The Horrific K-Pop Bullying Scandal That Stunned The Industry

The bullying culminated in a fight backstage at a music show.

Content Warning

This article includes descriptions of bullying that may disturb some readers.

K-Pop groups often appear to have extremely close bonds of friendship among the members of the groups. Groups often talk about their fights with each other in comedic ways and they are often not about anything serious.

In the rare instances where bigger issues like bullying and harassment arise, massive problems can come up for the group including disbandment. That is exactly what happened in the terrible bullying case of first-generation group S#arp.

Sharp, stylized as S#arp, is most well remembered as a four-membered co-ed group. The group originally debuted as five in November 1998 with their first album The S#arp. Seo Jiyoung, Jang Suk Hyun, John Kim, Oh Hee Jong, and Lee Jihye were in this original line-up.

During the promotions of their first album, an additional member named Chris was added to the line-up and S#arp continued promotions as a six-membered group.

After a few more member changes, including John Kim leaving and Sori joining, the group saw success at a time when most groups dominating the music scene were single-sex groups like Sechs Kies, g.o.d., H.O.T, and S.E.S. The group’s arguably most famous and most covered track, “My Lips…Warm Like Coffee,” was released in 2002 on their album Style.

S#arp Style album cover.

While the group was growing in success, there were extreme issues going on between the members of the group, specifically Lee Jihye and Seo Jiyoung. S#arp was created by Seo Jiyoung’s family, and she had planned on filling the group with friends. These plans changed when Lee Jihye was added to the group.

Seo Jiyoung
Lee Jihye

Lee Jihye was added to the group through auditions based on her talent, and it is said that Seo Jiyoung’s jealousy is what caused the initial issues between the two.  When it became clear that Lee Jihye would not be removed from the group, Seo Jiyoung began physically harassing Lee Jihye. In an interview 15 years later, Lee Jihye could not recall memories from that time without crying.

According to Lee Jihye, Seo Jiyoung would attack and abuse her physically and verbally almost daily. While there are many instances of bullying between members of K-Pop groups, Seo Jiyoung took her abuse to the next level. Seo Jiyoung was dating actor Ryu Si Won, best known for his role in Good Bye Dear Wife, at the time and allegedly invited him to slap and berate Lee Jihye as well.

Seo Jiyoung (left) and Ryu Si Won (right).

The event leading to the group’s demise occurred in October 2002 at KBS’s Music Bank. Seo Jiyoung reportedly called Lee Jihye names causing the two to begin fighting in an elevator. After being separated to cool off, it seemed as though that might have been the end of it. The next day, however, Seo Jiyoung’s mother allegedly confronted and assaulted Lee Jihye physically and verbally.

Lee Jihye crying during the press conference.

The group held a press conference where the two explained what happened from their point of view. Seo Jiyoung gave an altered account of what happened where she placed the blame heavily on Lee Jihye.

“According to what [Jihye] unnie said in the article, she claims she only hit me a few times. Of course, I wasn’t able to focus fully at the time, but she hit me using her fists and hands at least 7 to 8 times. She hit me on my face, head, and neck. While using extreme curse words, she grabbed my hair and shook me.”

— Seo Jiyoung

Most importantly, Seo Jiyoung denied that she instigated the matter between the two. The group’s manager was present at the time of the incident, and according to Jiyoung, claimed that Jihye was lying. However, when asked about the incident at the press conference, the manager firmly claimed that another witness heard Seo Jiyoung insulting Lee Jihye, going directly against what Jiyoung had just stated. At this point of the press conference, Seo Jiyoung stands and attempts to walk away.

After this press conference, the public’s opinion of Seo Jiyoung fell dramatically, and the group’s disbandment was the best option for all involved. Lee Jihye continued her career as a popular solo artist. She saw so much success while promoting her song, “Love Me, Love Me,” that she had to be hospitalized for overworking. Seo Jiyoung famously visited her at the hospital and gifted her white chrysanthemums, a flower traditionally used for the dead.

It took the group 11 years to finally meet up and attempt a reconciliation. According to Jang Suk Hyun, it took around an hour of silence before the members began opening up. Jihye documented their meet-up on her Twitter account, tweeting a photo where the four members seemed to be in good spirits.

Lee Jihye has since branched into acting and opened a YouTube channel where she shares covers and updates on her life. She also has appeared on a number of variety shows, including Master of The House where she directly name-dropped Seo Jiyoung as the cause for S#arp’s disbandment.

| sNack!/YouTube

Seo Jiyoung also pursued a solo career and released two albums and appeared in the K-Drama, Pianissimo, in 2011. She is currently not active as an entertainer and has settled into family life after marrying a non-celebrity in 2011.

Source: S#arp Press Conference