The Extreme, and Sometimes Deadly, Pressures of Being a K-Pop Star

Jonghyun | © Imaginechina/REX/Shutterstock

On December 18, K-pop star Kim Jong-hyun, best known simply by his stage name Jonghyun, died by apparent suicide. A note written by the lead SHINee vocalist and successful solo artist was shared with the public the following day, revealing the overwhelming stress artists like Jonghyun endure as part of South Korea’s pop celebrity circuit.

Jonghyun was found unconscious Monday afternoon at his residence in Cheongdam-dong, which is located in Seoul’s Gangnam District. He was rushed to the hospital where he was soon after pronounced dead.

Jonghyun’s sister told police that she had received a text from him that led her to believe that he might commit suicide. Jonghyun also sent a lengthy suicide letter to his close friend Jang Hee-yeon, the frontwoman who goes by the name Nine9 in her South Korean rock outfit Dear Cloud. After conferring with Jonghyun’s family, the note was shared via Nine9’s Instagram account.

“I am broken from inside,” Kim wrote in the note. “The depression that had been slowly eating me up finally devoured me and I couldn’t defeat it.”

Jonghyun goes on to detail his consuming depression, and while his exact reasons for taking his own life aren’t quite clear, he does point to his time spent in the spotlight as a driving factor.

“The life of fame was not for me. They say it’s hard to bump up against the world and become famous,” he wrote. “Why did I choose this life? It’s a funny thing. It’s a miracle that I lasted this long.

“What else is there to say? Just tell me I did well. Tell me that this is enough,” he concluded. “Tell me I worked hard. Even if you can’t smile, please don’t blame me as you send me off. Well done. You’ve really worked hard. Goodbye.”

As Variety notes, Jonghyun isn’t the first artist to identify the extremely competitive Korean entertainment industry as a factor in their decision to commit suicide. For example, Korean-American singer Charles Park, aka Seo Ji-won, killed himself on New Year’s Day 1996. In in his own note, he wrote of the pressure he felt in achieving the same success with his sophomore album as he did with his debut.

The Washington Post also highlights South Korea’s current mental health dilemma. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports South Korea to be the nation with the highest suicide rate among its 35 member countries, with nearly 30 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.

“Over the past 20 years, there has been a general trend of fewer psychiatric care beds in OECD countries, as mental health care has shifted to the community,” a recent OECD report states. “Korea is the exception to this trend. Korea’s long average length of stay for psychiatric disorders … raises questions about the effectiveness of treatment in hospitals.”

In other Korean music news, the nation’s Censorship Bureau recently banned a music video released by Korean-American hip-hop artist Dumbfoundead. Titled “Rocket Man,” the video was shot in South Korea and features lyrics claiming that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has daddy issues, as well as clips of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “rocket man” mockery. However, the Bureau asserts that the video was banned because of its display of alcohol consumption, not for political reasons.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article