Sulli posing at an event

The following article includes mentions of suicide, mental health issues, and domestic abuse allegations.

The world of K-pop isn’t always kind to its young stars. While appearing in a popular South Korean music group can rocket performers to celebrity status in Asia and beyond, the road to stardom is notoriously difficult, with aspiring performers signing their childhood and teenage years away to train with management groups in hopes of landing a coveted spot in a boy or girl group. Add the punishing body image standards and social media hate often heaped on young singers, and it’s no wonder that K-pop is sometimes branded as a "toxic" environment for its stars.

From freak accidents to heartbreaking, self-inflicted deaths, many K-pop stars have tragically died before their time, with a string of suicides in 2019 drawing international attention to the well-being of the genre’s biggest names. With several K-pop performers announcing hiatuses due to mental health concerns by the following year, perhaps things are changing in the once-merciless music community. In June 2020, Bang Si-hyuk, the founder of the internationally-beloved boy band BTS, announced his commitment to "do [his] best as a producer who manages the mental health of the participants rather than know-how or skills."

One thing is for sure: enough K-pop stars have sadly died for the industry to take notice. These are some of the most tragic losses of young talents in K-pop.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

K-pop star U-Nee hid her stress from loved ones

The South Korean singer and actress Lee Hye-ryeon, who also performed under the name U-Nee, tragically died in late January 2007 after she was found hanged in her Seo-gu, Incheon apartment, per The Star. She was 26. While her death was ruled an apparent suicide, police said (via The Chosunilbo) that U-Nee did not leave a note or will. Authorities also stated that those close to U-Nee had claimed that she appeared to be dealing with depression and had possibly been affected by online criticism. However, the K-pop star was allegedly able to hide her stress, so that even her family didn’t know the extent to which she was struggling.

U-Nee’s personal website also featured a posting that was dated before her death, which read, "I feel everything is empty. I am again walking down a path to reach a destination that I don’t know." The artist, who first found fame as an actress, eventually expanded into music in the early 2000s. U-Nee’s third album, "Honey," was scheduled to be released the month after she died.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Kim Ha Neul (a.k.a. Rottyful Sky) lost consciousness and never woke up

K-pop star Kim Ha Neul was only 25 when she died, but she was already a veteran of the industry by that point. A 14-year-old debutante, she dropped her well-received first song, "Funny," way back in 2001. When she reached her mid-20s, she decided to reinvent herself and started going by Rottyful Sky, a name that fans of popular K-drama "Scent of a Woman" will no doubt be familiar with — her song, "Blue Bird," featured on the soundtrack and was a big hit that became synonymous with the show.

She went on to have success with songs like "No Way" and "Get Away," but her career was cut tragically short soon after the release of the latter single. The singer-songwriter died at the Catholic University of Korea Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital in 2013, with initial reports claiming a brain tumor was to blame. Her agency addressed these rumors in a statement (via Yahoo! Style), giving a detailed breakdown of the idol’s final days.

According to an agency rep, Kim Ha Neul "visited the hospital after not feeling good [and] was given basic treatment." She was sent home and prescribed rest, but she lost consciousness the following day. "During her transfer to the hospital, she stopped breathing and was given CPR two times," the rep explained. "She was unable to gain consciousness… Her family stated that a brain tumor wasn’t the cause of death like the media has been reporting."

J. Yoon selfie