In May, EXO’s Kris sent shockwaves across the fandom and media, when he filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract with the agency – just eight days before the group’s first and long awaited concert tour was set to kick off in Seoul. Girls' Generation's Jessica became the latest idol group member to depart from her group today (Sep 30), in a move that sent shockwaves throughout the industry.
Despite the success of the Hallyu wave that has taken the world by storm, this is not the first time that a K-pop idol has taken such a drastic move.
Like in a love relationship, a break-up between members in a group reveals insights and accusations that shed light on the seemingly well-packaged industry.
Whether an idol chooses to leave on his own will or is “forced” to make his exit, the decision and change would inevitably have an instrumental impact on both the artiste and the group.
Scroll down for some of the most high-profile “break-ups” in K-Pop.
Former group: Girls’ Generation
In a shocking turn of events, Girls’ Generation’s Jessica ceased all group activities as of September 30. She updated her microblog in the wee hours of the morning, declaring that she was “shockingly informed by my company and 8 others that of today, I’m no longer a member.”
Hours later, S.M. Entertainment confirmed her departure from the group and stated that Girls’ Generation will continue as an eight-member group with immediate effect.
Her departure from one of Hallyu’s biggest names came as a surprise for most and Jessica has yet to comment further on the situation. Her label has pledged to support her in her solo pursuits.
Korean news agency Dispatch released an article prior to S.M.’s announcement, listing possible reasons behind her departure. Among the reasons, they stated that she has concentrated her efforts on her fashion brand, BLANC, as part of her portfolio for entry into design schools in the USA.
Dispatch also claims that Jessica returned together with rumoured beau, Tyler Kwon, on the same flight on September 29, and adds that the two are in a serious relationship with marriage possibly on the cards.
Girls’ Generation as eight
The group was spotted leaving for Shenzhen, China for the Girls’ Generation 1st FANS PARTY Mr.Mr. in Shenzhenas eight. With reports stating that the members departed Incheon Airport with somber expressions, fans are waiting for the event which will hopefully shed some light on the girls’ thoughts on Jessica’s departure.
Former group: Super Junior
In December 2009, Han Geng (known as Hankyung in Korea) filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to terminate his contract, citing the 13-year contract as “unlawful, overly restrictive and unfair”.
As the 30-year-old held a Chinese passport, his promotional and appearances were limited by law to only three broadcasting stations in Korea. While performing ‘Twins’ with Super Junior, Han Geng had to wear a mask and hat to hide his face, causing some fans to mistake him as a background dancer.
In an interview after leaving the company, Han Geng revealed that he was forced to do things against his wishes and that despite his dream to be an actor, he was denied of such opportunities. The inability to get sick leave also led to kidney illnesses.
Career as a solo artiste
After leaving Korea, Han Geng withdrew from the limelight and quietly worked on his solo debut. The singer released his first album Geng Xin in 2010 and with its chart-topping success, he picked up several major endorsements, something which he was forbidden from while he was in SM.
The aspiring thespian realised his dream when he landed his first major role as the male lead in Sino-Hollywood action film My Kingdom in 2011, where he played alongside Bruneian heartthrob Wu Chun.
Han Geng returned to the Mandopop scene in 2012, dropping his sophomore album Hope in the Darkness as well as kicking off his first concert tour. In the same year, he was nominated for MTV European Music Awards’ Best Asia Act, pitting him against his former group.
Gaining recognition as a singer and an actor, Han Geng was announced to be cast in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction last year.
Super Junior after Han Geng’s departure
Establishing itself as the “centre of Hallyu”, Super Junior went on to release new albums (Bonamana, Mr. Simple,Sexy, Free & Single) and embarked on Super Show concert tours around the world. Despite the members taking turns to enlist into the military, the group remains as one of the biggest names and one of the most respected seniors in K-pop.
One thing to note, however, was Heechul’s reaction to his BFF’s decision. The emotional chap was so depressed that he lived behind locked doors for three months. “I was in big chaos. I had lived with Hankyung and we were really close. It was difficult for me to laugh on TV and dance on stage,” he said.
SPECIAL MENTION: Kim Ki Bum
Although Ki Bum’s departure was never officially announced, he no longer participates in Super Junior activities and has been pursuing a career in acting. In what is seen as a silent nod to all these rumours, the 26-year-old was chatty about everything but the group, when he was in town for his solo fan meet last year.
JYJ (Junsu, Yoo Chun, Jaejoong)
Former group: DBSK
In mid-2009, Junsu, Yoo Chun, Jaejoong (then-members of DBSK, now known as JYJ) filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment, arguing that the 13-year contracts as well as the terms of profit distribution were unilaterally disadvantageous towards the artists and should be invalidated.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled in their favor, affirming their right to independently engage in entertainment activities and granted them injunction suspending the SM contracts in October 2009.
Career as JYJ
JYJ continued their work in Japan for more than six months until their Japanese agency, Avex, suspended their activities in 2010 and gave its support to the remaining two members of the original group.
Despite being banned on South Korea's three main terrestrial broadcasters, JYJ, currently managed by C-JeS Entertainment, remains well-loved by die-hard Cassies and enjoys impressive album sales, sell-out concerts and good drama ratings.
Impact on DBSK
Following the split, Yunho and Changmin carried out promotional activities and performed at SMTOWN concerts under the name of TVXQ. While their popularity may not match up to that of their heyday in the early 2000s, the duo still holds an esteemed position in the industry.
Although it has been five years since the split, many Cassies are still keeping faith that the five guys would one day reunite. At his recent solo concert in Tokyo, Junsu sang an emotional medley of DBSK's Japanese singles which left both fans and the singer himself in tears.
Former group: 2PM
A year after 2PM debuted, netizens got hold of Jay Park’s old Myspace account where he openly dissed Korean culture, causing outrage among the online community.
Realising the severity of the situation, Jay released an official apology statement to explain his actions. Despite so, Korean netizens continued leaving vicious comments telling him to “go back to America”. Some even created petitions for him to get out of 2PM and Korea. The singer was then left with no choice but to announce his withdrawal from the group and return home to Seattle.
Career as a solo artiste
Leaving the controversy behind, Jay uploaded a cover of B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” to YouTube in March 2010. The video garnered over 2 million views in less than 24 hours, leading to the release of his first EP, Count on Me.
Jay returned to Korea in June 2010 and inked a contract with SidusHQ, marking his comeback. Not only was the talented lad the first solo singer to win the highly coveted “Record of the Year” at 2011 Golden Disk Awards, he has since competed on Immortal Song 2 and became a permanent cast member of Saturday Night Live Korea, a sign of his regained popularity.
Growing up as a dancer, Jay is also a member of Seattle-based b-boy crew, Art of Movement (AOM).
2PM after Jay Park’s departure
In the initial years after Jay left the group, 2PM continued topping charts and winning awards, before the members started venturing into solo activities. As a result, group appearances became significantly lesser and the wait for 2PM’s return grew longer each time.
While more rookie bands are craving for a slice of the Hallyu pie, 2PM has announced the postponement of their comeback this year (for labelmate GOT7’s new album release) – a decision which hints at the members’ wish to concentrate on their solo endeavours.
Xander, Kibum, Dongho
Former group: U-KISS
Other than their hit song ‘Man Man Ha Ni’, U-KISS failed to leave a lasting impression in the industry years after their debut, which led to NH Media’s decision to remove the “vocally weak” members.
While preparing for their fifth mini album in 2011, U-KISS announced that two members, Xander (Alexander Lee Eusebio) and Kim Kibum, would be replaced by Kim Jae Seop (AJ) and Yeo Hoon Min (Hoon).
Last October, maknae Dongho officially left the group citing health and personal reasons.
Career as solo artistes
Following the fall-out with the agency, Kibum concentrated on his “Piro Piro” business with his older brother Kim Hyung Jun (SS501). He later packed his bags for Japan where he embarked on solo activities under a new stage name, Allen Kibum. The 23-year-old was reportedly so affected by his removal from U-KISS that he had suicidal thoughts. Last April, he made his comeback in Korea with his first solo album Longing.
The multi-lingual Xander released his debut solo single “I Just”, after joining his new agency M Plus Entertainment. Apart from holding fan meets in various Asian cities, the 25-year-old also appeared on Arirang TV’s variety show Pops in Seoul and acted in Channel A’s Korean drama Immortal Masterpiece.
In 2013, Xander starred in his first movie 3 Peas in a Pod, which was produced and directed by local actress-turned-filmmaker Michelle Chong. Currently signed under Michelle’s artiste management company Left Profile for his activities in Singapore and Malaysia, the former U-KISS member is also the face of American apparel brand dENiZEN.
U-KISS after Xander, Kibum and Dongho’s departure
Many KISS MEs were disappointed that their protests were ignored by the company and that the remaining members had kept silent about the entire incident. Despite the shake-up that was supposed to benefit the group, both U-KISS’ subsequent projects continued falling short of expectations.
As AJ is currently on hiatus, NH Media announced on May 15 that a new member Jun will be added to the team. With the rise of a new generation of idol groups, U-KISS would need a lot more than changing the members’ line-up to stand out among the crowd.
Sunghee, Nicole, Jiyoung
Former group: Kara
A year after Kara debuted in 2007, Sunghee withdrew from the group due to parental pressure and new members Hara and Jiyoung were added to the line-up.
Nicole decided not to renew her contract with DSP Media when it expired in January this year, even though she expressed her wish to continue promoting with Kara under a different agency. Similarly, Jiyoung also chose to leave the company when her contract ended in mid-April to pursue other dreams.
Career as solo artistes
In preparation for her solo debut, Nicole is currently in the United States for dance and vocal lessons. The 22-year-old has been updating her fans with Instagram posts showing her training with reknowned choreographers such as Jermaine Browne.
As for Jiyoung, she is reportedly planning to follow in the footsteps of her ex-groupmate by flying to America for acting and English lessons.
Kara after Sunghee, Nicole and Jiyoung’s departure
At “2014 Kamilia Day Fan Meeting” on May 24, which was also Kara’s first official group activity in five months, Gyuri, Seungyeon and Hara shared their frustrations and concern about their future.
A day later, Kamilias hung banners near the DSP Media building to proclaim their wish for Kara to continue as a trio. The fans were especially frustrated after the agency introduced a recruitment project to find new Kara members.
Former group: T-ara
In July 2012, Core Content Media's CEO Kim Kwang-soo claimed that Hwayoung's contract was terminated due to numerous complaints about the T-ara member. Although Kwang-soo emphasised that Hwayoung’s departure “had nothing to do with bullying”, the controversy exploded as more people came forward to spill stories on the group.
A year after joining T-ara, Ahreum was announced to have left the group via a video released by the company in July 2013. It was said that the singer planned to pursue a solo career after her departure.
Career as solo artistes
Both Hwayoung and Ahreum have been staying under the radar, with no clear indication of their return.
T-ara after Hwayoung and Ahreum’s departure
T-ara was badly hit by Hwayoung’s infamous exodus, as over 6000 fans dropped out of the official fan club shortly after the announcement, while many called for ticket refunds to the group’s first solo concert which was previously sold out.
A fansite even gathered “evidence” of the T-ara members bullying Hwayoung – such as their harsh tweets which were directed at Hwayoung, who was treated like an outcast even on TV programs – which fuelled a petition for the disbanding of the group.
To appease the fans, group activities were temporarily suspended and the members continued with their individual projects. With no signs of a T-ara comeback in Korea yet, Jiyeon recently made her solo debut while Hyomin is expected to follow suit soon.
Kris (Wu Yifan)
Former group: EXO
On the morning of May 15, rumours of Kris’ departure from EXO spread like wildfire on the Internet. According to media reports, the Guangzhou-born singer did not return to Korea with his members after an event in China and had since been uncontactable.
The Korean media confirmed later in the day that Kris had filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to dissolve his contract with the agency, in the midst of EXO’s promotions for their latest release Overdose and one week before EXO kicked off their first concert tour titled The Lost Planet.
What’s next for Kris
Kris’ lawyer, who was also the one that represented Han Geng, said that the EXO member was treated unfairly and that his prospects were restricted by SM. The 23-year-old had mentioned numerous times that acting is his dream, but SM apparently never made any plans for him to take up an acting project. Kris was also reportedly so overworked that he suffered from heart problems.
The only response from Kris so far is an Instagram post to thank fans for their concern and to assure everyone that he is doing fine, and Taiwanese actor Kai Ko and Hong Kong singer-actor Jaycee Chan showed their support by commenting on the same post in Weibo.
As with previous cases, the lawsuit is likely to take some time before it comes to a conclusion. However, many believe that Kris would make his comeback as a solo artiste when the dust settles.
What’s next for EXO
EXO was well on their way to the top of the Hallyu wave (they were the first artiste in 12 years to sell more than 1 million copies of their album XOXO last year), when Kris made the decision to call it quits.
His departure also means that the remaining 11 members are now faced with their biggest challenge since debut. Though it is believed that the boys’ Instagram accounts are controlled by SM Entertainment, many questioned their “quick reactions” at unfollowing Kris on the same day that the news broke.
The fandom became divided overnight, as some accused the members of neglecting Kris’ problems while he was in the group. For the next year or more, EXO will be hounded by the media about the incident and from now on, they would have to cover Kris’ singing parts and dance to whole new choreographies.
Despite the last minute changes, EXO pulled off three successful shows in Seoul last weekend. Like the boys emphasised during the concert, they have grown in strength and unity through this. And we reckon what they need now is for the fans to do the same.
f(x)’s Sulli - Will she leave?
On July 25, S.M. Entertainment released a statement on f(x)'s official page stating that Sulli will "take a break" from her showbiz activities with immediate effect, due to “physical and mental exhaustion” from the widespread malicious rumours about the 20-year-old.
The agency also expressed that Sulli’s hiatus was decided after much deliberation.
Yet, the news did not surprise keen followers who had noticed Sulli’s absence from the group’s recent promotional activities for their new release Red Light. At the start of the month, f(x) made their comeback as five until the maknae(youngest member) mysteriously went MIA from July 17. Sulli’s non-attendance was dismissed by S.M. as a severe flu at first, but her continued disappearing act raised suspicions when other members did not mention her in their subsequent winning speeches on music shows.
What’s next for f(x)
In the statement, S.M. announced that f(x)’s promotions for Red Light have wrapped, following their performance onInkigayo last week. The quartet will, however, still be attending SMTOWN Live World Tour IV in Seoul on August 15, as a group. At the same time, remaining members Victoria, Amber, Luna and Krystal will also carry on with their individual activities.
Despite so, the short (three weeks instead of the usual five) promotional period and abrupt conclusion had many netizens – including f(x)’s fans who have yet to be given a fandom name, even after five years – conjuring “theories” about the situation, especially after S.M. recently confirmed that they will be debuting a new girl group in August.
Ever since Sulli’s hiatus was announced, rumours of her dating Dynamic Duo’s Choiza, who is 14 years her senior, were brought up again. The two were first spotted strolling while holding hands last September, but both agencies were quick to refute the reports at the time. Their relationship was scrutinised once again when pictures of Choiza’s alleged wallet with Sulli’s pictures inside surfaced on the Internet. Although the wallet was later confirmed to be the rapper’s, the agencies remained silent on the pair's status.