After seven record-breaking years as the powerhouse vocalist of internationally beloved K-pop girl group 2NE1 -- the outfit that held a two-and-a-half-year-long record as the highest-charting K-pop album on the Billboard 200 chart, became Korea's first female act to play U.S. stadiums as well as the first Korean group to hit No. 1 on the World Digital Songs chart -- Bom relinquished the spotlight after a controversy rose over alleged "drug smuggling." The star and her former record label YG Entertainment shared that the singer was diagnosed ADHD and taking a prescription that was legal in America, where she studied throughout her middle and high school years, though it's not legal in South Korea. While she was never charged, the issue put the star's career on a sudden halt, seeing her depart a reality show she was filming, and seemingly playing a factor in 2NE1 ultimately disbanding in late 2016.
The 34-year-old doesn't enjoy looking back on the time, but she remembers it vividly. Bom says she was recording a cover of BIGBANG member Taeyang's hit single "Eyes, Nose, Lips," like a slew of other YG artists were as part of a marketing campaign. When the news hit, she and 2NE1's longtime producer Teddy were confused, but felt it was typical tabloid fodder and another jab by an invasive media scene.
"Before all the news happened, I didn't think about it," she says hesitantly but calmly, a crack in her voice only coming when she talks about the media comments about her looks. "Before, whatever was on the news, it was just things that weren't that bad -- things about my appearances -- I thought, 'OK, they're doing it again.' I thought it was just about me being famous and I thought, 'I didn't do anything wrong.' You know what I'm saying? But it became bigger and I was really sad. I had a hard time...but I shouldn't feel guilty about it because I didn't do anything. But here [in Korea], if they say no, they say no."
Adderall, an amphetamine, had roughly 16 million prescriptions written for adults between ages 20 and 39 in the U.S. in 2012, per health-care data company QuintilesIMS. But in 2014, Adderall was not and still is not legal in South Korea, a country where conversations about mental health are evolvingbut still in its infant stages.
"It's the culture," Bom says. "Something like 'going to the mental hospital' is a big thing, they'd think I'm in a straightjacket or something. It's not commonly spoken about yet. Everybody has difficulties and we need to have those conversations about mental health, don't you think so? It should be common and I think it's getting better and becoming more normalized...everybody that I knew was laughing [at the controversy]. My American friends were laughing, they think it's stupid. It's a shame."
But despite her strong beliefs, the following years were tough for the singer, her mental health, and even her ability to sleep. "Once I looked into and watched Britney Spears [and what she went through in 2007]," she says of her time hiding from the spotlight. "But I'm not even Britney Spears and I'm having those kind of feelings! I'm feeling like I want to shave my head, I really felt like that. I was hiding, but they would still try to take pictures." All the more reason why having the right support system was crucial before she could even consider reclaiming her career.