The K-pop world saw its latest media storm several days ago when an editor/stylist posted on Instagram about a recent bad experience with a celebrity. People quickly figured out it was Red Velvet’s Irene, who made both an online and in-person apology along with her agency SM Entertainment. Since then, the industry appears to be divided on the issue. People who have worked with Irene have been continually coming forward to either speak out against her or in support of her. This rift also seems to be trickling down to the general K-pop fandom, and it looks like everyone is taking sides. At least, that’s the case on my social media feeds.
Whenever something like this happens, I usually keep my opinions to myself. But I’m a huge fan of both Red Velvet and Irene, and I’ve been pretty open about that: on this blog, on social media, and during in-person conversations with my friends and fellow K-pop fans. Irene is even in the center of my website’s custom art, so she’s probably the first image you see when you go to my home page. I’ve spent the last few days trying to sort out my thoughts about all this, and many of my K-pop friends have been asking me what I think and if I’m still going to stan. To be honest, I still don’t feel 100% comfortable talking about it, especially when I really just want to move on (and I’m sure many others do too). But given Irene’s presence on this blog – and Red Velvet’s as well – I’d feel awkward if I never addressed it. So, here goes.
I’ve been a K-pop fan for around five years, and Red Velvet has been my favorite girl group for most of that time. Through that, Irene has always been my favorite member and even my ultimate bias (for girl groups). We’re about a year apart in age, and I’ve always admired how she started her career later than most female idols and still became a popular power player in this youth-oriented industry. I definitely related to Irene more than any of my other girl group biases, so I was really comfortable with openly declaring myself her fan. I’m not super great at social media hype, but I was probably best at doing it for her. Whenever I bought Red Velvet merchandise, I’d get her items if possible. And when I went to the La Rouge concert in Seoul, I wrote her a letter about how much I supported her. I actually have a picture of her holding it, which is one of the highlights of my life as a K-pop fan.
When the news came out a few days ago, I was definitely caught off guard. I know full well that idols aren’t necessarily like they seem, but I’ve always personally believed what they showed us in public was fairly close to reality – just super polished to highlight all of the appealing parts without any flaws. In other words, I think they’re usually showing us the best versions of themselves, rather than putting on a whole fake persona. After all, constantly pretending to be someone you’re not is exhausting and hard to maintain. I could maybe see people thinking of Irene as cold and standoffish, because she seems quite introverted and she does have what some call a “resting bitch face.” (I’m not insulting her – I have one, too.) She also seems to be a direct person who knows what she wants and/or needs, which often can get different reactions from different people. But I would never have imagined that she yelled at staff members to the point that they cried or had a bad attitude.
I’ve seen a lot of fans defending Irene and saying that she’s human and everyone has bad days. I think this is absolutely true, but it shouldn’t be used as a blanket statement to excuse her from everything. I’ve been in her shoes – I’m obviously not a gorgeous and mega-famous pop star, but I worked in the entertainment industry when I was younger (in behind the scenes jobs). There was a bunch of drama on almost everything I worked on. And I admit that I had a couple outbursts of my own under some extreme circumstances. They weren’t pretty, and they’re certainly embarrassing to look back on now. Were they ultimately opportunities to learn and grow? Yes. Have all parties involved moved on? Yes. Do those moments really affect my life now? No. But having an explosive argument or tantrum came with consequences – both fair and unfair – and I had to live with them. So as much as we might want to protect Irene and shield her from unnecessary backlash, we can’t completely absolve her of everything. I definitely don’t think that the situation should have blown up to what it is now, and it should have been dropped after she apologized. But I also think Irene needed to respond to this situation and own up to her prior behavior, and I’m really glad that she did.
When it comes to the editor who made the post, I’m of two minds. On one hand, I believe that she deserved an apology. We don’t know the full details, but something obviously did happen to warrant one. And like Irene, she definitely shouldn’t be getting the amount of hate that she has been. On the other hand, I don’t really agree with how she went about things. And I’ll admit I’m side-eyeing some of what she wrote in her clarification post. That being said, I’m willing to attribute those feelings to my general dislike of people calling each other out on social media as conflict resolution. And I can understand how she might have felt that her career and reputation were at stake if she didn’t get control of the narrative. People who speak out against idols – for whatever reason – often get outright dismissed and/or targeted and harassed by angry fans. So, I do respect her courage in raising this issue.
There’s a saying that there are always two sides to every story, but I think there are actually three: Side A, Side B, and the reality that’s somewhere in between. This is certainly the case here for me. If I’m being honest and voicing my personal opinion, part of me thinks that something had to have been a catalyst in this whole incident. Even though Irene’s behavior was not okay, I have a hard time believing it just came out of nowhere. But I obviously wasn’t at the photoshoot, and we’re probably never going to know exactly what happened. So, I’m trying not to judge too much either way… at least, more than I already have in this post.
Personally, I don’t really look to celebrities as inspiration or role models, K-pop idols included. Finding out famous people have attitude problems doesn’t *usually* bother me. This situation with Irene is no different. It’s not like she’s my friend or she’s in my inner circle, so it doesn’t have any impact on my daily life. Plus she admitted her fault and apologized, and I get it because like I said, I’ve been there. However, I must confess that this whole thing has left me feeling uncomfortable in a way that I can’t fully articulate. Maybe it’s because I truly didn’t see it coming, and I was really taken aback. As I’ve tried to express in this post, I’ve been working hard to walk the middle ground and consider all things – but I feel alone in this because it seems like everyone around me is firmly taking sides. Perhaps the effects of that were more draining than I thought. In any case, I think I have to take a step back from Irene and Red Velvet for a bit. At least until the dust settles.
While I need my space for now, I know that Irene will learn from this experience and grow to do better in the future. Cancel culture is quite prevalent these days, perhaps even the norm, but I personally think she deserves a chance to prove herself going forward. This situation might make me feel awkward, but it ultimately doesn’t change how I feel about her or Red Velvet. So for this reason, I will not be taking her image out of my custom art. And I will continue to cover Red Velvet as I normally do on this blog – just perhaps not as enthusiastically for now. I fully believe that Irene will come back from this wiser, more mature, and stronger than ever. And I’m really looking forward to when she does.
This post is made of my own thoughts and opinions, and should not be taken as fact or me speaking for anyone else.