Outside of entertainment, Korean idols and actors are also known for their influence on multiple fields, including lifestyle, food, and fashion. But sometimes, their impact pours over into the political territory, even affecting legislation directly.
Over the past decade, South Korean law has seen some unconventional alterations and additions, all because of mainstream artists. Here are four significant celebrities who impacted Korean legislation and their bittersweet background stories.
In 2019, f(X) member Sulli tragically passed away at just 25 years old. The singer was said to have struggled with severe depression and was routinely targeted with vitriol online for her outspoken attitude. Her untimely death opened up a serious discussion about cyberbullying. After her passing, seven petitions were posted on the South Korean presidential office website demanding stricter punishment for online bullying and strengthening the use of the real-name system when posting comments and creating accounts.
With growing public discourse around Sulli’s death and her suffering, the political circle of South Korea started paying attention to the issue. During the general audit of the Korea Communications Commission, a bill named the “Sulli Act” was mentioned, which proposed that internet users would be compelled to use real names online while posting comments. The aim was to counter malicious comments by bringing in more accountability. Additionally, another legislative proposal was made to partially amend the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, imposing an obligation for information and communication service providers to delete hateful comments from their platforms.
Unfortunately, the “Sulli Act” was unable to be passed through the full session before the end of the 20th National Assembly and was eventually put off the table.
2. Goo Hara
Goo Hara was a member of the girl group Kara and also a well-known actress. Like her friend Sulli, Goo Hara’s life was cut short at just 28 years. Her death, which occurred only a month after Sulli’s passing, was ruled as a possible case of suicide.
The singer was a victim of abuse and sexual crime at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. Her death sparked outrage over the lack of legal protection of women against sexual crimes, such as the Molka crisis (voyeuristic images and footage of women illegally captured through spy cams) in South Korea. The public even petitioned to the Blue House, demanding more severe punishment for non-consensual filming of sexual acts.
Another important topic that swept the public’s attention after Goo Hara’s death was South Korea’s inheritance law. Goo Ho In, the singer’s brother, spearheaded a legislative proposal called the “Goo Hara Act,” which called for amendments to the country’s inheritance laws. Under Korean law, parents were entitled to the assets of their late children even if they did not raise or provide for them. After Goo Hara’s death, her estranged mother allegedly showed up at the funeral, trying to assert her right to the deceased star’s estate.
Ho In filed a lawsuit against his mother and also petitioned for the Act, which prevented a parent’s claim on their children’s assets if they neglected their parental duties. In just 17 days, the petition garnered over 100,000 signatures and was finally passed in December 2020. But it couldn’t be applied to the settlement of the singer’s estate since the ruling was made before the Act was passed. Regardless, Goo Ho In considered the Act his “last gift” to his sister.
In December 2020, the National Assembly passed an amendment to its laws regarding compulsory military enlistment, which created opportunities for male idols to postpone their mandatory military service if they met specific standards. The amendment, widely referred to as the “BTS law,” was introduced in September 2020, following the huge international success of BTS’s single, “Dynamite.”
Under South Korean law, all able-bodied men are required to enlist in the military for 18 months of compulsory service by the age of 28. But the so-called “BTS law” allows K-Pop artists to defer their enlistment until 30, but only if they have received government medals for their domestic and global cultural contributions — like the Order of Cultural Merit, which BTS received in 2018.
The bill was passed just three days before BTS’s oldest member, Jin, turned 28, and it allowed the group to be active for two more years as a septet. So far, BTS members have been the only beneficiaries of this amendment. However, Jin and J-Hope withdrew their postponement request and have already enlisted in the military. Suga has also withdrawn his request, though he is yet to enlist. Other members are expected to follow suit.
4. Lee Seung Gi
Singer and actor Lee Seung Gi took over headlines last year after his former agency, Hook Entertainment, was exposed for having exploited him under a “slave contract” for 18 years. In December 2022, the singer filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging wage theft and fraud. Despite a very successful music career, he had no digital music income during the 18 years he was signed under the label. The agency ended up paying what they owed the singer, which amounted to around ₩4.10 billion KRW (about $3.09 million USD).
Following this controversy, the South Korean legislative passed an act in April 2023, titled the “Lee Seung Gi Crisis Prevention Act,” to safeguard entertainers from exploitative contracts by increasing financial transparency. One of the biggest new requirements the bill imposes on K-Pop entertainment agencies is that they must disclose their income statements to their idols at least once a year in addition to whenever the artists request.
Besides financial transparency, the new bill also imposes several new rules on companies that hire minor-aged idols, aiming to strengthen their protection. These rules include a lower number of maximum working hours for minor idols, a ban on activities that infringe on young celebrities’ right to education, prohibitions on actions that pose a risk to their health, and mandates for hiring a “youth protection officer” at entertainment companies to safeguard younger artists.