South Korea retracts guidelines on look-alike K-pop stars

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Government guidelines aimed at promoting more diversity in South Korea’s K-pop world have been withdrawn after critics said they amounted to state censorship of a booming industry.

The guidelines issued last week complained that K-pop stars looked too alike, saying “the problem of … uniformity among singers is serious”, and noting most idols were thin and wore identical make-up and skimpy outfits.

South Korea’s K-pop world is a multi-billion-dollar business, but so too is the plastic surgery industry in the image-obsessed country, and tens of thousands of people go under the knife every year in pursuit of the perfect look.

The guidelines from the ministry of gender equality drew criticism online – and also from a lawmaker who said it was reminiscent of censorship during the country’s period of authoritarian government which ended in 1980s.

Demanding the state apologises, Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said the guidelines were a “totalitarian and unconstitutional idea”.

Until the late 1980s, censorship permeated every part of South Korean society and the state controlled everything from what could be screened on TV to the length of a man’s hair.

“It is truly surprising that South Korea is doing what communist dictatorships, like China and North Korea, would consider doing,” one online critic said.

In the wake of criticism, the ministry said Tuesday it would withdraw the recommendation after it had “caused unnecessary confusion”.

But it added it had neither the intention nor authority to control TV production and it had simply tried to “prevent media, which has big influence on people’s daily life, from undermining human rights or fostering discrimination unintentionally”.

Critics say the narrow concept of beauty promoted by Korean celebrities was pushing many to go under the knife.

In 2017 all four members of K-pop band SixBomb went through extensive plastic surgery, from nose jobs to breast implants, before releasing a single.

A series of videos showed the four women visiting a clinic, strutting into an operating theatre and lying on the operating table.

In a survey of teenagers last year, nearly 70 percent said the idea of trying to become a celebrity in the entertainment industry had crossed their mind.

The ministry alluded to the impact TV celebrities have on young people in the guidelines.

“Overt concerns for how one should look on TV has a negative impact not only on adults, but also on teenagers and children,” it said.