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Livestreaming idols must be on their best behavior or face the wrath of fandoms

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Jaechan of DKZ appears on a television show in April after seeing success through the Watcha series ″Semantic Error″ (2022). [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Jaechan of DKZ appears on a television show in April after seeing success through the Watcha series ″Semantic Error″ (2022). [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Jaechan of boy band DKZ is in hot water — because of who he subscribes to on YouTube.

On Saturday, the singer was having a livestream session to communicate with his fans on Naver V Live. During the session, what appeared to be his laptop screen was streamed live, showing that the YouTube account he was logged in to was subscribed to a channel called Sojang.

During Jaechan's livestream session on Dec. 17, what appeared to be his laptop screen was streamed live, showing that the YouTube account he was logged which was subscribed to infamous celebrity gossip channel Sojang. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
During Jaechan’s livestream session on Dec. 17, what appeared to be his laptop screen was streamed live, showing that the YouTube account he was logged which was subscribed to infamous celebrity gossip channel Sojang. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Sojang is a YouTube channel known for spreading rumors about mainly K-pop idols, ranging from bullying accusations to dating scandals. BTS member V revealed late last year that he would take legal action against the channel for spreading rumors about his private life, as did boy band Ateez’s agency KQ Entertainment in August for defamation. Many Korean netizens have criticized Sojang’s content as unethical since its claims are often baseless and target underage idol singers.

Because of the channel’s not-so-positive reputation, especially among K-pop fans, many viewing Jaechan’s livestream were shocked to see his apparent YouTube account subscribed to Sojang. The news proceeded to spread quickly outside of his fandom, which prompted Jaechan to address the issue the following day.

Jaechan addressed the issue the following day, saying he was not aware of the subscription to Sojang and must have subscribed by mistake. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Jaechan addressed the issue the following day, saying he was not aware of the subscription to Sojang and must have subscribed by mistake. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“Let me get this straight; I don’t really know what kind of channel it is,” he wrote to fans through a private message service offered on the fan community platform Universe. “I don’t really organize my YouTube subscription list, so I think I subscribed [to Sojang] by mistake. I’ve now reorganized my subscriptions.”

Fans have been skeptical of Jaechan’s explanation. Some expressed disappointment that Jaechan allegedly watches videos from Sojang, not only because of the channel’s reputation but also because it has spread malicious rumors about his bandmate Munik in the past. Munik is currently on a break from the band’s activities to take care of his mental health, however, the channel claimed he’s taking a break because of a plastic surgery that went wrong. They offered no evidence to substantiate these claims.

Jaechan, who debuted in 2019, has been known for an earnest image after rocketing to popularity through Watcha’s romantic comedy series “Semantic Error” earlier this year, which amplified fans’ disappointment.

Some defended Jaechan claiming that even if he subscribed knowingly, it is understandable because he might want to monitor potential rumors about him or his band.

 Jaechan plays a lead role in the hit series "Semantic Error" [WATCHA]
Jaechan plays a lead role in the hit series “Semantic Error” [WATCHA]

A pattern is starting to emerge of scandals being sparked due to K-pop stars’ social media livestreams.

Idol singers usually turn on their livestreams when they’re not practicing or on a filming set. Since it is not an official shoot and takes place in a relatively relaxed setting, many unpredictable factors pop up. Most mishaps are viewed as benign and funny, and often earn the star praise for revealing a more relatable side to themselves.

Some mistakes, however, have more serious consequences than others. The fact that the session is live and lacks editing causes many stars to come under fire for saying inappropriate things. Hongbin of VIXX ended up leaving the boy band in 2020 after livestreaming while intoxicated and making inappropriate comments about other K-pop acts.

One of the top related searches for “livestream” is “slip of the tongue,” which pulls up a long list of incidents that have led to criticism.

While stars can avoid backlash if their mistakes are deemed innocent, these mishaps highlight the vulnerability of livestreams. In 2019, a member of the girl group gugudan accidentally exposed her groupmate’s phone number on screen while calling her during a livestream. Realizing her mistake later, the member held another livestream to ask viewers not to spread the exposed phone number.

In 2019, a member of girl group gugudan accidentally exposed her groupmate’s phone number on screen while calling her during a livestream. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
In 2019, a member of girl group gugudan accidentally exposed her groupmate’s phone number on screen while calling her during a livestream. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

These kinds of accidents have become increasingly frequent in the past few years, as livestream sessions outside of “official” schedules have become not only normalized but also expected for K-pop idols. Especially during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when in-person meet-and-greets became virtually nonexistent, fans and agencies alike encouraged stars to communicate through social media livestreams.

The majority of live sessions are outside of their official schedules. This means once a star turns on a livestream, virtually everything said or caught on camera is broadcast live. Without post-production editing like television shows or the idol group’s web reality shows, they are inherently prone to mishaps or privacy infringement like Jaechan’s case.

Pop culture critic Kim Heon-sik pointed out that livestreams can be another source of pressure for already-overworked K-pop idols, now expected to show close-ups of their lives outside of official work hours.

“It is clear that the workload for K-pop idols, especially emotional labor, is becoming more and more intense,” said Kim. “These livestreams are considered to be part of the star’s fan service. The question is how voluntary is it when they have to do it on a regular basis, usually under their agency’s orders. Then it’s basically additional labor all around the clock for these young artists.”

Private messaging services like DearU Bubble or Universe Private Message deliver a star’s group messages in the form of one-on-one chatrooms to each user, creating a sense of texting in person. Unlike free livestreams, these services require a monthly subscription fee. [DEARU]
Private messaging services like DearU Bubble or Universe Private Message deliver a star’s group messages in the form of one-on-one chatrooms to each user, creating a sense of texting in person. Unlike free livestreams, these services require a monthly subscription fee. [DEARU]

Kim says the same happens with private messaging services like DearU Bubble or Universe Private Message, which deliver group messages from a star in the form of one-on-one chatrooms to each user, creating a sense of texting one-on-one. Unlike free livestreams, these services require a monthly subscription fee. Messaging services, while welcomed by fans, have also been criticized for imposing additional emotional labor upon K-pop stars.

“One of the elements of K-pop that stands out is this kind of frequent communication between stars and fans,” he continued. “It’s done through in-person fan meet sessions or online platforms, and the communication aspect has become a very marketable product on its own. The law regarding celebrity contracts or work hours has not caught up with these changes at all.”

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]