Top 10 Korean entertainment stories of 2020

(Clockwise from left) BTS, BLACKPINK, EXO’s Chen and Chanyeol, ex-AOA’s Jimin and Mina, scene in 'Parasite,' Lee Min-ho in 'The King: Eternal Monarch,' Choi Jong-hoon, Jung Joon-young, 2AM’s Im Seulong and Red Velvet’s Irene. (Photos: Twitter, Instagram, KOFIC, Barunson E&A, CJ Entertainment, SBS)

From historic wins at the Oscars, momentous nomination at the Grammy Awards, the severe effects of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to controversies, the Korean entertainment industry had its highs and lows in the year 2020.

Here are the top 10 Korean entertainment stories in 2020:

  1. “Parasite” wins at the Oscars. South Korea became the toast of the world when “Parasite” won best picture last Feb. 9, 2020 at the 92nd Academy Awards, the first non-English language movie to bag the award. It became the film with the most wins at the 2020 Oscars with four. “Parasite” also won Best International Feature Film while Bong Joon-ho won best director, and he and Han Jin-won won best screenplay. According to the Korea Box Office Information System, “Parasite” has grossed 87.46 billion won, or $80.1 million, since its release in Korea on May 30, 2019 until Dec. 12 this year.
  2. BTS’ Grammy nomination, No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100. 2020 became a banner year for K-pop superstars BTS as they achieved momentous feats despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. On Nov. 24, the Recording Academy announced that BTS bagged a nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Dynamite” at the 63rd Grammy Awards slated to be held on Jan. 31. With this, BTS became the first K-pop act to be nominated at the Grammy Awards. In addition, while topping the Billboard 200 has become a norm for BTS, they succeeded in topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time with “Dynamite” last September. This prompted Korean lawmakers to propose a bill to allow BTS to postpone their military service to age 30 instead of them enlisting by age 28. The bill was passed by the National Assembly on Dec. 1 and is now awaiting presidential decree from the executive branch of the Korean government. “Life Goes On,” the main track of BTS’ “BE (Deluxe Edition) album, also debuted at No. 1 on Hot 100 in addition to the BTS remix of Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo's "Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)," which also reached the top of the chart. In addition, BTS’ “Map of the Soul: 7” has sold 4.34 million while “BE (Deluxe Edition)” has sold 2.65 million as of November, according to Gaon Music Chart. The two albums debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200.
  3. COVID-19 severely affects Korean entertainment industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the Korean entertainment industry. K-pop concerts, tours and shows were cancelled or postponed. Cinema admissions in South Korea plummeted as health restrictions were imposed and people stayed away from crowded places. As of writing, cinema attendance in Korea totaled 58.67 million, which could emerge as the worst year since 2004 when the cinema integrated network started to track movie receipts. This year’s cinema attendance to date is a 74 percent decrease from 2019’s 226.67 million. Release of films was also postponed as social distancing measures were imposed. Many Korean dramas and movies, on the other hand, were forced to shut down filming after stars and staff became infected with COVID-19. The actors who tested positive for COVID-19 were Kim Won-hae, Heo Dong-won and Seo Sung-jong. Korean singers who were infected were Chungha, trot singer Lee Chan-won, Everglow’s Yiren and Sihyeon, UP10TION’s Bitto and Kogyeol and Supernova’s Yoonhak.
  4. K-fans’ beef against EXO’s Chen and Chanyeol. Some Korean fans demanded EXO’s Chen and Chanyeol to leave their group after the two stars became embroiled in different issues. Chen announced last January that he was getting married and that his girlfriend was pregnant. This didn’t sit well with some Korean fans who demanded that he be ousted from EXO. But this fizzled out as SM Entertainment announced that after careful consideration and discussion with other EXO members, it was decided to let Chen stay in the group. Chen became a father to a baby girl last April. He enlisted in the military on Oct. 26 and is serving as an active duty soldier. On the other hand, Chanyeol became embroiled in a controversy last October when a woman who claimed to be his former girlfriend accused the K-pop star of cheating on her while they were together. SM Entertainment adopted a “no comment” on the issue. The EXO Gallery on the website DC Inside issued its official position and demanded that Chanyeol quit the group but failed.
  5. Red Velvet Irene’s rage. Last October, Korean editor-stylist Kang Kook-hwa exposed that she became a victim of Irene’s rage and had a recording of the incident as evidence. Kang compared Irene to “nut rage” Heather Cho, the Korean Air vice president who went on a rampage on a company-owned plane in 2014 after she was served nuts in original packaging by a flight attendant. Irene issued an apology for her “foolish attitude and careless words and actions.” SM Entertainment also issued an apology. The Red Velvet gallery on DC Inside issued a statement asking Irene to leave the group for her rude behavior which was described as “gapjil,” a Korean term meaning abuse of power. The petition failed as Irene is still with Red Velvet.
  6. BLACKPINK’s rise in popularity. Among K-pop girl groups, four-member BLACKPINK emerged as the most successful in 2020 with various accolades. Their first studio album “The Album” sold 1.22 million copies as of November 2020, according to Korea’s Gaon Music Chart, which also certified the album as “million,” the first girl group to achieve the feat. “The Album” peaked at No. 2 on Billboard 200, the highest rank ever achieved by a K-pop girl group and according to Billboard, “the highest-charting album by an all-female group since Danity Kane’s second album ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’” in April 2008. It also peaked at No. 2 on the UK Official Albums Chart. On YouTube, BLACKPINK holds the distinction of being the most subscribed female artist in the world and most subscribed Korean channel with 54.4 million subscribers to date. They also have three music videos with one billion views each: “Boombayah,” “Kill This Love” and “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” in addition to four MVs in the all-time top 24-hour music debuts.
  7. AOA Mina’s suicide attempt due to leader Shin Jimin’s bullying. In July, former K-pop girl group AOA member Mina revealed in several Instagram posts that she was bullied by leader Jimin for 10 years from their trainee days and in the group that drove her to attempt to commit suicide. Mina left AOA in May 2019 when her contract expired. Jimin wrote “fiction” on Instagram to Mina’s post but deleted it. Jimin and other AOA members, and their managers had a talk with Mina. After which Mina also exposed that Jimin brought a man to AOA’s dormitory and got intimate with him. Jimin left AOA with FNC Entertainment confirming it on July 5. Despite what happened, Mina declined police investigation into the bullying issue. She left Woori Actors agency in September.
  8. “Produce 101” vote-rigging scandal. In May 2020, the Seoul Central District Court handed down the prison sentences for Ahn Joon-young and Kim Yong-beom, the two producers of the Korean survival audition TV show “Produce 101,” which gave birth to K-pop groups I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ*ONE and X1, who were convicted for rigging the votes cast for the TV show to favor certain contestants. Last Nov. 18, the Seoul High Court affirmed it with Ahn getting a sentence of two years in prison while Kim to one year and eight months. During the November hearing, the court also revealed the names of the 12 contestants who were unfairly eliminated from the shows. They were Kim Soo-hyun and Seo Hye-rim in “Produce 101,” NU’EST member Baekho and Sung Hyun-woo in “Produce 101” Season 2; Lee Ka-eun and Han Cho-won in “Produce 48”; and Anzardi Timothee, Kim Kook-heon, Lee Jin-woo, Goo Jung-mo, UP10TION’s Lee Jin-hyuk and Geum Dong-hyun in “Produce X 101.” Due to the vote-rigging scandal, boy band X1 was disbanded in January 2020.
  9. 2AM’s Seulong kills pedestrian and the Supreme Court upholds sentences of Jung Joon-young, Choi Jong-hoon and Kang Ji-hwan. K-pop boy band 2AM member and actor Im Seulong hit and killed a man in his 50s while he was driving his SUV on Aug. 1. The man crossed the road at a red light and was hit by Seulong’s car. He was taken to a hospital but died. Authorities said Seulong had some negligence in the accident. On Nov. 3, prosecutors indicted Seulong but decided to file a summary order or summary indictment–instead of seeking a trial–with a court against him after he settled with the family of the victim but did not reveal the amount of fine imposed on him. He is likely to avoid jail although the final decision is with the court.

On the other hand, South Korea’s Supreme Court released separate decisions to uphold the sentences of singers Jung Joon-young and former FT Island leader Choi Jong-hoon, and actor Kang Ji-hwan for rape. Jung Joon-young and Choi Jong-hoon were convicted by the Seoul Central District Court in November 2019 for raping women in January and March 2016. Jung Joon-young was also convicted for distributing illegally filmed videos of his sexual acts with women 11 times on KakaoTalk chat rooms in 2015. Jung Joon-young was sentenced to six years in prison and Choi Jong-hoon to five years. The two appealed their sentences and on May 12 this year, the Seoul High Court reduced Jung Joon-young’s sentence from six to five years, and Choi Jong-hoon from five to two and a half years. Last Sept. 24, the Supreme Court affirmed the sentences of the two K-pop stars. On the other hand, last Nov. 5, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of 43-year-old Korean actor Kang Ji-hwan, known for dramas “Be Strong, Geum-soon!,” “Monster” and “Feel Good to Die.” The Supreme Court upheld his sentence of two years and six months suspended for three years for quasi-rape and quasi-indecent act by compulsion of two women at his home in Gwangju, South Korea last July 9, 2019.

  1. OTT platforms become popular for Korean content amid pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay home and as a result, the popularity of OTT (over-the-top) or video streaming platforms like iQIYI, Viu and Netflix has risen dramatically in many countries including the Philippines. A report by research firm Media Partners Asia (MPA) showed that total online video weekly streaming minutes on mobile grew 60 percent to 58 billion minutes from 36.4 billion in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore from Jan. 20 to April 11 this year. The four countries had 7 million paying online video or over-the-top (OTT) customers by the end of March 2020. MPA executive director Vivek Couto said, “Netflix is a clear leader in most markets, followed by Viu with its freemium service while other players such as HBO, iQiyi and Tencent are well placed to grow in the future along with new entrants such as Disney+.” On the other hand, in South Korea, the declining TV viewership has prompted Korean drama and film producers to partner with OTT platforms for the airing of their shows. Netflix, for instance, aired “The King: Eternal Monarch” and “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” while Viu aired “The World of the Married.” iQIYI has “Hush” and “Royal Secret Agent.” In the Philippines, K-drama viewing was up more than 350 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Netflix.