Photo: Lee Young-ho/Sipa USA/Alamy Stock Photo
On April 5, Source Music and HYBE unveiled the second member of their brand new girl group, Le Sserafim: 16-year-old Kim Garam. On May 20, the labels had announced that Garam would be on indefinite hiatus due to bullying allegations that had metastasized on Korean internet forums and K-pop Twitter. Over the course of six weeks, Garam’s new life as an idol — complete with hectic schedules, image management, and fierce cyber worship — went up in smoke.
How did we come here?
The six-member girl group is the product of a collaboration between Source Music and HYBE – the conglomerate that owns Source Music as well as other subsidiary labels like Big Hit Music and Pledis Entertainment. HYBE saw The Sserafim as a way to fill a girl group-shaped hole in its roster – which includes BTS, Seventeen and Tomorrow x Together. Even before joining Le Sserafim, the band members were quite accomplished – one member is a ballerina while another is a classically trained opera singer – so the band was ready to make waves in the competitive music scene. K-pop. “They’re taking a bold stance and saying up front that they’ll stand at the top,” Source Music wrote. “The name of the group, LE SSERAFIM, is an anagram of the words ‘I’M FEARLESS’… It’s like an incantation to guarantee their success on the merit of their unwavering poise and strength.” But that balance was thrown into question just hours after Garam was introduced to the public.
I don’t know which came first – the bullying allegations or the dick drawing allegations – but I can say the allegations surfaced less than a day after Kim Garam arrived on the scene. Her ad was revealed in a flashy YouTube video that shares an aesthetic with vague minimalist fashion house ads. Other than Garam’s birth year of 2005, K-pop fans didn’t know much about her at this point beyond the intro video that proved she was an adept role model. Hours after Garam was revealed as the second member of the sextet, Korean internet forums and Twitter accounts began buzzing with drama about the idol’s college past. A post, shared on Korean forum The Qoo, purports to show Garam posing with friends in front of a board covered in drawings of naked figures, ejaculating penises and a cartoon image of someone being penetrated. Although the drawings are not Rodin, “SEX” written in capital letters at the top of the painting shows the theme of their sketches.
Pannchoa, a website that translates Korean netizens’ comments into English, wrote a blog post that translated comments from this original Qoo post. “She hasn’t debuted yet and we’re close to debuting, I think it’s best if they just drop her from the group,” one commenter wrote. Another anecdotal evidence noted that some call Garam the “Korean CardiB”. and believed that debuting with The Sserafim under these circumstances hurt the other members. Others attacked Garam’s personality: “Being brazen enough to chalk this up on the school blackboard just shows that his personality is trash.” Some commentators were more lenient, finding the situation amusing. The original forum on The Qoo has been viewed over 160,000 times and includes nearly 1,300 comments.
Various anecdotes, which more or less sounded like hearsay from classmates, set the internet ablaze. “She was popular in college for being a violent abuser at the same level,” someone alleged in text messages translated by Pannchoa. (According to the blog, these screenshots were originally posted on a since deleted Qoo forum but were widely shared on Korean sites, Twitter and Facebook.) These same texts accuse Garam of bullying her younger than her through Facebook posts if they didn’t greet her, smoking and drinking, and extort students. Other blogs, including KBIZoom, have also translated the screenshots. In Tweeter, a user claimed that Garam’s bullying led to the convening of a school violence committee. Many of these posts claimed that Garam was a famous iljinwhich can be loosely translated as “school bully”, and that one of his alleged victims collapsed after hearing that Garam was going to join a group of girls.
Source Music and HYBE have denied all allegations and claimed that Garam herself was the victim of cyberbullying and bullying at school. “Contrary to claims, it has been confirmed through a third party statement that Kim Garam was bullied at school, including malicious gossip and cyberbullying, when she was in middle school,” Source wrote. Music in a press release. statement translated by Soompi. “Source Music has filed a lawsuit against the dissemination of one-sided and distorted allegations and false information related to this case. Therefore, we sincerely request that you refrain from any speculative reporting based on suspicions that are currently being raised from malicious way online. Additionally, the allegations that have been raised contain defamation of someone who is still a minor before their celebrity debut, and we want to make it clear that we will take legal action without any settlement or (Vulture has reached out to Source Music for comment and will update this article if and when the company responds.)
After the statement was released on April 5, the internet more or less moved on – with some Twitter users asking people to give Garam the benefit to of the doubt. Others weren’t necessarily concerned about the bullying allegations, but they didn’t want their favorites in the group (former Iz*One members and beloved idols Chaewon and Sakura) to be. calumny.
After the release of the group’s first EP, Without fear, The Sserafim was immediately successful both at home and abroad. The album and its self-titled lead single both appeared on the Korean Gaon, Billboard 200, Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Japan charts. As is the norm in K-pop, the group performed their singles (“Fearless” and “Blue Flame”) on a variety of Korean music shows, gave interviews and made their showcase debut. “It’s hard to say anything about that right now,” Garam told reporters when asked about the allegations at the band’s first press conference. “I will work hard as a member of Sserafim.” Group leader Kim Chaewon added, “I think the company will have a chance to talk about it in more detail later.”
Le Sserafim’s honeymoon was cut short on May 15 when an unnamed source leaked school records detailing Garam’s alleged bullying. The documents were leaked on the Korean forum Pann and appear to be a notification form from the Hakpok school bullying committee, as translated by the Daily Naver blog. A comment upvoted over 300 times said, “If Kim Garam fans deny that too then…wow. I’d be curious what kind of evidence would be needed for them to admit ㅋㅋ. Whether she bullied or not, it has reached a point where HYBE now has to open its mouth. They thought things would quietly stop, but that’s no longer possible. On the same day, a supposedly authenticated version of the same document was revealed in another viral post from Pann. Viewed more than 500,000 times, the post reveals the full results of Garam’s 2018 bullying investigation. Garam’s alleged offenses include lewdness and bullying multiple victims. The document notes that the perpetrators completed four special education classes and psychotherapy. Garam would have received a grade five sentence for his involvement.
A statement released by the law firm Daeryun, which represents a girl named Yoo Eunseo, claims that the leaked documents are consistent with those submitted by the firm’s client: “The victim (who was called Yoo Eunseo) was the victim of violence at the school of Kim Garam and her friends from late April to early May 2018. She was transferred to a new school 1–2 weeks after the incidents as she was unable to withstand the continued violence by the group. According to the statement, the girl was distraught after HYBE exposed Garam’s involvement in the group. Worse still, online trolls guessed she was the source of the first round of bullying complaints and began harassing her on social media. The harassment caused him to suffer panic attacks, according to the statement:
Yoo Eunseo received messages on social media saying that she maliciously slandered Kim Garam or that she was an orc jealous of pretty girls. Other comments like “She redid everything on her face, but she is still ugly”, “She slanders because she is jealous”, were also received. Worse still, some posts and posts even shared photos of Yoo Eunseo, blurring her and threatening her with “Thanks for taking care of the blur” messages. If you hunt THE SSERAFIM, prepare your grave.
(Vulture has reached out to Daeryun for comment and will update this article if and when the company responds.)
Following HYBE’s first response to the allegations in April, Daeryun had sent HYBE details of Garam’s abuse, the results of the investigation into his bullying, and a letter asking HYBE to apologize for his misrepresentation. According to Daeryun, Yoo Eunseo had attempted suicide following the flurry of attacks. It was her parents who asked Daeryun to share the statement to clear their daughter’s name and force the label’s hand.
After the explosive revelations, Source Music and HYBE released a statement accusing Daeryun of compiling a one-sided argument that makes Garam look bad. While the statement doesn’t directly address Garam’s past of bullying, it denies rumors that have lit up the internet – including allegations of smoking and drinking, being forced to change schools and using a vulgar language.
Source Music and HYBE announced Garam’s indefinite hiatus on May 20. Although Garam hasn’t been officially kicked out of Le Sserafim, Source Music and HYBE have decided to put the controversial star on indefinite hiatus. After canceling appearances on May 20, Le Sserafim continued to perform as a five-member group.
On May 24, outlets reported that an “industry representative” said that Source Music and HYBE were in negotiations with Yoo Eunseo in a bid to bring Garam back into the fold. Meanwhile, Korean forums continue to post allegations as Twitter users vacillate between various levels of to rent out and calls for by Garam deletion.