South Korea’s K-pop industry has fallen prey to a recent surge in online threats, echoing the pattern of violent copycat crimes that have unfolded in recent weeks. Among those targeted is Winter, a member of the aespa girl group, along with staff members at SM Entertainment, a prominent hub for various K-pop acts including the popular boy band NCT.
The K-pop scene has now found itself ensnared in a disturbing trend of online threats imitating violent acts inspired by the recent spate of random stabbing incidents in South Korea. On August 3, a 22-year-old named Choi Won-jong carried out a car-ramming attack on pedestrians outside a Seongnam department store in Gyeonggi Province. He then proceeded to wield a knife inside the building, resulting in the death of a woman in her 60s and injuring 13 others. This incident is believed to have been driven by the same motives as the stabbing spree on July 21, when Cho Sun, a 33-year-old, fatally wounded one man and injured three others in southern Seoul.
These unsettling occurrences have led to a surge in internet posts, totaling 119 individuals apprehended as of the most recent update, sharing threats to replicate similar acts. Alarmingly, even K-pop celebrities and their support staff have fallen victim to these perilous threats.
The Hanam Police Station in Gyeonggi Province disclosed that a man in his 20s, whose identity remains undisclosed, posted a chilling declaration online, vowing to target nine SM Entertainment staff members for violence. Notably, SM Entertainment represents several K-pop acts, including the popular boy band NCT and the girl group aespa. The individual claimed his actions were driven by an overwhelming rage, stemming from his perception that a girl group member – whom he had followed for a decade – did not reciprocate his feelings. He had also been sending her messages via social media. Authorities uncovered evidence indicating a meticulously planned criminal scheme.
In a preceding incident, SM Entertainment had reported an internet user to the police on August 7 for issuing a murder threat against aespa member Winter. The ominous post read, “Tomorrow, I will kill Winter, who will be flying abroad.” This threat emerged just before Winter and other aespa members were scheduled to embark on a journey to the United States to participate in the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival. Swift action was taken by SM, prompting a thorough investigation and heightened security measures to ensure the safety of their artist. Consequently, Winter departed from Korea without incident, in accordance with the original plans.
SM Entertainment commented, “The police conducted an inspection of our company headquarters [in Seoul] to assess the security and safety conditions.”
Another notable K-pop record label, HYBE, responsible for managing the Grammy-nominated boy group BTS, has taken the precautionary step of closing the main entrance of its headquarters in Yongsan District, central Seoul. This response came in the wake of an online post that ominously warned of a knife stabbing incident. The post stated, “I will stab people in front of the HYBE headquarters. I really hope Chairman Bang Si-hyuk will be there.” While police conducted searches in the vicinity on August 8-9, no suspicious individuals were located. Authorities have since announced their determination to take stringent measures against individuals who propagate online threats of grievous crimes.