South Korea has suffered a new and sudden kind of national disaster, but not the kind that leaves visible damage. A member of the much-loved K-Pop band SHINee, Jonghyun, who died from an apparent suicide earlier this week at age 27. By all accounts, it's a nationwide crisis, with thousands mourning his death. While it is being sensationalized in the same manner that nearly anything involving a K-Pop star is in South Korea, the death is also serving as a look inside South Korea's sky-high suicide rates, and what the pressures of their media-centric culture create.
YonHapNews provided an initial report on the situation Monday evening, detailing the police report that Jonghyun was found unconscious in his apartment in Seoul, and was pronounced dead at the hospital. His death was ruled an apparent suicide, and his suicide note being shared sent ripples of grief throughout the worldwide K-Pop fanbase. The bright side to this tragedy is that his high-profile death has caused many both in and outside of the South Korean entertainment business to look more closely at South Korea's suicide rate, and the pressures the music industry places on its artists.
Matt Stiles' piece for the LA Times explores the reasons behind South Korea's extraordinarily high suicide rate, and its affect on the country. "In 2015, South Korea reported 13,500 suicides, or about 37 a day. Suicides were the second-leading cause of death by injury, after vehicle accidents, according to the World Health Organization." South Korea, like it is in many facets of society, is ahead of the world in suicide rate, and this is especially prevalent among its entertainment industries. A musician friend of Jonghyung's posted his suicide note, which described being tormented by the stresses of fame and success (“No one alive is more tormented nor weaker than myself"). Many look to the management of many South Korean artists to blame, as much of Jonghyung's note described pressure he felt to continue his upward path to success. As the government tries to find a more permanent solution, the South Korean entertainment industry is beginning to take a more serious look at the root of this tragedy to improve.