The Song Ji-ah Scandal: The Problem with Fan Culture, Consumerism, and Korea’s Growing Wealth Inequality

The Song Ji-ah Scandal: The Problem with Fan Culture, Consumerism, and Korea’s Growing Wealth Inequality

Song Ji-ah Featured Images: @netflixkr (IG), @dear.jiaaa (IG Fanpage)

As we all celebrated the new year, Song Ji-ah was at the top of the world. The star of Netflix’s most successful Korean reality show, Song Ji-ah was offered deals to host fashion content with top celebrities and idols.

However, by the time February rolled around, every aspect of her life had changed. After the damning allegation that several luxury clothing pieces Ji-ah had worn were cheaper knock-offs, the public turned 180 degrees against the young celebrity.

Suddenly Song Ji-ah, the internet’s newest favorite style icon it-girl, was an ostracized social piranha and the in-person embodiment of everything wrong with our capitalist society. 

Image: @dear.jiaaa (IG Fanpage)
Song Ji-ah Deleted Instagram Photo

Index:

  1. Chapter 1: Song Ji-ah on YouTube – Luxury, and A Growing Audience
    1. Wealth and Hallyu: The Oil and Water of the Korean Entertainment Industry
      1. The Flex Culture Phenomenon and its use as Celebrity Promotion
  2. Chapter 2: Song Ji-ah – The Star of the Island
    1. The Succes of other Contestants
    2. NETFLIX and Song Ji-ah
  3. Chapter 3: Song Ji-ah, Korea’s Stylish New It-Girl
    1. Self-made Social Media Influencers
  4. Chapter 4: The Accusation, the Apology
    1. The Accusation
    2. The Apology

How did the public turn their opinion so quickly? Did Song Ji-ah deserve the criticism, hate, and online hasssarement she received, or is this a horrible example of fandom culture’s toxicity?

Chapter 1: Song Ji-ah on YouTube – Luxury, and A Growing Audience

In 2019, Song Ji-ah graduated from Hanyang University with a major in dance. A born-celebrity and performer, she quickly gained followers on her new YouTube channel, named “freezia.” 

Thanks to her bubbly personality, her model looks, and the extravagant lifestyle that she promoted, Song Ji-ah soon amassed thousands of followers on YouTube and Instagram. 

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @dear.jiaaa (IG Fanpage)
Song Ji-ah Deleted Instagram Photo

From her videos and posts, viewers got enthralled by her high-rolling lifestyle, from living in one of the most expensive apartments in Seoul overlooking the Han River to shopping and eating from top establishments. Song Ji-ah promoted a consumer paradise with unlimited luxury clothes hauls, Michelin star meals, and a bubbly extroverted personality that exudes confidence and fun. 

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @dear.jiaaa (IG Fanpage)
Song Ji-ah Deleted Instagram Photo

Wealth and Hallyu: The Oil and Water of the Korean Entertainment Industry

Until recently, most celebrities in the Korean entertainment industry were corporate-trained K-Pop Idols or ever-professional K-Actors. Together, Idols and K-Actors, have created the Hallyu wave that has brought billions in profits for South Korea. Both Pop Idols and Korean Actors enjoy carefully curated careers which include strict unspoken rules that protect the celebrities from potential scandals. 

One of these rules is to never, under any circumstance, share the extent of your wealth. Fans know that K-Pop stars would never dream of showing off their latest sports car or high-end tech purchase. While many celebrities have incredible wealth, some even hailing from the infamous Chaebol households, fans cannot imagine them speaking about the cost of their lifestyle. 

Image: @MnetMcountdown (TWT)
BTOB’s Sungjae who is from a famously wealthy family but has kept his family wealth private and separate from his celebrity image

By not disclosing details of their lifestyle, Korean stars remain humble and down-to-earth to their fans. With humbleness being an essential part of the idol persona that has made Korea’s stars international icons, staying relatable to fans is massively important. 

Image: @bts_bighit (TWT)
International K-Pop Stars BTS with their leagues of fans;
BTS is one of the groups that have remained consistently humble and down-to-earth, allowing them to draw in millions of fans with their relatable personalities

As a result, a stunning model/dancer like Song Ji-ah, who peels back the curtain and gives fans a peek into the life of the “young and rich,” naturally captures national attention.

The Flex Culture Phenomenon and its use as Celebrity Promotion

Flex culture is far from a new phenomenon in Korea, and influencers like Song Ji-ah are not the first celebrities to use it as a promotional technique. 

From rappers like Yumdda going viral for spending millions in one go, to social media stars buying some of the top cars and houses on the market, the South Korean entertainment industry has seen a boom in over-spending culture.

For those able to maintain a likable image, flex culture and a luxurious lifestyle can bring incredible success. Song Ji-ah rode the popularity she gained from her lifestyle and bubbly personality to a highly-coveted Netflix deal.

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @dear.jiaaa (IG Fanpage)
Song Ji-ah Deleted Instagram Photo

Chapter 2: Song Ji-ah – The Star of the Island

In December of 2021, Ji-ah joined the cast of contestants on the popular dating program “Single’s Inferno.” With her entertainingly honest remarks, flirting, and unique personality, Song Ji-an was a hit, both with the men on the show and the viewers.

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @netflixkr (IG)
Frame of “Single’s Inferno

The show follows twelve men and women as they attempt to find love on a deserted island. Supplied with glamping accommodation and food the contestants bring viewers drama, flirting, and friendship

Video: @netflixkr (IG)
Netflix Promotional Video Featuring Song Ji-ah

The Succes of other Contestants

In addition to Song Ji-ah, the other contestants have also become incredibly successful celebrities following the program.

  • Many contestants were already stars before joining “Single’s Inferno.” For example, Cha Hyun-Seung gained recognition performing alongside some of the top K-Pop performers like SUNMI, EXO, Girls’ Generation, and Stray Kids.
  • Or Choi Si-hun, who runs a successful clothing brand, models, and acts.
  • Other examples include boxing gym owner and fitness YouTuber Kang So-Yeon and owner of Gangnam restaurant Moon Se Hoon.

While many contestants had pre-existing success, the international popularity of the program has transformed the 12 personalities into a-list celebrities. 

Image: @502bright (IG)
Cha Hyung-Seung and K-Pop top star SUNMI backstage
Image: @502bright (IG)
Cha Hyung-Seung modeling for W Korea Magazine following the release of “Single’s Inferno.”
Video: @netflixkr (IG)
Netflix Promotional Video Featuring the core cast of “Single’s Inferno”

NETFLIX and Song Ji-ah

However, as the show aired, Netflix promoted Song Ji-ah the most across their social media accounts, to the point where she soon became the face of the show.

Video: @netflixkr (IG)
Netflix Promotional Video Featuring Song Ji-ah

“Single’s Inferno” was an instant hit both in Korea and internationally, signaling the potential for Korean reality shows to follow the astronomical popularity of K-Dramas on streaming sites. However, fans also accused the platform of manipulating the drama and taking advantage of it for marketing purposes.

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @netflixkr (IG)
Frame of “Single’s Inferno”

Chapter 3: Song Ji-ah, Korea’s Stylish New It-Girl

After finishing as the most successful contestants, with three potential suitors, Song Ji-ah left the “Single’s Inferno” island with fame, style, and an international audience. In December and January, Song Ji-ah was a guest on the top talk/variety show in Korea titled “Knowing Bros.” 

  • Song Ji-ah featured alongside rapper Lee Young-Ji and actress Kang Ye-won.
Knowing Bros Ep 316 Preview

Furthermore, she became a permanent cast member on the YouTube celebrity fashion show “Follow Me: Truth of Taste.”

The series has Song Ji-ah starring aside top K-Pop idols and fashion icons. Hosts successful solo artists Kwon Eun-bi and Ha Sung-Woon. Furthermore, the show was hosted by PENTAGON’s Kino and featured a series of guests like ASTRO’s Moonbin and MJ and CIX’s Bae Jin-Young, among others.

The First Episode of “Follow Me: Truth of Taste”

According to many fans and viewers, Song Ji-ah was no longer a popular beauty YouTuber, limited to making videos of make-up tutorials and shopping hauls. Instead, Ji-ah was now a mainstream celebrity with countless loyal supporters boosted by a lifestyle that others could live variously through her content.

The episode of Chu (from K-Pop Girl Group LOONA)’s YouTube Show featuring Song Ji-ah

How could the internet turn on someone that they had made into a star? Unlike the K-Pop idols she was starring alongside on these programs, Song Ji-ah had not signed with a Korean entertainment company that could catch her if she fell.

So when the allegations that she had lied to her fans and faked wearing knock-offs as legit luxury products rained in, there was no safety net. With no stylist, manager, or company to take some of the blame, Song Ji-ah had to take all the punches alone, which inflated the scandal. 

the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @dear.zia (IG)
Song Ji-ah’s Handwritten apology posted to Instagram

Self-made Social Media Influencers

Following the rise of social media stars, Hollywood has been usurped by a new flood of influencers, from Instagram Models to TikTok stars.

  • Unlike in America, in South Korea, the industry is dominated by charismatic professional Hallyu personalities steered throughout their careers by expert teams of social media strategists and promotional experts.

However, during the pandemic, Korea has started seeing a rise in self-made social media influencers. With YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms allowing for connection in an age of self-isolation, these new stars have reached a new audience and brilliant success.

Image: @ox_zung (IG)
Won-Jeong is one of the top Korean TikTokers with over 40 million followers on the app

With this new rise of independent stars, the entire industry should be focused on how scandals like Song Ji-ah’s can be avoided in the future without teams of managers to soften the blow

Chapter 4: The Accusation, the Apology

The Accusation

Getting back to Song Ji-ah, the accusation that she had bought fake clothing destroyed the foundation of her popularity as a “gold-spoon” wealthy heiress. 

The title of “gold-spoon” has followed Ji-ah since the beginning and is one she has publically refused. Nevertheless, despite rejecting the label, viewers continued to project their luxury fantasies on Song Ji-ah, creating a fictional image of Chaebol opulence that belongs in a K-Drama. 

Some blame her initial success and the incredible amount of merciless hate she received following the scandal on the envy of disillusioned youths struggling from the growing Korean class inequality.

  • As it becomes harder to find a job and earn a liveable wage, many may have looked to Song Ji-ah as a way to escape and live a worry-free life through her content.
the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @netflixkr (IG)
Frame of “Single’s Inferno”

“That’s what made her attractive – not that she was a hardworking influencer, or that she was successful on her own and making a lot of money. People said they were following her because they thought she was a gold spoon, (…) We’re now at the point where some people genuinely believe that Korea does not offer social mobility (…)The only way to be well-off is to have rich parents or to marry money. And as a result, many people aspire to belong to that ‘gold spoon’ generation who appear to have it so easy”

Koo Se-Woong (Korean Exposé editor)

“People feel like they’ve been cheated (…) People lived their lives vicariously through her, they aspired to the fantasy, (…) And so when it was exposed that she was a sham, their aspirations broke down as well.”

Dr. Michelle Ho (National University of Singapore women’s studies assistant professor)

The Apology

Following the accusations and the public’s reaction, Song Ji-ah deleted her YouTube and Instagram content and disappeared from the spotlight. The last the public has heard from the fallen celebrity was her downcast apology posted on YouTube a month ago. In her hand-written letter posted to Instagram, she apologized to the professionals in the fashion industry and her viewers going as far as to call herself “pathetic.”

Disappearing as quickly as she gained fame, Song Ji-ah has felt the horrific force of internet hatred. In contrast, however, countless have taken to social media to express their disdain for the inhumane hatred that Song Ji-ah has continued to receive after her public apologies.

Song Ji-ah’s defendants criticize how online bullies dehumanize celebrities at the first opportunity. Her fans cite the violation of Song Ji-ah’s privacy and the unforgiving attack on her pride as evidence of the growing problem of out-of-control online hate within the Korean entertainment industry.

  • Furthermore, the contestants of “Single’s Inferno” have sent Song Ji-ah their support in subtle ways. For example, Kim Jun-sik sent her the message “지어야힘내! (Ji-ah, Stay Strong!)” hidden in his Instagram post description after Lunar New Year. 
the-song-ji-ah-situation
Image: @netflixkr (IG)
Frame of “Single’s Inferno”

A viral scandal, the Song Ji-ah situation has highlighted the effect of luxury and wealth in the entertainment industry as Korea’s class divides continue to grow. Furthermore, fans have started wondering how the new self-made celebrities will fit into the structured Korean entertainment industry.


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Read more about Song Ji-ah on her Profile:

Eden McLeod

Hi, Eden here! I am the main writer and publisher at ME Asia. I am a professional writer and blogger. I love creating content that can introduce future fans to incredible artists, actors, and musicians from around the globe!

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