articleK-Pop

Kim Garam’s school violence controversy: unprecedented in the history of Korean showbiz, might be a ploy for media play?

Experts say that Kim Ga Ram’s case has the most evident among all allegations of school violence in Kpop. HYBE’s handling is also unprecedented.

Through an article posted on June 7, Korea JoongAng Daily said that Le Sserafim ended promotional activities for the first song – “Fearless” on June 5. After debuting on May 2, Le Sserafim has become one of the most successful K-pop rookie groups of 2022, and Fearless continues to do well on the domestic charts.

Le Sserafim

However, member Kim Ga Ram had suspended her activities since May 20 due to accusations of bullying her classmates when she was still a student. Debuted with 6 members, but Le Sserafim had to end their first promotions as a 5-member group.

Kim Ga-ram

Korea JoongAng Daily called this an unprecedented scandal in Kpop history. HYBE’s handling also raised suspicions that the company used dirty tricks to promote Le Sserafim.

Kpop’s most serious school violence scandal

Le Sserafim’s management company, Source Music (a subsidiary of HYBE), firmly stands by that Kim Ga Ram is the victim of school violence. The company has no plans to kick her out of the group despite the controversy. Le Sserafim seems to stuck between a rock and a hard place – but is that a bad thing?

Le Sserafim Kim Garam

Bullying scandals are nothing new in the Korean entertainment industry, especially after a series of idols were exposed in early 2021. However, Kim Ga Ram’s scandal is the most serious ever because more and more evidence against the female singer has been given.

Kim Ga-ram

Compared to the previous controversies, Kim Ga Ram’s incident also has the most concrete evidence. She is also the first idol to be denounced right before her official debut.

kim ga ram
Le Sserafim debuted with 6 members, but Kim Ga Ram is on hiatus. 

Her scandal became more serious on May 15 when an image believed to be the official document of the School Violence Countermeasures Committee was spread on social networks. The document shows that a committee was set up to deal with the case of school violence perpetrated by a student named Kim Ga Ram. According to the document, the perpetrator had to receive disciplinary measures.

kim garam

A few days later, the alleged victim made an official statement through a law firm. This person confirmed that the above document is true.

HYBE also later admitted the document was real but still asserted that Kim Ga Ram was falsely accused. According to HYBE, Kim Ga Ram defended her classmate from being secretly photographed, so she had a conflict with the accuser. However, the two sides only argued, not fought each other. After that, the accuser transferred to another school, and Kim Ga Ram was punished.

Kim Ga-ram

The document also states that the punishment for Kim Ga Ram is at level 5, adding fuel to the fire. School Violence Countermeasures Committee in Korea gives discipline from levels 1 to 9. The higher the level, the more serious the incident. Kim Ga Ram’s specific actions have not been revealed, but the public believed that Kim Ga Ram’s violation was so serious that she was punished under a 5th-level disposition.

le-ssearfim-kim-garam

Previous allegations against other K-pop stars were often based on the victim’s recollection. Therefore, many accusations were rejected by fans because there was not enough evidence. In this case, the accuser has clear evidence, and Kim Garam’s case is of unprecedented severity.

Through her law representative, this accuser threatened to reveal more evidence if HYBE tries to protect Kim Garam further. They have sent all evidence to HYBE before the case even got to this point, but what they received was a total silence. 

le-ssearfim-kim-garam

As a result, Kim Garam’s image is tainted. On top of the school violence accusations, there were also photos spreading around, said to be Kim Garam making vulgar hand gestures. It’s basically impossible to restore the credibility of Kim Garam, said Korea JoongAng Daily.

However, despite the fall of Kim Garam, LE SSERAFIM seems to have hit a turning point. In particular, the group’s popularity remains intact, and they even win more cups and top more music charts. 

Le Sserafim
Without Kim Garam, LE SSERAFIM continues to promote with a 5-member lineup. 

Before the situation with Kim Garam, LE SSERAFIM managed to sell close to 177,000 physical albums within the first day of release. The trend continues even as allegations against Kim Garam intensified, and their debut song “Fearless” does as well as ever. 

Normally, such a scandal would hinder the path of other Kpop groups. This was true in the case of (G)-IDLE, who debuted back in 2018, and struggled for a while following the departure of their member Soojin, who was accused of school violence back in 2021. 

Soojin

Their newest comeback, “Tomboy”, was a huge success, to the surprise of the (G)-IDLE leader Soyeon, who recently admitted that thought the group would be over after losing Soojin. 

Inkigayo

It seems that some fans feel more comfortable supporting LE SSERAFIM when Kim Garam is no longer promoting. They now consider LE SSERAFIM as a group of 5, not 6, and even go as far as to edit Kim Garam out of old videos, calling themselves OT5 stans and renaming the group to “5SSERAFIM”.

The paradoxical nature of bad reputation

Despite HYBE’s claims about Kim Garam’s innocence, her name has been dragged, not only by Kpop fans but also by the general public. Negative news about Kim Garam was all over the media. And yet, LE SSERAFIM is still doing well, proving that a bad reputation isn’t always necessarily “bad”. 

Kim Ga-ram
Member Kim GaramAccusations against Kim Garam sparked since before debut. 

Regarding this situation, pop culture critic Jeong Deok Hyun said: “These kinds of allegations often paint a celebrity’s image in a horrible light, but there’s another side to it. Before the scandal, little people knew about LE SSERAFIM, or even Kpop girl groups in general. But now they have heard of the name. All these controversies draw a lot of attention, as the group is now mentioned in all news articles. Negative or not, reputation is still reputation.”

LE SSERAFIM Kim Garam

Therefore, many people believed that HYBE was purposely using Kim Garam to promote LE SSERAFIM further. To this, Jeong Deok Hyun agreed, adding that besides utilizing bad press, the unclear and vague stance of HYBE also boosted the girl group further. 

“HYBE’s constant denials of the accusations, even after the rise of evident, is something that have never happened before. In fact, they even maintained that Kim Garam was misunderstood and falsely framed. As long as they stick to these claims, then the controversies will keep on going, and there will never be any certain truth. So, as long as they keep it vague, they continue to get press, which means the scandal will prevail, and will keep serving as a media play for the girl group.” 

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