As any KPop fan (and yes, I am one) will tell you, political statements and public political stances are something that KPop Idols usually steer away from. For those not into KPop, the term “Idol” is used to described popular KPop performers and singers trained through South Korean talent agencies such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. During their training period, as well as their early years of performing, Kpop artists are tightly supervised by their management companies. It has been estimated that the cost of “discovering” and training a Kpop “Idol” is around US$2.6 million dollars, so it is unsurprising that young Kpop artists are so tightly managed, to ensure that they do not get involved in any “scandals” or situation which may alienate them from their legion of fans and undermine their commercial marketability. Thus Idol groups and singers are usually corralled by their entertainment company to stick to a fairly narrow line
However, this week two KPop idols made public their support for current student protests against privatisation and inequality in Korean society. On December 15, Chansung from the Idol group, 2PM, tweeted to his (almost) 780,000 followers that he supported the “Annyeong” (Are you well?) protests, while Shinee’s Kim Jonghyun – who has over 922,000 followers on twitter – changed his twitter profile photo this week to a hand written letter by a transgender student involved in the Anneyong protests. The note, written by the student, titled: “No matter what name you call us, we are not ‘Annyeong’ (well)“ highlights discrimination against the Transgender and LGBTI community in South Korea (for a full translation of the note, see below).
The student protests, known collectively as the “annyeong” Protests or “Are You Well? protests, have seen university and college students, as well as non-students take a stand against the privatisation of South Korea’s railroads and healthcare, as well censorship, electoral corruption and injustice within Korean society.
““Annyeong” is the Korean phrase which is commonly used in greetings to ask if someone is well or doing okay. As part of the protests, the protestors have carried and posted hand written notes with the phrase “I am not okay”, highlighting their opposition to the privatisation attempts, as well as economic and social injustice and corruption.
The protests began on December 14, when a Korean University student, Joo Hyun Woo posted up a large handwritten poster on campus, asking if people were doing okay, because he wasn’t. In his poster he addressed the strike by railroad workers protesting the government plan to privatise the Korean Railroad Corp. He also addressed the issue of the accusations around a fixed presidential election and other acts of injustice and censorship taking place. Joo’s action inspired other students who also began to write their own signs, expressing their unhappiness with the current political and economic situation in South Korea. For the last week, students and their supporters have taken to the street with similar placards and signs.
Korea’s Netizen Buzz website has quoted several students on the protests:
One sociology major said, “Our society has difficulty differentiating between what is ‘different’ and what is ‘wrong’. We tend to overlook what is ‘wrong’ to be ‘different’. We need to be able to tell the government that it is ‘wrong’ to dismiss railroad union members for disagreeing with the privatization. I am here today because I refuse to stay silent. I hope that we will all be okay.”
Another student said, “Our college demands that we remain oblivious to issues regarding our government and society. We’re all just as frustrated (with this censorship) so I’m here today to say that I am not okay.”
Others said similar things to the line of, “I have to block the privatization of the railroads for my life to be okay”, “I am not okay because I am embarrassed to have my child born in this country”, “I am not okay because our society has taken away my right to express my anger towards injustice”, “Is a society just when I need to be brave just to have my voice heard?”, “I am not okay because I live in a society that censors me”…
The transgender student who wrote the note posted by Kim Jonghyun later revealed her identity and made it publicly known that he had contacted her about posting her protest note. The student,Kang Eun Ha, said she had been contacted by Jonghyun to let her know he was posting his note to his twitter profile and that he hoped that this would be okay and that she would not become the centre of unwanted attention due to his action. Kang Eun Ha made public the exchange between herself and Jonghyun, in which he stated:
“I support you. As a celebrity, as a minority of a different sort facing the public, I also feel disappointment towards the world that does not accept difference. Of course, it can’t be compared to what you feel.” In response, Kang Eun Ha replied: “Thank you so much. I don’t know with what words I can express my feelings…Thank you. Thank you so much. I will definitely stay strong. Please be careful of cold, and I hope you have a warm end of the year 🙂 Thank you!”