The meteoric fall of Netflix's Single's Inferno star Song Ji-a from stardom
She was attacked for donning counterfeit designer clothes, which isn't even deemed an issue in the West, yet this ruined Song Ji-a's career in her home country. The scandal, however, was more than just one other story about a cancelled personality; it spoke to a broader cultural indignation experienced by youths in South Koreans.
She grabbed the public's attention the moment she arrived on Netflix's popular Korean dating show Single's Inferno.
The captivating screen beauty was Song Ji-a, a 20-year-old beauty influencer. She instantly rose to prominence as the trendy 'it' girl. And was also well-liked by the guys.
Ji-a had the most date offers and invitations for private walks. Towards the finale, she had three of the show's five men lined up competing for her hand. She was the show's major star.
Before the show, the social media influencer was well-known in South Korea. After her Netflix stardom, her Instagram and YouTube followings grew to 3.7 million and nearly two million, respectively.
Her celebrity peaked during the first week of January 2022. Her demise followed quickly.
Netizens then started dissecting her. They alleged her of dressing in phony designer clothes. They snatched a pink Chanel knit that was just a tad too light.
Song Ji-a acknowledged to wearing counterfeit items. She, on the other hand, asserted she had no idea they were fakes and had purchased them because they were "pretty."
Her poorly constructed apology was insufficient to calm the people's resentments.
Other Korean TV shows apparently started to edit her appearances. Her celebrity pals, including other actors and influencers, also removed Instagram photos of themselves with Ji-a.
Ji-a apologized again a week later, saying she "deeply regretted her actions" and naming herself "pathetic."
She deleted her social media accounts, having left only the posts of apology. She'd earned the moniker "national disgrace."
The outcry, however, appeared exaggerated to the rest of the world - how did a fake-clothing controversy cancelled a rising personality?
"But actually the biggest crime alleged was that she was a fake - and that she pretended to be something that she is not. That was the issue that kept being raised time and time again," said Se-Woong Koo, the editor of Korean Exposé, a subscription-based newsletter focusing on contemporary Korea.
Although non-Korean followers saw her as merely a luxury influencer, Koreans considered her more. Many locals mistook her for a geumsujeo, or "gold spoon." This is somebody from South Korea's top 1% of high-income families.
"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," said Mr. Koo.
She'd dismissed the label, but admitted to growing up in a comfortable relatively wealthy family. But, as an influencer, she'd established a reputation around a luxurious facade. People assumed she was a wealthy young lady, and she never corrected them.
"People feel like they've been cheated," said Michelle Ho, a women's studies assistant professor at the National University of Singapore.
According to commentators, Ji-a's detractors are motivated by underlying class tensions in modern South Korean society. This is mirrored not only in Korean politics but also in popular culture, films and television dramas.
Korean youths, like their counterparts in other affluent countries, are feeling the impact of rising classism.
Many people now reckon that success is determined by the family you are born into, rather than by perseverance in work.
"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."
In such, individuals who are privileged in life are a source of bitter obsession.
When a normal Korean adolescent opts to emulate a "rich girl" like Ji-a, their fascination extends beyond mere materialist admiration.
"People lived their lives vicariously through her, they aspired to the fantasy," said Dr. Ho.
"And so when it was exposed that she was a sham, their aspirations broke down as well."