The Bullying Scandal That Rocked K-Pop’s First Generation
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, listeners to the first K-pop generation must be familiar with groups such as S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, g.o.d, and S#ARP (pronounced ‘sharp’). S#arp, in particular, was a co-ed K-pop idol group that became very popular in an industry most full of single-gender groups. Their fun, upbeat music was able to cut its way through much of the competition and find a place within the K-pop world. S#ARP debuted in 1998 as a five-member co-ed team featuring Lee Ji Hye, Seo Ji Young, John Kim, Oh Hee Jong, and the leader, Jang Suk Hyun. The group’s first album ‘The S#ARP’ a distinct hip-hop feel and featured rap-heavy singles like “Yes”.
Despite the place they made for themselves, S#ARP might be known more for the way they ended rather than what they did during their career as a group. The Korean entertainment industry was shaken with their bullying scandal. Lee Ji-hye was badly bullied by Seo Ji-young, who had the other members bully Lee Ji-Hye as well. The behavior continued to the point that the company was ultimately forced to disband the group. Are you curious about what happened between the members of S#arp? Let’s find it out!
S#arp, a Co-ed Group From K-Pop’s First Generation
As mentioned before, S#arp was one of the best co-ed groups and consisted of 5 members, Lee Ji-hye, Seo Ji-young, Jang Seok-hyun, John Kim and Oh Hee-jong. They debuted in 1998 with album ‘The S#arp’. This group was originally funded by Seo Ji-young, who was one of the female members.
S#ARP’s second album, Closer, was a reboot in terms of the group’s musical style. Released in 1999, Closer moved away from the hip-hop style and went with a more of a pop-oriented sound, which was more in line with the other types of idol music being produced at the time. Their single Tell Me Tell Me became a fan favorite whebn its dance-pop sound struck a chord with listeners and became their first song to reach number 1 on the music charts, both the Inkigayo and Music Bank. Another single from the album Closer was also a huge hit for the group, and the upbeat track encapsulated the new sound S#ARP would be known for and has also become one of their most recognizable songs.
In 2001, S#ARP released their fourth album, 4ever Feel So Good and it was unquestionably the biggest album of their careers. The title song, Sweety, became a smash hit that year reached the top of the charts for two weeks. Driven by the vocals of Seo Ji Young and Lee Ji Hye, the song was bright, energetic, and super-cute. It was unavoidable as it swept across the K-pop charts.
- The Sharp (1998) – sold 101,325+ copies
- The Sharp +2 (1999) – sold 195,908+ copies
- The Four Letter Word Love (2000) – sold 170,894+ copies
- 4ever Feel So Good (2001) – sold 224,049+ copies
- Flat Album (2001) – sold 203,131+ copies
- Style (2002) – sold 137,785+ copiesCompilation albums:
- Smart & Smooth (2003)
|2000||Best Mixed Group||“Great!” (잘됐어)||Won|
|2001||“100 Days Prayer” (백일기도)||Nominated|
|2002||“Kiss Me” (내 입술..따뜻한 커피처럼)||Nominated|
In October, 2002, the group was preparing to appear on KBS’s Music Bank when members Lee Ji Hye and Seo Ji Young were involved in a physical altercation in an elevator. The exact cause of the fight has always been attributed to the fact that Lee Ji Hye took exception to the way the younger Seo Ji Young was speaking to her, and as is the case in these types of things, the hair-pulling ensued. Because of the fighting, Lee Ji Hye was removed by her managers to cool off and only two members of the group (Seo Ji Young and Chris) were able to perform, as Jang Suk Hyun was already unable to attend. To add even more fuel to the fire, Seo Ji Young’s mother also became involved as she confronted Lee Ji Hye the next day, and verbally and physically accosted her as well. Within a week of the incident, their management company, World Music Entertainment, officially announced the break-up of the group.
Very rarely does a fight like this happen without previous incidents, so there could have been a history of past problems brewing that eventually boiled over. Seo Ji Young had become the breakout star of the group and, at the time, she was openly dating megastar Ryu Si Won, so maybe she had a case of the ‘Celebrity Syndrome’ (old school Saved by the Bell reference: like how Zack maybe did when he quit the Zack Attack). Maybe Lee Ji Hye felt inferior and there were feelings of jealousy or anger that exploded. Maybe it was just two egos unable to share the same elevator. Whatever the reason, it was a sad ending to a once-promising group. Not to mention the other victims of this incident, the two male members who, to my knowledge, have not been heard from ever since.
The rumors went wild. People speculated about the reason behind why Lee Ji-hye was being bullied. Some people considered it may caused by jealousy, which was due to the many high notes in their songs, so the company put Lee Ji-hye as the main vocal because she was a great singer. Because of that, Seo Ji-young was jealous of her. Until the group disbanded, Seo Ji-young bullied, threatened, and fought Lee Ji-hye. (Lee Ji-hye got into the group by auditioning with a chance of 1000:1. Seo Ji-young had originally planned to put her friends in the group. But Lee Ji-hye got into the group as the main vocal so Seo Ji-young was afraid that things wouldn’t work out her way.)
One day after the incident. S#arp announced that they had press conference explaining the case. Each of the members shared the story from their points of view. Here are what they thoughts about bullying issue between Lee Ji-hye and Seo Ji-young.
Lee Ji-hye’s side:
Lee Ji Hye had a press conference today at 5 at WorldMusic headquarters. On this day, she explained what had happened with her and fellow member Seo Ji Young (21). During this 2 hour conference, Lee Ji Hye was showing tears.
She stated that on the day of the fight, Seo Ji Young had cursed at her first. On the elevator she had said “Jae Soo Up Suh, Shi Bal Nyun Ah” (which basically is calling her a bitch) to her, so without knowing it, Lee Ji Hye hit her, but it was not so hard that she got a bruise or anything, like Seo Ji Young is saying to the press right now. After that day, Lee Ji Hye realized she did do wrong, so she called Seo Ji Young’s house and apologized to Seo Ji Young’s father. but her father answered “If you apologize to Jiyoung, then we’ll stop making a big deal out of this” so she then went to Seo Ji Young, and apologized to her with her manager as a witness, but Seo Ji Young did not accept her apology.
Fellow male member Jang Suk Hyun told Seo Ji Young that he thinks that she did wrong in the first place, Seo Ji Young, after hearing that, got upset and immediately called her parents, and her parents came to her right away.
After Seo Ji Young told them that she was gonna stop her activities as a celebrity and walked out, Lee Ji Hye ran after her, but all of a sudden someone hit her on the back of the head. Lee Ji Hye stated “When i first got hit, I didn’t know who it was, but when I turned around, it was Ji Young’s mom” she also stated, in tears, “Even though we did get into an arguement, how can her MOM hit me?!”
Before the press conference ended, Lee Ji Hye lastly stated that she wished that she and Seo Ji Young could make up, if only Seo Ji Young would cooperate.
Seo Ji-young’s side:
“Lee Ji Hye hit me first!”
When asked why she didn’t show for Music Bank. Seo Ji Young answered “Because my fellow female member had hit me”
She stated that Lee Ji Hye had all of a sudden hit her for no reason in front of many people. She also said that she had gotten a scratch and a bruise because of that. Seo Ji Young’s parents said that they wouldn’t care if Seo Ji Young did get kicked out of S#arp, and that they were thinking about suing Lee Ji Hye.
When S#arp had arrived at KBS, Seo Ji Young asked Lee Ji Hye if she was gonna rehearse, but Lee Ji Hye had ignored her. Seo Ji Young got upset and called her parents, crying, and after hearing this her parents got mad and went to the World Music headquarters. They said that they didn’t want Seo Ji Young appearing on TV anymore. Seo Ji Young stated “I feel that I have no need to be a celebrity anymore, if I keep on getting abused like this”
Ryu Shi-won’s side:
Ryu Shi Won, Seo Ji Young’s boyfriend, had decided to take matters into his own hands for his girlfriend.
Ryu Shi Won said that after Seo Ji Young didn’t show up for Music Bank, she came to him. He was with her the whole time until late at night. He thought she was going through too much stress, so he brought her to the hospital. He stated that Seo Ji Young had been through hard times before because of Lee Ji Hye, and that this wasn’t the first time. Ryu Shi Won was disappointed that Lee Ji Hye was not really getting punished for her actions. He called their entertainment company headquarters saying “Do you know how much Ji Young’s going through?! She’s already been through bad times because of her.”
He finally stated “Well I hope Ji Young gets a lot of rest, and thinks through whats happening. and maybe at this point she can just quit being a celebrity and just rest, and take care of her health.”
Jang Suk-hyun’s side:
“I think Seo Ji Young and Chris did wrong to Ji Hye first”
S#arp’s male member Jang Suk Hyun told the press what he thought about this situation.
He stated “Well I wasn’t really there to witness this whole thing, so I cant say much”. “I asked around to the people who did witness everything, but none of them would say anything,” but they started talking later, and told him what happened. Seo Ji Young stated that “Lee Ji Hye hit her for no reason first” but the witnesses told Jang Suk Hyun that “Seo Ji Young did curse first”.
Jang Suk Hyun was busy with the filming of the sitcom Orange so, while he was away from the rest of the members, he said that he thinks “Chris and Seo Ji Young left her out, and teased her harshly” and as a closing statement he said “I hope this situation hurrys and just becomes something in the past, and without our two female members, there is no S#arp, so I hope Ji Hye and Ji Young will make up just this once for him, the group, and the team.”
Due to this press conference, Seo Ji-young’s name became tarnished. People blamed her for bullying and harming Lee Ji-hye for no reason. Let’s watch the full press conference below!