Aespa's Kareena apologizes to K-Pop fans after her relationship revelation sparked backlash

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Karina, from K-pop group Aespa, at the Music Bank World Festival in Seoul, South Korea on December 15, 2023.

Seoul, South Korea

Are K-Pop stars allowed to love?

The answer is still a resounding “no” in some quarters – with K-pop singer Karina from the group Aespa posting a handwritten apology online after her alleged affair sparked criticism from many of her most ardent followers.

News of her relationship with actor Lee Jae Wook broke last week, which was confirmed by both stars' agencies.

The response from fans across Asia was quick and mixed, with some expressing their support for the couple. But many others reacted with shock and anger.

Some angry fans even sent a truck carrying an electronic billboard to Karina's agency headquarters, according to Chosun Ilbo, which published a photo of the banner. “Don't you get enough love from your fans?” I read. “Why did you choose to betray your fans?”

“Please apologize directly. Otherwise, you will see album sales decline and concert seats empty,” she added.

On Wednesday, Kareena apologized profusely in a handwritten letter she posted on Instagram, where she has 12.7 million followers.

“I know very well how disappointed (the fans) who supported me are and how upset you are thinking about the memories we shared together,” she wrote. “I want to make up for my hurt fans from now on. I have always been loyal to you, and each of you is still truly precious to me.

She expressed her “sincere apologies” to those who have supported her throughout her career, and vowed to “show more maturity and hard work moving forward to everyone (her fans) without disappointment.”

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In many places around the world, an announcement that a young pop star and actor has become an item will be little more than a quick celebrity headline.

But in South Korea – and to some extent in Japan – this remains taboo in a culture where fans adore their stars and record companies want to promote the fantasy of estranged celebrities.

Most K-Pop stars live under strict rules, which is very rare for them So far publiclyThe labels worry that any relationships will cause the stars to lose their mystique among fans.

Brands have reason to be concerned, with previous examples of angry fans turning on performers who go public with their relationships.

In 2018, when artists Hyuna and E-Down They began dating, and their record label Cube Entertainment saw its stock drop several points. Both artists were suspended by Cube, performing together as part of the outfit Triple H.

Experts previously told CNN that this phenomenon is partly because the K-pop industry is built on passionate fan bases, with many going so far as to promote their favorite groups.

Fans often make charitable donations in celebrities' names to boost their public image, or pay for independent advertising promoting new tours or albums.

But this intense loyalty also means that artists and agencies are closely tied to fans' demands and desires, increasing the pressure on K-pop stars under intense scrutiny.

There have been signs of change in recent years, with agencies turning away from controversial contract terms.

While it is still rare for agencies to announce romantic relationships between K-Pop idols, there have been more cases recently; Most notably agencies Pink black Singer Jisoo and actor Ahn Bo Hyun confirmed this last year They were dating.

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Fans even started urging each other to allow the stars more privacy and the ability to live their lives. In light of Kareena's apology on Wednesday, the comments section was filled with fans rallying in support.

“No idols (K-pop stars) should apologize for dating in 2024,” one comment read. Another user wrote: “Apologizing for loving someone? You don't need to do this.”

The news also caused a stir on Chinese social media. Aespa has a large Chinese fanbase, partly because one of the group's members is Chinese. While there were messages of support there as well, there were a lot of disgruntled fans who were not happy with Kareena's apology.

“If she really cherished her fans, she wouldn't have fallen in love in the first place,” one user wrote on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform. “Her apology is far from sincere and is just a face-saving tactic. This just shows that she is afraid of losing fans and money.”

Other fans pointed out that Kareena's apology did not mention her relationship status, speculating that it was just confirmation that they were still dating.

“What fans really want to hear from her is that she broke up and is no longer in contact with the guy,” one Weibo user wrote.

Another declared: “How can she look so carefree after all this? They fall happily in love while hanging the fans out to dry, as if nothing had happened. “It can’t have it both ways.”

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