‘I Am Not Proud of Myself’: K-Pop Star Apologizes After Concluding Military Service

Actor T.O.P of Bigbang award a Rookie prize at Asia Star Awards during the 18th Busan International Film Festival on October 5, 2013 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Singer/rapper T.O.P of the internationally successful K-pop group Big Bang ended his mandatory military service this weekend, posting a lament on Instagram stating he was “not proud” of the controversies that occurred during his service and vowing to “repay” fans for their loyalty, Australian broadcaster SBS reported Monday.

All men aged 18-28 must serve in the military in South Korea and no exception exists for pop stars, meaning some boy bands must go on an extended hiatus when their members reach age 28, after which they can no longer postpone service. Currently, all active members of Big Bang, except for T.O.P, are serving in the military. Seungri, the band’s former fifth member, quit the entertainment industry in its entirety this year amid a criminal investigation into claims he had engaged in soliciting prostitution.

T.O.P, whose given name is Choi Seung-hyun, is returning to public life during a turbulent time for the music industry in South Korea. Big Bang’s record label, YG Entertainment, lost its founding CEO to an offshoot of the scandal that embroiled Seungri, and as of this week is facing new claims of regularly spending millions of won on prostitutes for foreign investors. Multiple K-pop artists in recent years have also faced accusations of illegal drug use and lost public battles with mental health, most prominently in the case of the late Jonghyun, 27, of the boy band, SHINee, who committed suicide in 2017. T.O.P began his military service that year.

T.O.P courted controversy himself by being expelled from traditional military service for allegedly smoking marijuana and being forced to volunteer at a public service office for the remainder of his mandatory service. He was initially sentenced to two years probation, but government officials allowed him to continue his service to the country in a civilian capacity.

“Choi has admitted to smoking marijuana four separate times. He has disappointed a host of fans with his crimes. We took into account Choi showing full remorse for his actions, vowing to never commit crimes against and him being a first offender,” the Seoul justice department said at the time.

A month before his sentencing, the rapper was hospitalized after what South Korean media claimed was a drug overdose on anti-depressants.

“YG Entertainment said the rapper, whose real name is Choi Seung-hyun, was found unconscious after taking anti-depressants in the barracks of the police unit where he has been conscripted to serve,” South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported.

He appeared to reference the controversy in an Instagram post late Sunday, in which he insisted he was “not proud” of himself.

“Even though I am not proud of myself, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all the fans who made time and efforts to share this moment with me,” T.O.P wrote. “I will make sure to reflect on myself and repay the hurts and disappointments I caused to you. Again, thank you. Until I see you again… love, T.O.P.”

The rapper’s final day at work at the Yongsan Ward Office in Seoul was Saturday. Usually, following the end of a celebrity’s last military service workday, reporters in South Korea throng outside of the front door of the government facility where they are serving and prepare a “welcome back” press conference. Reporters did so for T.O.P, but he refused to attend, instead walking out of the office’s back door and holding an impromptu fan meet-and-greet. The photo he posted with his note on Instagram is believed to be from that meeting. According to the Korea Times, an estimated 200 fans attended.

Fans of Big Bang will now have to wait for its three remaining members — G-Dragon, Taeyang and Dae-sung — to complete their military service. The latter two enlisted this year, meaning it will take at least another two years for the band to reunite. The band has not offered any hints as to what the new Big Bang, without Seungri and without former CEO Yang Hyun-suk at the helm of their record label, will look like.

Prior to his military service, T.O.P showcased in the band as rapper and also released solo singles. K-pop rap music draws much of its inspiration from modern American top 40, but tends to feature more bombastic electronic sound.

T.O.P’s return is a much-needed bit of positive news for YG Entertainment, which has endured a year of prodigious scandal that at one point threatened to ensnare it’s biggest international hitmaker to date, Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” became a sensation throughout the Americas. Most of the allegations involve the purchase of sex and drugs for wealthy friends of the company and investors under former CEO Yang’s leadership.

In May, a South Korean investigative television show alleged that Psy introduced Yang to Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian millionaire currently fleeing justice in his home country. Yang and Low, the report alleged, engaged in “a night of partying and soliciting prostitution” that including buying the services of at least ten prostitutes.

Psy admitted to going to dinner with Low and Yang but said that he had gone home after they ate, before the alleged illegal festivities began.

Yang also faces charges of attempting to silence whistleblowers within his company who threatened to reveal artists’ drug use.

Police requested a warrant for Seungri, the Big Bang member, on charges similar to those related to Low Taek Jho. Authorities accused the star of embezzling money from a club in Seoul that he had invested in, where he also allegedly engaged in procuring prostitutes for wealthy patrons.

“The two suspects [Seungri and an accomplice] appear to have jointly arranged sexual services and embezzlement, and there has been suspicion they attempted to destroy evidence,” a Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) official told Yonhap in May.

Prior to his arrest, Seungri was the star of the Netflix series YG Future Strategy Office, a comedy in which he was hired to help improve the quality of a fictional office within the YG record label dedicated to damage control and repairing the company’s reputation.

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