The UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Let’s summarized the hottest issues of the K-entertainment industry and stars that left a deep impression on us in 2021 which seemed to have passed faster than ever. 


“Squid Game” topped Netflix’s viewer chart.

It is no exaggeration to say that the second half of this year was taken over by “Squid Game”. The original series “Squid Game,” released on September 17th on the global OTT platform Netflix, deals with the stories of people who participated in a mysterious survival game with a prize of 405.6 billion won. Actor Lee Jung-jae played the role of Ki-hoon, the main character who challenges the game with his life at stake to become the last winner. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who had directed the films “Silenced,” “Miss Granny,” and “The Fortress,” wrote the script and directed the movie himself. Park Hae-soo, Oh Young-soo, Jung Ho-yeon, and Heo Sung-tae, who appeared as major characters in this work, immediately stepped into stardom by convincingly depicting the inner side of a group of desperate people on the edge of a cliff.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

On October 13th, less than a month after the release of the “Squid Game,” Netflix officially announced that “Squid Game” has recorded the largest number of viewing households ever. Seventeen days after its Netflix’s release, the series set a milestone of 111 million paid households watching, far surpassed the previous record of 82 million households watching for 28 days of “Bridgerton” season 1. As the syndrome of “Squid Game” spread around the world, YouTube and TikTok was flooded with dalgona making videos, and memes about the Younghee doll, business cards with circles, squares and triangles, and the green training suits on SNS.

Youn Yuh-jung, the first Korean actor to win an Oscar.

There is no doubt that the most shining Korean this year is actor Youn Yuh-jung (74). At the 93rd Academy Awards held in Los Angeles on April 25th, Youn Yuh-jung won the “Best Supporting Actress Award” for her Hollywood debut film “Minari.” Last year, director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has won trophies in four categories, including the “Best Picture”, but no one received any actor-specific awards, which is why the news of Youn Yuh-jung’s award was even more welcome. Among Asian actors, Youn Yuh-jung is the 2nd to win an actor-specific award after Miyoshi Umeki of Japan, who won the “Best Supporting Actress” award for the 1957 film “Sayonara”.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Youn Yuh-jung is a well-known actor who has appeared in more than 120 works across dramas and movies for 55 years since her debut as a TBC open recruitment talent in 1966. She is a veteran actor in Korea, but was only an unfamiliar actor in the U.S. Recognizing the unfamiliar gazes directing towards her, she walked up to the podium shortly after receiving the award and humbly said, “Tonight I have a little bit of luck, I think. I’m luckier than you,” expressing that it was her honor to be able to compete with other Hollywood actors. She then thanked her children for their affectionate support, saying, “I’d like to thank my two boys, who made me go out and work… this is the result, because mummy worked so hard.” Currently, Youn Yuh-jung, along with Lee Min-ho, is filming Apple TV Plus’ original drama “Pachinko”, which deals with the lives of Korean-American immigrants, and is set to be released next year.

Number 1 on Billboard chart 3 times. The year of “BTS”.

The worldwide popularity of BTS soared even in the second year of the pandemic. In particular, each of their new song released this year consecutively topped the Billboard chart, proving their reputation of a superstar. First of all, their digital single “Butter,” released on May 21st, topped the chart as soon as it was released, setting new records of “The longest-term No. 1 record” and “The best ranking ever for an Asian artist.” Their digital single “Permission to Dance,” released on July 23rd, also topped the chart immediately after its release and took the top 10 for the next two weeks. Their digital single “My Universe,” which was released in collaboration with Britain’s global rock band Coldplay on September 24th, also topped the chart at the same time as it was announced.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

BTS has become a group with five #1 songs on the Billboard chart (including “Life Goes On” released in November 2020) in a year since “Dynamite” topped the Billboard chart in August last year. In addition, it is difficult even for a famous top singer to top the chart as soon as their single album is released in the U.S., but BTS has set an unprecedented record, topping the chart all three times this year. If there is no unexpected change, “Butter” will remain the longest-running No. 1 song on Billboard in 2021. BTS recently held a four-day offline concert at SoFi Stadium in LA from November 27th to Dec 2nd, drawing attention from people around the world.

Korea’s special forces, the “Steel Unit”.

In 2021, Channel A’s “Steel Unit”, which first aired on March 23rd, caught the attention of viewers at once with its incomparable colors and fun. “Steel Unit” is a military survival entertainment program in which 24 members from six special forces, including Special Forces, Marine Corps Search Unit, 707 Special Mission Unit (707), UDT, Military Police Special Forces (SDT), and Marine Rescue Unit (SSU), solve various missions to determine the strongest units. It soon became a hot topic online with a 2.9% viewer rating in the first broadcast. Since then, the rating has steadily risen, and it has recorded the highest ratings since Channel A’s opening, a 6.8% in the ninth episode.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Thanks to the popularity of season 1, “Steel Unit” has confirmed the production of season 2 and recently recruited applicants.

The addictive drama “Penthouse Season 3” by Kim Soon-ok.

The SBS season-based drama “Penthouse,” which drew all-time attention, reached its grand finale. “Penthouse” first aired in October last year, and is a suspense revenge play held in the Hera Palace, the Korea’s top apartment where both the house price and the people’s education is the highest. Thanks to the addictive content of Kim Soon-ok, who is known as a master of crazy dramas, once you fall in love with the series, you can’t help but watch sequels as well. The ratings for the last episode of season 1 reached up to 28.8%. Thanks to its popularity, “Penthouse” has become the first drama to be have sequel seasons in the history of terrestrial TV dramas. Even though it was criticized by some viewers for its brutal setting of violence and murder, but the show has marked a milestone in the history of Korean dramas with up to 19.5% ratings in the last episode of season 3.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Above all, the power of the female actors in leading the plot of “Penthouse” was compared many times to other dramas.

In particular, in the last episode of Season 3, Kim So-yeon, who played the role of Cheon Seo-jin, was praised for her desperate portray of the moment when she lost everything she had due to her crooked motherhood and was shunned by her beloved daughter.


Kim Yong-gun became a father of a baby at the age of 75 without being charged with forcing abortion

In early August, the issue of actor Kim Yong-gun, who is the father of actors Ha Jung-woo and Cha Hyun-woo, becoming a father of a newborn baby at the age of 75 drew keen attention. Kim Yong-gun met a woman, who is 39 years younger than him, at a drama finale in 2008. Their relationship became known to public in July 2021 when the woman sued Kim Yong-gun for forcing her to get an abortion. Kim Yong-gun married in 1977, had 2 sons and divorced in 1996. When a legal dispute was expected, Kim Yong-gun and his girlfriend came up with a conclusion after a deep conversation. Kim Yong-gun promised to register the baby as his son and will take all financial responsibility for the child. Ha Jung-woo and Cha Hyun-woo also announced through their agencies, saying they welcomed the new family member because a new life is a blessing.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Recently, Kim Yong-gun appeared on a broadcast and confessed his feelings. During the show, he thanked fellow actors for worrying about his situation and said, “I heard there is only 1 out of 70,000 people in the world who had a baby at the age of 70. It’s embarrassing to say this but I will invite my colleagues to my baby’s 1st birthday party”.

2. Seo Ye-ji’s ‘gaslighting’ controversy

Actress Seo Ye-ji (31 years old) played the female lead in tvN’s drama “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” last year and emerged as a trending actor who has both great acting skills and box office success. However, in April, Seo Ye-ji was involved in a controversy related to his ex-lover – actor Kim Jung-hyun. When Kim Jung-hyun appeared in MBC’s drama “Time” in 2018, he was criticized for having bad behaviors and Seo Ye-ji was said to be the reason. Dispatch revealed that Kim Jung-hyun showing rude attitude towards his co-star Seohyun at the press conference and dropping his role in the middle of the drama production due to health problems were all results of Seo Ye-ji’s control over him. According to the message conversations released, Seo Ye-ji forced Kim Jung-hyun to revise the script without showing affection or having physical contact with his fellow actress. Therefore, some pointed out that Seo Ye-ji had gaslighted Kim Jung-hyun.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

At the same time, more suspicions were raised, accusing Seo Ye-ji of school bullying, forging her educational background, and power abuse towards her staff. In mid-April, a netizen claiming to be the victim who got bullied by Seo Ye-ji made a post. Immediately, Seo Ye-ji’s agency denied the rumor. Regarding the university issue, her agency also refuted all the claims, saying “She was admitted to the school but didn’t live at school”. However, a netizen who said she used to be Seo Ye-ji staff revealed, “The actress not only cursed, but also harassed her staff depending on her mood”. Therefore, these issues have damaged Seo Ye-ji’s image badly. Seo Ye-ji suspended all her activities after the release of movie “Recalled” on April 21st.

3. Kim Seon-ho’s ‘private life’ scandal pushed him from heaven down to hell

Kim Seon-ho (35 years old), the male lead who excited the viewers by playing the role of Hong Doo-sik in tvN’s drama ‘Hometown Cha Cha Cha’, was selected as one of the actors who stole the spotlight this year. The last episode of this drama aired on October 17th recorded the highest rating of 12.7%. Immediately after that, a shocking disclosure about actor K, who is believed to be Kim Seon-ho, was posted online. Accordingly, actor K forced his ex-girlfriend to have an abortion under the pretext of a marriage and also badmouthed his colleauges and people around him. 3 days later, Kim Seon-ho announced his position through his agency, admitting some of the allegations and delivering an apology, saying that his actions hurt his ex-lover.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

Additional reports on the scandal of Kim Seon-ho, who was likely to fall into the abyss after being affected by the case, continued to be revealed. Dispatch publicized the identity of Kim Seon-ho’s ex-girlfriend, a weather forecaster who is currently a businesswoman running a shopping mall, by revealing the content of the couple’s Kakaotalk conversations. According to Dispatch’s reports, when Kim Seon-ho knew about the pregnancy of his girlfriend, he first said, “Let’s get married”, and “I will take all responsibility”. Moreover, after the abortion, Kim Seon-ho started preparing for the marriage and even introduced the girlfriend to his parents. It was also revealed that the two broke up not because of Kim Sun-ho’s forcing his ex-girlfriend to get an abortion, but due to her repeated lies. When public opinion started to reverse, advertisers who removed Kim Seon-ho’s ads due to the scandal, revived all content related to him. In addition, the production company of Kim Seon-ho’s upcoming project “Sad Tropics”, which is also his debut film, said, “We decided to start filming within this year with the participation of Kim Seon-ho“, raising expectations for Kim Seon-ho’s return to acting activities.

4. Jeon Do-yeon and Go Hyun-jung received bad results in box office

The return of top actresses in the second half of this year drew keen attention. Jeon Do-yeon (48 years old) appeared in JTBC’s drama “LOST”, directed by Heo Jin-ho who is a melodrama master, in September and worked together with actor Ryu Joon-yeol, who is 13 years younger than her. Jeon Do-yeon delicately expressed the inner side of the female lead Bujeong, who had a dream but eventually lost her way and became no one special, showing her aspect as an acting master. “LOST” was evaluated as a “well-made drama”, but the ratings plummeted after hitting 4.2% in the first episode then fell to 1.1% before ending quietly with 2.4% in the last episode.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021

A similar situation happened to Go Hyun-jung (50 years old). Go Hyun-jung, who chose JTBC’s “People Who Look Like You” as her first drama return in two years and showed her appearance comparable to her heyday, raised expectations even before the broadcast. Receiving huge love with her role in “Hospital Playlist”, actress Shin Hyun-bin became Go Hyun-jung’s co-star and their fierce fight in the drama was mentioned as one of the most impressive points in the drama. For this reason, the first broadcast of the series on October 13th recorded a viewership of 3.6%. However, due to the slow developments of its characters, and the ratings for later episodes remained at lower 2%.

5. Park Soo-hong and the lawsuit worth 10 billion won against his older brother

Comedian Park Soo-hong (51 years old), who has been loved for 30 years since his debut, was reportedly experiencing a family conflict in March. The reason for the discord was said to be that his brother and the brother’s wife, who have been managing Park Soo-hong’s income since his debut, embezzled his shares. According to Park Soo-hong’s claim, he belatedly recognized that his income had been embezzled while confirming his brother’s newly established corporation. A month later, he filed a complaint with the prosecution against his brother on charges of violating the Specific Economic Crime Weighted Punishment Act. However, Park Soo-hong’s brother’s side denied the embezzlement charges. Meanwhile, during the lawsuit, Park Soo-hong’s older brother drew attention by revealing that one of the reasons for the lawsuit was an issue related to women. Accordingly, there had been no problem between Park Soo-hong and his family, until Park Soo-hong changed when he had a young girlfriend. Before the wedding, Park Soo-hong and his girlfriend first registered their marriage on July 28th and became a legal couple.

UPs and DOWNs of Korean Entertainment in 2021
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