SEOUL, June 8 (Korea Bizwire) – Contrary to his stage name T.O.P, Choi Seung-hyun, member of the popular K-pop boy band BIGBANG, hit the rock bottom of his successful 10-year-plus career this week.
He has been indicted on charges of smoking marijuana and his military service that began in February was put on hold pending an investigation. On top of that, the 29-year-old was hospitalized on Tuesday for an apparent overdose of tranquilizing pills that he has been taking for medical reasons.
The incident, in the simplest terms, can be perceived as a case of personal misconduct by a young artist. But misdemeanors by top-tier celebrities, with BIGBANG being one of the biggest names in today’s K-pop scene, are never that simple.
In T.O.P’s case, the incident speaks not only of the conduct of the artist but also the risk management capability, or a lack thereof, of YG. The company, one of South Korea’s top talent agencies and music labels, has been dragged into its third reported substance abuse scandal involving one of its artists.
In 2011, BIGBANG member G-Dragon was found to have illegally smoked marijuana but was released without being indicted after he admitted to using it and only minuscule traces were found in his hair.
G-Dragon, whose real name is Kwon Ji-yong, initially denied that he had smoked weed, but later admitted to unknowingly smoking marijuana at a club in Japan in May of that year while touring the country.
“I smoked a cigarette that a random Japanese guy gave to me in a Japanese club. I suspected it to be marijuana since it smelled different, but I smoked it anyway,” G-Dragon was then quoted by the prosecutors as saying during the interrogation.
In 2014, Park Bom of girl group 2NE1 became mired in a high-profile drug scandal after it was retroactively reported that she was caught in 2010 trying to smuggle amphetamines to the country.
In October of that year, Park was caught by customs trying to smuggle some 80 pills of banned amphetamines by international shipping without prior government approval.
The prosecution said then that Park had taken amphetamines for medical purposes when she lived in the United States in the past, where the drug was legally prescribed under limitations. Park said she started taking prescribed amphetamines after witnessing a friend die during a football match while living in the U.S.
Charges were dropped after a months-long investigation, but the incident left a deep scar on Park Bom’s public image. She was abruptly dropped from SBS TV’s reality TV program “Roommate” and ceased all public activities for several months.
BIGBANG’s Daesung and Seungri have also been involved in highly publicized traffic accidents.
In May 2011, Daesung was investigated for possible involuntary manslaughter after he accidentally ran over a man who crashed his motorcycle moments before on a bridge. He was later cleared of charges as no definitive evidence was found to suggest the motorcyclist was alive before being hit by Daesung’s vehicle.
Some insiders have argued that nowadays the idea of controlling or managing a behemoth artist such as BIGBANG, even for a big company such as YG, is virtually impossible, given how much power the group has amassed within the company: BIGBANG alone was reportedly responsible for 65 percent of YG’s sales in 2015.
“In terms of power dynamics, BIGBANG has the upper hand over YG, since they can always walk away from YG when the contract expires,” a former music business source who specialized in digital marketing said.
“YG has been working hard to diversify its portfolio by debuting groups such as iKON and BLACKPINK and also initiate new businesses such as in food and original video content productions. But it’s still too early to see whether the new ventures could lead to substantial revenue,” the source said.
In T.O.P’s case, YG is again clearly struggling in revealing a clear flow of information. Police said Tuesday T.O.P wasn’t in “critical condition,” but his mother disputed the police account, claiming he was in much worse condition.
“The condition of my son is quite bad. It’s been misreported after (the police) announced that my boy, who is almost dying, was not fully awake from tranquilizers,” T.O.P’s mother said.