With so much glitz and glam around K-Pop idols’ lives, it is hard to imagine what pain they hold behind the smiles. These ten Korean stars have had their hearts shattered because of family, but hid their sorrows well. When they shared their very personal stories, fans couldn’t help but fall deeper in love with them for overcoming such difficulties and becoming even stronger.
When Sunmi was a mere fourth grader, she decided to become a celebrity. Not only because she had the passion for performing, but also because she believed becoming famous was the fastest way to make money. Sunmi’s father, who had been raising Sunmi and her two brothers as a single parent, fell sick with tuberculosis and complications and had to be hospitalized. To afford treatment payments, the young Sunmi wanted to make money.
While her teachers suggested that she become a teacher, Sunmi decided it will take too long to become successful and wealthy as a teacher. At only 12 years old, she began auditioning by herself. By age 14, Sunmi became a trainee at JYP Entertainment. Unfortunately, Sunmi’s father passed away three months before she debuted and became a national sensation. Sunmi and her brothers were taken in by another loving family that has been supportive of her endeavors ever since.
2. BIGBANG’s Taeyang
Taeyang is now one of the most famous K-Pop idols in the world, but to get to where he is today, he had to face some major heartbreak. When Taeyang was 13 years old, he decided to move out on his own to lessen the burden on his family that was struggling with the harsh economic crisis that hit Korea during his childhood. Taeyang decided to try and survive in Seoul, by auditioning for an entertainment agency.
The agency was casting the younger role for a rapper so I auditioned for that part. I was accepted and that’s when I encountered hip-hop for the first time and it made me want to become a trainee.
From then on, Taeyang, though completely on his own, made his way to becoming a global superstar. Taeyang went from having nothing to being on the Forbes List in 2017, with money he earned from BIGBANG promotions alone.
3. Girls’ Generation’s Tiffany
Tiffany lost her mother when she was only 14 years old. She “was lost” because of this tremendous loss, and she “found music to be the only solution.” She had to convince her father, who opposed Tiffany’s pursuit of a singing career, for five days to let her fly over to Korea on her own to begin training. Tiffany had to take on side jobs, like tutoring English, after her training hours so that she could support herself while she survived alone in Korea. At first, Tiffany didn’t reveal this family history to her fans, but on Kim Jung Eun’s Chocolate in 2009, she shared her appreciation for her mother. Fans didn’t know Tiffany had such a painful family history hidden behind her smile, because she was one of the brightest members from the group.
Although you left me already, mom, you gave me eight sisters and I thank you and God for that.
4. Super Junior’s Leeteuk
Super Junior’s Leeteuk once said his devotion to his career and desire to succeed comes from his “unfortunate childhood, when [his] parents fought all the time and even physically beat [him].” Leeteuk wanted to find happiness, by making his dream come true and succeeding at what he does. So it broke tons of fan hearts when the news reported of Leeteuk’s father murdering his parents and taking his own life. Leeteuk was serving his duty in the South Korean military when he heard the news.
In 1998, Leeteuk’s father got divorced and he began living with his parents. When his parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his mother with lung cancer as well, Leeteuk’s father fell into depression while looking after them on his own. Once the financial strain became too much to burden, Leeteuk’s father decided to place both his parents in a nursing home. Just a day before sending his parents off to the facility, however, Leeteuk’s father took his own life after murdering his parents. Leeteuk’s father left a will, stating he is “taking the parents with [him]”, hinting that he felt guilty about placing his parents in a nursing home, but he couldn’t manage to look after them anymore.
Leeteuk’s fellow Super Junior members helped him get through the funeral. This tragedy became quite an issue and stirred up talks of how the government should work harder to protect the senior population who become diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
IU’s family was doing okay until a debt they had underwritten turned the table and drove them into extreme poverty. While IU’s parents fixed the situation, IU and her sibling went to live with their grandmother. At first, the three lived in a small room full of cockroaches. Then, they moved into a relative’s house, where IU had to put up with the relative’s verbal abuse. This male relative, upon returning home drunk and seeing IU, her brother, and her grandmother, started shouting that IU will never make it as a singer and so she should be studying instead of practicing. IU recalled pretending to be asleep as she endured this verbal abuse. She decided at this point she will try her best to become a successful singer.
Even after becoming a trainee, IU didn’t have it easy. While looking for auditions to enter, the young IU was conned into sending a large sum of money to an agency for training and appearing on TV programs. IU was completely heartbroken as the money came from her grandmother who saved up little by little from selling small accessories.
6. TVXQ’s Yunho
Yunho and his family faced a tremendous amount of hardship when Yunho’s father filed for bankruptcy. Only a 12-year-old, Yunho had to step up and start working to pay off debts and support his sister’s education. Yunho’s parents would both work multiple jobs to get the family back on track.
I thought my dad was having an affair because he would leave the house at 4AM every morning. One day, I decided to follow him only to realize that he had been delivering newspapers to create some side income.
When Yunho decided to train with SM Entertainment to become a singer, he didn’t have any financial support from his family that disapproved of his K-Pop career pursuit. Without any money, the young Yunho had no choice but to sleep in subway stations until he met Junsu who took him in. Regardless, Yunho looks up to his father, “because he had an incredible sense of responsibility.” His father motivated Yunho to succeed and give back to his family, exactly as his father did.
7. Yenny (Formerly of Wonder Girls)
Yenny, from Wonder Girls and also known as HA:TFELT, was shocked and panicked when her father, Reverend Park Young Kyun, was arrested for fraud of over $18,000,000 USD. While Yenny’s parents split up when she was young and she had no contact with her birth father for years, her father used Yenny’s fame and reputation to approach his church’s attendees for money. The reverend asked for investments for his new research center built under his church and promised dividends to those who support the funds. When his targets grew suspicious about where the money is going, he convinced them by selling out Yenny’s name.
I don’t have 18 million dollars to pay back. I don’t know what to do.
8. JYJ’s Jaejoong
Jaejoong was adopted when he was three years old, without knowing he had different biological parents. His biological mother explained in a magazine interview that she had no other choice.
My husband lost all his money to a fraud. We split up in 1989. I used to serve at a restaurant from 10AM to 11PM. I couldn’t take care of Jaejoong. There weren’t extended day cares or kindergartens back in the days. And I had to feed him leftovers from the restaurant.
Things were not good. An acquaintance of mine suggested that I give him up for adoption. She had an older brother who had eight daughters and thought that family would take great care of Jaejoong as the youngest son.
— Jaejoong’s Biological Mother
By 2004, Jaejoong’s biological mother became aware of her son’s whereabout as he debuted with TVXQ and tried to reach out. Jaejoong became aware of his family history at this point. In 2005, when Jaejoong tried to enlist in the army to serve his military duty, he had to clear up his family register – on paper, he belonged to both his biological parents and his adoptive parents. So Jaejoong’s biological mother had to file a court case to verify that he is her biological son, while his adoptive parents had to respond to the case and verify that they have been in custody for most of his life. While the nature of this case was not hostile, it did stir up a lot of rumors about Jaejoong and his two families. Jaejoong spoke up about the issue and stated he remained unshaken.
I wish to continue living as Kim Jaejoong, as I have always had. I also want my biological and adoptive families to continue understanding and loving each other.