*, and
remained under contract even when she left for Haiti as a missionary.
The group was on hiatus at the time. She later formally left the
group, then JYP; she's now attempting a comeback with a different
agency, to much opprobrium.
In contrast: All members of S.E.S. , one of the first girl groups,
have married, and at least two have borne children, but none did so
before leaving SM Entertainment, S.E.S.'s and SNSD's agency. SM
apparently has not required them to divorce and abandon their kids
for their reunion activities in recent years.
Most stories about the two recent suicides have also mentioned a
rather earlier one, and although I've resisted doing so thus far, now
that I'm trying to make a case about idols, their managements,
controversy, and mental illness, I'm going to add that one to my
remit, which is also another SM example:
Kim Jong-Hyun, born in 1990, killed himself in 2017, so he, unlike
the more recent examples, is a member of the 27 Club. He was a
member of Shinee, and increasingly writing their and his solo music.
 He'd used his fame to publicise the concerns of a bisexual,
transgender student protester, drawing both support and criticism.
He sent a "suicide note" to an indie singer friend  in early
December; she said that, at the advice of her own agency, she'd tried
to help. However, he killed himself on December 18.
"Sulli", whose surname was Choi, was known as an exceptionally
outspoken idol. She specifically attacked cyberbullying (to which
she, like most idols, had been subjected), supported going braless
(which in an East Asian country, where many women wouldn't benefit
from bras as physical supports, probably has a different meaning from
the US's bra-burnings), and identified as feminist. She also
publicly admitted mental illness, though not actually depression.
Both Kim Jong-Hyun and "Sulli" were SM artists.
Goo Ha-Ra was not. She appeared on a beauty show in April 2018, and
apparently met a man there whom she started dating. In September he
broke into her house at night; a violent altercation ensued, which he
claimed she'd started, but which seems to have resulted in extensive
injuries to her. He subsequently began trying to sell a sex tape.
Her agency dropped her in January 2019 due to the "controversy".
Around that time, she seems to have helped a reporter working on what
English Wikipedia calls the Burning Sun scandal, specifically on the
part that concerned sex tapes.  The boyfriend was convicted of a
bunch of charges in April 2019, but allowed to serve his sentence on
probation. She attempted suicide in May, apologised, actually
recorded a song, but then, a month after "Sulli" died (who's been
described as a friend of hers), succeeded in killing herself.
Nam Tae-Hyun also hasn't been an SM artist; he used to be with YG
Entertainment, which besides SM and JYP is one of the "Big Three" by
some accounts. He belonged to boy band Winner, but in October 2016
he parted with both the group and YG, explicitly because of mental
health issues; he's since said this was severe bipolar syndrome. I
haven't researched him much although he's on my list , but it
looks like he's experienced a lot of turbulence in his musical life,
starting a band with an existing group who then left one by one,
getting his brother to help out, and now apparently back with a full
band; he's also running his own agency. When "Sulli" died, he called
for cyberbullies to stop and said he'd attempted suicide before. Of
those on my list, I worry most about him.
My interpretation of a TON of drama scenes is that many South Koreans
believe that all mental problems, including not just "mental illness"
as usually identified but also phobias and prosopagnosia, are
failures of willpower. South Koreans do wear glasses and contacts,
so they apparently don't see eye shape as amenable to self-control.
But I've just watched a Web drama whose makers go out of their way
not to offend, in which neither party sees anything immoral about a
woman demanding that her acrophobic boyfriend go sky-diving. The
only exception I can think of, the only case in which actual
treatment is called for for any mental ailment, is a recent cable
drama, <What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?>. So publicly admitting to
a debilitating mental illness in South Korea appears, to this drama
watcher, to be an act of courage, a willingness to accept that
millions of idiots will consider you a failure for the admission.
As to Goo Ha-Ra in particular, South Korean women aren't supposed to
have non-marital sex. In some cases, the people who say this really
mean it; one has to assume Protestant pastors, the backbone of social
conservatism in South Korea, even mean it for both sexes. But the
online enforcers, many of whom are imagined as unshaven guys in
basements, probably believe nothing of the kind; after all, if women
didn't engage in non-marital sex, they themselves would have to go
celibate or gay. Rather, for them, the object of the prohibition is
to shame women, thus encouraging their subservience. It's easy to
trace this aspect of the war between the South Korean sexes, which is
a much hotter war than the one in the US, to the ongoing failure to
replace the social order that collapsed in 1997 with another that
works, or, put another way, to the economic emasculation of many
South Korean young men. But it's still a hideously evil double bind.
Many of the women drugged and/or raped in the Burning Sun sex tapes
were terrified of exposure; even in a drama as sunny as <Dream High>,
a major character is stigmatised for having been sexually harassed.
And in reality, Goo Ha-Ra was *widely* condemned for having the
audacity to continue existing after having non-marital sex, though
her ex-boyfriend has not been.
It's counter-intuitive that idols, winners of a fierce selection
process, would kill themselves more than indies, but it sure seems to
be true. SM in particular, but the industry in general, appear not
to do an even halfway decent job of weeding out people not up to the
pressure the companies, and the goldfish bowl of South Korean fame,
put them under.
I said I was unaffected by these deaths. That seems not quite to be
true, in at least one meaning of "affect".
 Huh. I've been citing her without mentioning the song that got
me interested in Melody Day. It's this one:
Melody Day were distinctive because they weren't simply the usual
collection of sopranos. "Cha-Hee" has a very high soprano; Ahn Ye-
In a rather lower one; and I think "Yeo-Eun", whose surname is Jung,
is an actual mezzo. (She was their main singer, and a very good one,
but I don't think she has the lung capacity to succeed in the ways
mezzos normally do.) They were also distinctive because they spent
*years* doing soundtrack work and anonymous singles before their
formal début, which in turn came before they added a fourth member,
Na Yoo-Min, as main rapper. I'm familiar with about half the
quartet's work and all of the trio's. Some of their soundtrack work,
not actually including the song I originally picked, was by composers
who made good use of the group's differing voices. Most of Park's
non-group work came after my study of the group, but here are some
group songs and work by Ahn and Jung that I like and more or less
frequently return to:
and for one song, either its video or a different performance:
(and yes, this song works for me - is pretty much the tune I remember
Melody Day by - despite having *two* rappers in it)
(Ahn with yet another
It's a pleasant not-quite-surprise when my favourite work by a
performer turns out *not* to be the first song I heard; that proved
to be the case in spades for Melody Day, which makes me glad they
were at least a little less restricted than many of their peers.
 For this song:
 I'd gone nuts picking indie songs for a couple of dramas, and
wanted to use <Dream High>, an idol-laden teen show, to even the
balance, so I decided to add to my list of performers anyone who'd
sung any of the songs I picked in relation to the show, whether or
not I'd picked that singer's version. This turned out to be an
abject failure at recruiting idols - it only got me two - but added
four much more substantial bodies of work to deal with, so I dropped
it. I also dropped the song that had qualified Min in the first
place, another long story. Her version of that song:
Later the Wonder Girls returned to my remit in the usual way: a lame
Web drama used this much stronger song from Lee Sun-Mi:
warning: moderately scary video
 It's an unpleasant not-quite surprise when my favourite work by a
performer *is* the song that first got my attention. To be fair,
though, my work on Eugene (Kim Yoo-Jin, yes, it's her real name), an
S.E.S. member, was early in the sequence and didn't involve, as later
work did, listening to everything; but I did listen to quite a lot.
The song from my ninth drama:
(yes, Eugene is only
backup singer there, but this song was meant to stand in for others
she sings solo in a similar vein, such as:)
S.E.S.'s most speculative video:
(they were 16-18)
Eugene's "Wuthering Heights":
 Neither Kim Jong-Hyun nor Shinee is on my list. Shinee featured
in my twelfth drama, but I actively disliked this song:
My other encounter with him before his death involved a song he wrote,
then gave to "IU"; I never connected the song to Shinee then.
 She was already on my list, for this song:
I happened to search for her pseudonym, "Nine9", after the death, and
found that she's now known in English almost exclusively thanks to
that suicide note. The search may have been prompted by speculation
from the K-pop Vocal Analysis folks that she might be an actual
contralto. More recently, I added this song, used in a drama I'd
watched earlier, but re-watched at that time primarily for its music:
That has become one of my most frequently watched videos. The
keyboardist in it left before the song listed first in this note.
 The main maker of Burning Sun-related sex tapes is a guy, of
whose idolness I'm unsure, who's actually made *two* songs I've
picked, sad to say. A criminal on a much larger scale than Goo Ha-
Ra's ex, he nevertheless, unlike the ex, did the honourable thing and
fell on his sword, so to speak, retiring from public life, upon the
scandal's breaking, though he disputed some specific charges. He has
just (11/29) been sentenced to six years in prison on exactly those
charges he disputed; I don't know whether he's already physically
there. The songs I picked:
 For this song, which he also wrote:
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>