KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Jennie of Blackpink was recently embroiled in a controversy after she was seen vaping indoors.

In her latest vlog filmed in Italy, she was seen putting an electronic cigarette to her lips and exhaling a puff of smoke.

But why is there a controversy and social media outcry in the first place?

No one would bat an eye if an artist from the West, like Justin Bieber or A$AP Rocky, were smoking or vaping.

This is because K-pop idols are held to a different, strict code of conduct as opposed to artists from other parts of the world.

Fans of K-pop stars hold them to an unrealistic standard of perfection, often causing backlash if that image is broken. — Reuters Picture
Fans of K-pop stars hold them to an unrealistic standard of perfection, often causing backlash if that image is broken. — Reuters Picture

‘Idols’, as they are called in South Korea, are seen as having a higher status than ordinary people and are expected to achieve unrealistic standards of beauty and behaviour, according to Firstpost.

Several artists and former trainees have spoken out about the K-pop industry's control over their idol's ‘perfect image’.

As early as being trainees, the artists must adhere to a series of rules to protect their image and, more importantly, the company's public image..

10 strict rules

These are just 10 of the many rules that are generally accepted not only by Korean idols but entertainers and celebrities alike, according to Koreaboo.

  1. No boyfriends or girlfriends allowed
  2. No speaking to someone of the opposite sex within the agency
  3. The agency will check your phone
  4. No junk food allowed
  5. Must stay in contact with the manager
  6. No going out without permission
  7. No personal social media
  8. No changing or cutting hair without approval
  9. No part-time jobs
  10. Bow 90-degrees and respect elders

In a Youtube video, former K-pop trainee Grazy Grace said that it is normal for agencies to pressure female idols to keep a certain weight or restrict their diets to keep slim appearances.

Only senior idols are allowed to have personal Instagram accounts. But even then, they are not allowed to respond to private messages and can’t follow random accounts.

Dating announcements can only be confirmed or denied through the idols’ respective companies first through statements, BBC reported.

Consequences of breaking the rules

Idols who have been caught breaking these codes of conduct have been met with ‘controversy’, with die-hard fans spewing backlash online over anger or disappointment.

One recent example was when Karina of K-pop girl group Aespa was confirmed to be in a relationship with actor Lee Jae-Wook in February.

Both actors and idols faced significant hate comments from their respective fandoms. Some even used protest trucks with LED messages outside Aespa’s agency SM Entertainment.

“Is the love given to you by your fans not enough?” one of the electronic messages said.

In March, Karina uploaded a handwritten letter to her fans on a now-deleted Instagram post where she apologised to Aespa fans for ‘disappointing’ them.

In April, Lee’s company C-JeS confirmed that the two had broken up to focus on their separate careers.

On the trail of smoking scandals, many male idols have also been caught smoking, Korea Herald reported.

V of popular K-pop boy band BTS was infamously caught smoking outside the 2022 Grammy Awards, Allkpop reported.

His band members RM and Jungkook have also been seen smoking and vaping too.

Seunghan of SM boyband Riize left the group after breaking multiple ‘idol rules’ after past videos and pictures resurfaced of him allegedly smoking, SKPOP reported

The former Riize member was also in hot water due to old pictures leaked online of him dating his former girlfriend who was still a minor at that time.

In August 2017, SM boy group SHINee member Onew was accused of sexual harassment. He was immediately put on hiatus from the group’s activities until his charges were dropped on April 6, 2018.

On December 4, 2017, he wrote a handwritten letter apologising to fans and the company for making them worried and disappointed.

“I will keep on reflecting, and always be more strict with myself and try hard,” Onew wrote.

Sometimes, controversy is good?

Despite the tight noose the K-pop system holds, there are a few rare idols who actually thrive on controversy or ‘bad girl’ and ‘bad boy’ image.

G-Dragon of K-pop boy band BIGBANG was notorious for being ‘the bad boy of Kpop’, always seen smoking in public and performing closely with female dancers on stage.

When asked about K-pop’s ‘slave contracts’ in a 2013 interview with DAZED, he said he was lucky to not deal with tight restrictions from his agency

“I do hope that conditions improve for all aspiring artists as I do hear about things in the news,” he said.

Known for her confident girl-power anthems Zoom and Nunu Nana, rapper Jessi has always not been afraid to show her true self, even in the face of backlash.

She is unapologetically herself with her flowery language, sexy dressing and honesty about the pressures of the K-pop industry.

In an interview on the Zach Sang Show, Jessi revealed that idols are often scared to be their true selves as it goes against the image their company wants.

“If I debuted at 16 with a cute and pure concept, I can’t just change into a bold rapper the next day. It’s not consistent with the image they (labels) want,” she said.

“That’s where I come in because I’ve always been myself since day one. If anything, I feel that I’m nicer now.”