Early on the morning of Sept. 3, South Korean group Ladies’ Code was returning to Seoul after a show when its rental van slipped on a rain-slicked road and crashed into a guardrail. Group members EunB (Go Eun-Bi, 21) and Rise (Kwon Ri-Se, 23) both died from their injuries; three others were hurt, one seriously.
Sadly, the tragedy was not an uncommon one in the K-pop scene. In the last year alone, an accident required Jinwoon of male quartet 2AM to undergo emergency surgery for his ankle, and Subin of girl group Dal Shabet and rapper Hwayoung were hospitalized after crashes. Big Bang members G-Dragon, Taeyang and Seungri; Infinite‘s Woohyun; U-Kiss‘ Hoon; and female quartet Bestie were also involved in major but injury-free incidents.
While police investigations are ongoing, the spotlight has turned to K-pop stars’ notoriously demanding schedules. Sources tell Billboard a typical day for the acts can last anywhere from 17 to 23 hours, while their teams often work even longer, partly because of the notion that the shelf life of such groups is five years – best to capitalize on every opportunity.
Rebekah Kim, aka Bekah, a member of female outfit After School from 2009 through 2011, spoke of the hectic pace. “The worst thing was not sleeping,” the Hawaiian native told Billboard, noting that some nights she slept for only 30 minutes.
South Korea’s dismal driving-safety record exacerbates the situation. In 2010, the World Health Organization reported that the country had the second-highest death rate among the world’s most-developed economies. WHO also noted in a 2013 report that while 78 percent of Korea’s drivers wear seat belts in the front seat only 6 percent do so when riding in the back. K-pop stars looking for an opportunity to catch up on sleep often forgo the seat belt entirely, which has prompted a social media campaign with the hashtag “#BuckleUp.”
The pressures of the fiercely competitive K-pop scene (South Korea was named the 10th-largest music market in 2014 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) is perhaps best captured in the 2012 documentary 9 Muses of Star Empire, which shows all-girl outfit 9 Muses rehearsing, despite being bruised and bandaged, with one member’s arm in a sling, days after a car accident.