K-pop's biggest divas? From Red Velvet member Irene and Jeon So-mi, to Lee Hyori and Sechs Kies' Kang Sung-hoon dissing BtoB – 6 idols who came under fire for their inflated egos

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

For celebrities – especially those in the South Korean entertainment industry where fan culture is another level of intense – it can be easy to become caught up in one’s popularity and develop an inflated ego. Although it might be impossible for fans to fully grasp a star’s true character, sometimes the mask slips and they offer glimpses through candid interviews and social media posts. Other times, they end up embroiled in scandal and controversy.

Here are just a handful of Korean stars who have been called out for diva behaviour in the past.

Jeon So-mi

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Jeon So-mi recently admitted to having had the “celebrity disease”. Photo: @somsomi0309/Instagram

It might be hard to imagine the beloved soloist and former I.O.I member being anything but a sweetheart, but she recently opened up in an interview on variety show MMTG and admitted she once had the “celebrity disease”. The 20-year-old claimed to have caught the bug after debuting in I.O.I and subconsciously expecting people to take care of her. She said, “I thought it was natural for other people to take care of me. I didn’t know that there would be a difference between asking for favours and saying ‘do this for me’.”

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Jeon So-mi opened up in an interview on MMTG. Photo: MMTG

According to the interview, she only realised the extent of her attitude once rumours started circulating that she doesn’t bow to her seniors – which is incredibly disrespectful in Korean culture. Whether it was true or not, the rumour forced her to reflect on her behaviour, which in turn “cured” her of the “disease”.

Lee Hyori

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Lee Hyori. Photo: @lee_hyori_onni/Instagram

The long-reigning queen of K-pop, Lee Hyori has also had her fair share of diva moments. Though she’s grown from the experience now, she fully admitted to her “celebrity disease” in the past. According to Donga Ilbo, during promotions for her song Ten Minutes in 2003, she was once 30 minutes late to a press conference. She admitted during an appearance on talk show Healing Camp, Aren’t You Happy that she didn’t even greet or apologise to the staff, which actually led around 30 to 40 reporters to shut off their cameras in protest. At the time, the singer only internally blamed others, even thinking, “I’m Lee Hyori, why should I apologise?”

A classic show of celebrity entitlement, but the star has since matured and fully admitted to her mistake.


scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

DinDin didn’t even pick up calls from his parents. Photo: @dindinem/Instagram

Rapper DinDin also admitted to a past case of catching the “celebrity disease” after his appearance in popular Korean rap competition show Show Me the Money. On Park Myung-soo’s Radio Show, he revealed that his popularity got to his head, so much so that he “forgot how to bow his head” except to wash his own face; bowing your head to seniors is regarded as basic manners in Korea.

He said that he also had a misconception that celebrities don’t answer calls, so he even refused to pick up calls from his own parents. After about six months of being a diva, he received a much-needed scolding from his older brother, which “cured” him.

Lee Jin-hyuk of Up10tion

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Lee Jin-hyuk was embroiled in controversy in early 2020. Photo: @ljh_babysun/Instagram

The Up10tion rapper and former member of boy band X1 was accused of having the “celebrity disease” in early 2020. Two female cast members, Moon Ga-young and Kim Seul-gi, of his then-airing drama Find Me in Your Memory once held an Instagram Live stream while acting as their respective characters, and Lee made an appearance in the comments. Towards the end of the live, Kim, who played the girlfriend of Lee’s character in the drama, said, “honey, see you later” to Lee, which caused her to receive hate from Lee’s fans.

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Lee Jin-hyuk apologised after being accused of having a haughty attitude. Photo: @ljh_babysun/Instagram

Though the initial wave of hate wasn’t Lee’s fault, it was the aftermath that brought criticism. Lee, in another Instagram Live, revealed that Kim had apologised for calling him “honey”, as he wasn’t a fan of her casually dropping the term of endearment during the event either. But he also mentioned that he was upset with fans for siding with her. Some viewers expressed their support of him, calling him a “superstar”. When Lee seemingly accepted the title, his attitude was considered rather haughty and big-headed by many, especially Korean fans, according to Sports Today. That eventually led to him posting an apology later on.

Irene from Red Velvet

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Irene was caught up in a controversy in 2020. Photo: @redvelvet.smtown/Instagram

In late 2020, a veteran fashion editor and stylist, Kang Kook-hwa, claimed in a now-deleted Instagram post that a certain female celebrity had “trampled and abused” her during a photo shoot, leaving Kang in tears due to her harsh words, according to Korea Times. Though the star wasn’t explicitly named, Kang’s hashtags of “psycho” and “monster” – titles of songs by girl band Red Velvet and subunit Irene & Seulgi respectively – had fans suspecting it was Red Velvet member Irene.

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

After posting an apology, Irene took a 10-month break from Instagram. Photo: @renebaebae/Instagram

Irene then posted an apology on Instagram and SM Entertainment also released a statement that said Irene had met with the editor and apologised. Eventually, the editor urged netizens to stop speculating and claimed that the situation had been resolved with an exchange of apologies, according to News 1 Korea.

The singer retreated from the public eye for some time after the controversy, but made a triumphant comeback when Red Velvet released its sixth EP “Queendom” in August

Kang Sung-hoon of Sechs Kies

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Kang Sung-hoon has been in the middle of countless controversies. Photo: @kang.s.h.0222/Instagram

Any long-time K-pop fan is probably familiar with the boy band Sechs Kies, who dominated South Korea in the 90s with their success and are credited with pioneering idol fandom culture. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the group’s main vocalist, Kang Sung-hoon, developed a rather severe diva attitude.

The singer came under scrutiny in 2019 when a video clip of him surfaced on YouTube, reported Korea Times. In the now-deleted video, he insulted current K-pop idols’ looks while talking to his fans, claiming that “idols these days are ugly”. “If I had the chance to launch a group, I would prioritise the appearance,” he said when asked about boy group BtoB.

scandal and controversy., disrespectful in Korean culture, made a triumphant comeback, This is Cheongdam-dong, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Kang Sung-hoon was heavily criticised for his comments on a live broadcast. Photo: Hoony World

He’s also made some damning comments about the general public as well. According to SBS News, during a live broadcast in 2018, Kang remarked while walking outside, “Don’t misunderstand. This is Cheongdam-dong. This isn’t some street market or something,” as a fruit truck drove by. The condescending statement was naturally met with plenty of criticism.

Though Sechs Kies disbanded in 2000, they reunited in 2016, but Kang’s continuous involvement in various controversies led him to leave the group in 2019 while the remaining four members are still active today.

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