Han So-hee(l), Ryu Jun-yeol(c), Hyeri(r)

Marie Claire Korea/Wikipedia Explicit/Wikipedia TV10/Wikipedia (CC-BY)

K-pop and K-drama fans go head-to-head over dating controversy

The dating controversy sent K-pop and K-drama fans into a tizzy.


Kira Deshler

Pop Culture

Posted on Mar 21, 2024   Updated on Mar 21, 2024, 2:09 pm CDT

Decoding Fandom is a weekly column that dives deep into the world of fan culture and runs on Wednesdays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox. 

Nothing elicits controversy like dating drama, and few industries generate more passionate fandoms than Korea’s entertainment empire. When these two arenas overlap, it’s a goldmine for internet discourse.

That’s exactly what happened last weekend when rumors of a new K-drama relationship hit the newsstands. Korean actors Ryu Jun-yeol and Han So-hee were spotted together in Hawaii on Friday, leading many to believe they were dating. In response to the news, Ryu’s ex-girlfriend, Hyeri, a member of the K-pop group Girl’s Day, took to Instagram to share her thoughts. On her story, she posted a picture of Hawaii with the captain “It’s funny” and unfollowed Ryu.

Shortly thereafter, Han made a post indicating that she was not involved in cheating and wrote “I also find this funny.” The next day, Han made her Instagram private and posted a statement to her blog confirming her relationship with Ryu but maintaining it did not overlap with Hyeri’s. She apologized for her Instagram story and suggested she would apologize to Hyeri as well. On Monday, Hyeri made another post, apologizing for unwittingly stirring up controversy while also confirming the timeline of her relationship with Ryu, thus clearing Han’s name.

Unsurprisingly, this news sent K-pop and K-drama fans into a tizzy. Hyeri’s fans were quick to defend the performer, which in many cases meant attacking Han. On X, fans called Han a homewrecker, a liar, unlikable, spoiled, and a bitch. In particular, these fans criticized Han for not being a “girl’s girl” because of her response to Hyeri’s initial post.

Not all of this hate is new within the K-pop fandom. A post on the r/unpopularkpopopinions subreddit from four years ago lists all the reasons Han is unlikeable and attention-seeking, and the amount of comments on the post indicates it’s not such an unpopular opinion after all. Many of Hyeri’s fans in the present day concur, painting Hyeri as entirely blameless and Han as the villain.

As you can probably guess, Han’s fans took issue with this narrative. Many bemoaned the fact that Han was being treated like a criminal for a single Instagram post, maintaining that she has a right to defend herself against homewrecker allegations. One popular fan account on X organized a mass email campaign directed at Han’s agency, 9ato Entertainment, asking the company to take action against those making derogatory comments about the actress. Others were saddened that Han took down all the images on her blog—which one user called a “comfort zone” for fans—and wondered if she was okay.

The broader context of the Korean entertainment industry matters here. K-pop is famous for its incredibly strict “slave contracts” which often include clauses prohibiting idols from dating. K-drama stars like Han don’t have quite the same restrictions, though some talent agencies put punitive divorce clauses into actors’ contracts following a controversy several years ago. Taking this high-pressure environment into consideration, some of Han’s fans called out the double standard of K-pop stans. “y’all always talk about wanting to see Korean celebrities stand up for themselves but this is what y’all do when she does it,” one user wrote.

Thankfully, not everyone bought into the narrative pitting the two stars against each other. Some have posited that the real criminal here is Ryu, who hasn’t stood up for either of these women amidst the controversy. “my god take all of hyeri and sohee’s pain and give it to that coward of a dick ryu junyeol,” wrote one X user. Many other posts followed this format, with fans praying that Han and/or Hyeri’s suffering be transferred to specific men—such as the cast of Squid Game—or men in general. If there’s one thing Hyeri and Han’s fans can agree on, it’s that Ryu is not worth the trouble

Why it matters

In theory, fans want their faves to lead happy fulfilling lives, but stan culture means that anyone perceived to be getting in the way of this goal is the enemy. Though fans have considerable agency in driving the discourse about their favorite celebrities, these narratives tend to follow a sexist formula.

In the case of Hyeri and Han So-hee’s brief online skirmish, lines were drawn in the sand, but not everyone took their positions on the frontline. If there’s any hope to be found here, it’s that some fans saw through the sexist narrative and exposed the true enemy: useless boyfriends

The internet is chaotic—but we’ll break it down for you in one daily email. Sign up for the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter here to get the best (and worst) of the internet straight into your inbox.

Share this article
*First Published: Mar 21, 2024, 6:00 am CDT