BIGBANG’s Seungri, one of the biggest names in the K-pop industry, just announced his retirement after being booked on charges of supplying prostitutes.
Although he denies the charges, the singer announced in an Instagram post that he’s “retiring from the entertainment industry as the issues that I caused a societal disturbance with are too major.”
When his name was announced in the South Korean police’s investigation of prostitution at nightclubs, stocks at his entertainment agency took a hit. According to Bloomberg, YG Entertainment slid by 14 percent, dwindling down to KRW37,150.
He’s been swept up in a multi-pronged scandal that has been rapidly developing for over a month — and extends far beyond his involvement.
The 28-year-old has built a second career as a businessman, and he worked as a director at the Burning Sun. The nightclub, which underwent a police raid on Sunday, has faced a slew of allegations regarding sexual assault, sex trafficking and drug distribution. Seungri denied any knowledge of the alleged dealings.
Leaked texts from a group chat on Korean app Kakaotalk appear to show Seungri coordinating with staff to hire prostitutes for potential investors. SBS funE also connected him to chatrooms that allegedly involved participants sharing hidden-camera footage of themselves having sex with women. (In the wider social context, Korea has been battling an epidemic of hidden cameras.)
The singer was questioned by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, and he reportedly faces up to a three-year jail sentence. He’s currently scheduled to enlist in the military on March 25, but it’s a question of whether that plan will change as the investigation moves forward.
Seungri is a 13-year veteran of the K-pop industry, debuting with BIGBANG in 2006. His lavish lifestyle earned him the nickname “Korea’s Great Gatsby” — and he even named his 2018 solo album The Great Seungri.
Recently, he starred as a fictionalized version of himself in the Netflix series, YG Future Strategy Office — a K-pop riff on The Office.
Aside from directing Burning Sun, he’s been involved in numerous business ventures, such as opening a ramen store and taking over a dance academy. The now-defunct studio, Plug In Music, trained big names in K-pop like BTS’s J-Hope, EXID’s Hyerin and VIXX’s Hyuk.
BIGBANG is one of the most influential groups in the history of K-pop. YG idols are known for composing their own music, and the five-member supergroup was the company’s crown jewel. They’ve played a huge role in pushing the artistry of K-pop to new levels, and they’ve inspired countless idols to delve into songwriting.
On the financial end, BIGBANG has practically been YG’s cash cow for years. According to The Korea Herald, their albums accounted for half of the company’s album sales between 2014 and 2017. Forbes reported that the group earned $44 million in 2016.
It’s telling that YG slid from second to third place in the Big 3 around the time BIGBANG went on hiatus in early 2018. In fact, the Big 3 hierarchy of the K-pop industry only crystallized around 2007 after the quintet had their breakthrough with “Lies,” while JYP Entertainment formed Wonder Girls and SM Entertainment debuted Girls’ Generation.
BIGBANG is one of those rare K-pop groups that has remained ultra profitable over a decade into their career. They’ve even made it on Forbes’s Korea Power Celebrity lists for five years since 2010.
That’s to say: it’s too soon to give a definitive diagnosis on the state of BIGBANG in the aftermath of Seungri’s retirement.
What we do know is that YG has a financial incentive to keep the group together. The company is having success with next-gen groups like BLACKPINK, WINNER and iKON. The former has sold out almost all of their North American dates for their In Your Area world tour. But in Q3 last year, YG saw reduced profits, “down 68% on-year to 1.4 billion KRW ($1.25 million USD).” The slump was attributed to the hiatus of BIGBANG.
But the remaining members — who each have successful solo careers — could easily stand on their own.
BIGBANG has weathered several scandals in the past, and the band still came out on top. Plus, the remaining members have the public-relations benefit of taking a break from the limelight while they carry out their mandatory military service.
The industry has never seen a scandal on this scale before, even though Seungri is a small part of a larger investigation. It’s impossible to predict the exact ramifications when there is no precedent — and the story is still developing. But there have been no reports of the remaining members having ties to this scandal. Seungri’s departure will help t