How Old Are They Really? 4 Korean Celebrities Who Debuted With Fake Ages
In every entertainment industry in this world, stars often fake their ages, achievements, and other personal information to fit into whatever will buy them the most longevity in their careers. The Korean music and film industries are no different. Though with time and more access to information, it has become difficult for stars to be dishonest about their personal details, South Korea has seen its share of actors and idols who pulled off lying about their ages successfully.
The first person to come to mind when it comes to fake age controversies in K-Pop would be Lee Gai from the first-generation group BABY V.O.X. The group debuted in 1997 when Lee Gai was supposedly 20 years old. But fans soon started questioning her mature looks compared to the other members. It was soon revealed that Lee Gai, whose real name was Lee Hee Jung, was born in 1968, making her 30 years old at the time of her debut. She was then replaced in BABY V.O.X and went on to debut two more times, once as a part of a duo and the following time as a soloist.
Though there are no other such glaring examples of age tampering among idols, it is well-known that Bora and Hyolyn, members of the girl group SISTAR, debuted with their ages reduced by one year on their profiles. While some think it was a mistake on their label’s part, others theorize that it could be a confusion caused by different calendar systems, as East Asia uses lunar, solar, and Gregorian calendars simultaneously. This is the very reason why F.T. Island member Hongki’s family reportedly celebrates his birthday thrice a year.
Another popular example of this phenomenon would be actress Lee Si Young, who rose to fame with her role in the iconic K-Drama Boys Over Flowers. Newer K-Drama watchers might recognize her better from projects like Sweet Home and Grid. When Lee debuted, her profile showed that she was born in 1984. It wasn’t much later that the actress herself admitted that her real birth year was 1982 and that her age was manipulated because she got an apparent late start in her career compared to others.
While shaving off years from one’s actual age to survive in a highly competitive industry does make more sense, there are some stars in Korean entertainment who had to take the opposite road. Kim Wan Sun¸, who was known as the “Korean Madonna” back in the early 90s, was only 17 when she debuted with her album Tonight. However, at that time, her agency had raised her age in her profile to fit the sexy concept of her discography.
Yoon Mirae, a legendary figure in Korean Hip Hop, debuted in a group called Uptown in 1997. She was only 16 at that time, but her agency faked her birth year to be 1977, which made her “celebrity-age” 20. Yoon later shared in interviews that the reason behind this decision was so that the public would see her as an artist instead of an idol and take her music seriously.
Though it is natural to assume that the primary reason why stars would lie about their ages is to up their chances at survival in industries where talents are getting younger and younger, it looks like the predominance of an artist’s “concept” also gets a say in which way their age gets swayed. But in today’s time and age, with such easy access to verified information, it is difficult to get away with these moves.
However, amidst the rising concern of Korean entertainment, and especially the music industry’s preoccupation with debuting minors, there is another end of the spectrum that is breaking the age boundaries. Artists like Lee Hyori and Uhm Jung Hwa are coming back in full swing into the mainstream entertainment business in their 40s and 50s. Actress Yoon Yuh Jung made history in 2021 by becoming the first Korean actress to win an Oscar at 74 years old! The industry is admittedly far from being unbiased to age, it is getting close to aligning itself with fans’ changing perspectives where most don’t seem to mind what age their favorite artists are debuting at.