Keep it secret or tell the public?

January 7, 2014

People have become generous about celebrity love affairs, but not always

Above are, from left, Girls’ Generation member Yoona, actor Kim Bum, actress Moon Geun-young and actor Bae Yong-joon. They have recently come clean about their off-stage personal relationships. A growing number of celebrities openly admit to having dates in a departure from the past secretive attitude. (Korea Times files)

Above are, from left, Girls’ Generation member Yoona, actor Kim Bum, actress Moon Geun-young and actor Bae Yong-joon. They have recently come clean about their off-stage personal relationships. A growing number of celebrities openly admit to having dates in a departure from the past secretive attitude. (Korea Times files)

By Park Si-soo

Korea’s single stars have traditionally opted to keep their love affairs off the public radar. In doing so, some have been accidently caught dating with concealed faces using sunglasses, masks or caps.

But lately, a growing number of young celebrities are breaking from that custom by making public their romantic relationships.

The latest examples are Yoona and Sooyoung, members of K-pop sensation Girls’ Generation. Photos of both dating their respective celebrity boyfriends — singer Lee Seung-gi and actor Jung Kyung-ho — were released last week by paparazzi news outlets. Although the two could have easily downplayed the rumors of their romantic relationships they instead opted to be open and honest about their new beaus.

“Yoona and Lee Seung-gi are carefully meeting one another… We don’t know exactly when the two started seeing each other,” said a statement by SM Entertainment of the nine-member girl band on Jan. 1. Two days later, the agency also confirmed that Sooyoung had been seeing Jung for a year.

Actress Moon Geun-young and actor Kim Bum are the most openly dating celebrity couple. After admitting in November they were seeing each other, the celebrity couple have frequently been spotted in public places holding hands and displaying affection just like ordinary couples do.

They traveled to Europe together in October. Several photos of them taken by Korean tourists there showed they were no different from any other ordinary couple on their first romantic getaway, even dressing identically at one point.

Veteran actor Bae Yong-joon recently joined the ranks of those openly dating, demonstrating this is not just a fad of only young-adult celebrities. Known for normally maintaining a low profile, the 41-year-old confirmed in December he was dating Koo So-hee, 28, the second daughter of a vice chairman of LS Industrial System. Last November, they were seen traveling together in Japan.

Good or bad?

Opinions are divided when it comes to celebrities dating openly. Proponents claim that gone are the days when stars needed to keep their love affairs secret.

“In the past, a dating scandal dealt a devastating blow to the fan base of a celebrity involved, especially female entertainers. Some even found their commercial contracts canceled due to scandals. But this is no longer the case,” an entertainment industry insider said on condition of anonymity.

“Top actress Kim Tae-hee is the best example. She is well known as the girlfriend of singer Rain. Nevertheless, she still remains an undisputed ‘blue chip’ in the (show business) industry.”

He said this shift is attributable to the dwindling role of Confucianism in terms of shaping the country’s general code of conduct. The ethical system imported from China in the 14th century had a significant impact on Korean society for generations. In particular, it is infamously conservative when it comes to male-female relationships, suggesting for example that, “a boy and a girl not sit together after they turn seven.” Divorce was another strong social taboo that came with it.

But the influence of this social code has been waning in recent decades due to the rapid influx of Western culture, which does not only encourage open romance but also celebrate it.

Another show business insider said there are “no secrets in a networked society.”

“It’s a matter of when (celebrity romances are made public), which means it’s all but impossible to completely prevent private information about a celebrity from being leaked,” he said.

“Once a rumor emerges, numerous seemingly related photos and articles pour onto the Internet. Many of them are proven to be irrelevant to the issue, but there are always some that tell a credible story. So in this regard, I think it’s better to tell the truth when things happen, rather than taking the risk of being labeled a ‘liar’ after being caught attempting to cover it up.”

Nonetheless there are still many celebrities and showbiz experts who claim open dating is still risky.

Popular comedian Shin Dong-yup expressed anxiety over the shift during a nighttime talk show, “Witch Hunt,” aired on Jan. 3. Recollecting the time when he had a relationship with a popular fashion model, the 43-year-old said, “Everything is fine when the relationship is in good shape. But when it turns sour, people involved will soon find their fame and fan base damaged.” He didn’t elaborate.

Actor Park Gi-woong echoed that view on a radio show.

“Now I’m single. Even if I have a celebrity girlfriend in the future, I will never tell it to the public,” he said. “It’s not for me, but for the girlfriend. People seem to have become very generous about celebrity love affairs. But still there are many who aren’t. If a celebrity couple is broken for some reasons, they begin to treat the breakup like a divorce.”

Female comedian Kim Ji-min and K-pop musician Lady Jane echoed the same view in other programs, saying they will avoid dating openly.

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