In 2000, Baek Ji Young was one of the hottest names in South Korea, making waves with Latin-pop sounds in the world of Korean pop. With a successful debut album, her own show, and brand endorsements – it looked like she had it all set to be the next big starlet until a video changed her life overnight.
Born in 1976, Baek debuted in the Korean music industry in 1999 with the album, Sorrow. The lead single, “선택” (Choice), was one of the first songs to bring Latin beats into the Korean pop world. After the album’s success, she followed it up quickly with a second studio album called Rouge the next year, and it ended up selling 360,000 copies.
But then, on November 19, an explicit videotape of Baek Ji Young got uploaded on a pay-per-view porn site, putting her career on the brink of extinction in a matter of days. Kim Si Won, Baek’s manager at that time, had filmed himself having sex with Baek and reportedly kept the tape as his weapon in case she tried to replace him with someone else after becoming successful in her career.
As soon as the video was leaked, radio stations scrambled to pull her songs off the air, and TV stations canceled appearances left and right. The coverage around this incident went as unbiased as it can be in a patriarchal society. While Baek was shedding tears at press conferences, apologizing for her “mistake” even though she was filmed without consent, the man managed to flee to the US and wasn’t met with even half the vilification.
Soon after, an SBS program managed to get hold of Kim over the phone. He admitted on live broadcast that the tape was genuine and he was the one who filmed it in 1998. Apparently, he had plans to marry her, but he never clarified why he took such a video in the first place. Kim said that he didn’t leak the video, but was unable to tell who else could have done it.
This interview boosted the topic to the top of national interest. The sex tape became largely sought-after. When a tech student hacked the website where the footage was originally uploaded, the video multiplied at a rate of 200,000 copies in a day all over the internet. On November 24, Baek temporarily fled to Guam to escape the character assassination and harassment by the public and media alike.
But she was not someone who would keep her head down and accept the unfair criticism thrown her way. During a press conference on November 29, Baek made it clear that she saw herself as a victim in this ordeal, and that she had plans to continue singing as long as there was even one fan willing to listen.
I decided to come forward to tell the truth to prevent other women from becoming victims like me.
— Baek Ji Young
Her fighting spirit made her a representative face of feminist movements in South Korea and garnered her support from activist groups. Korean Women’s Association United supported Baek, calling this incident an invasion of privacy and violation of human rights. Park Cha Ok Kyung, the spokeswoman for the women’s association, took a stand for the singer and questioned society, “Why is it that women actresses and singers are expected to be squeaky clean, while the same standards don’t apply to their male counterparts?”
Despite the support, Baek had to step out of the limelight temporarily. In 2003, she released her fourth album, Smile, which performed decently. But it wasn’t until 2006 when her fifth album, Smile Again, marked a proper comeback for the superstar. The first single from the record, “I Won’t Love,” bagged her numerous awards, including Best Female Artist, Artist of the Year, and Song of the Year at the Mnet Km Music Festival (now Mnet Asian Music Awards or MAMA).
From that point onwards, Baek kept rising in popularity, making music critics awed at her ability to hold onto such success in her mid-thirties in a teen-dominated industry. Besides her studio albums, Baek became well-known for her drama OSTs. “Don’t Forget” for IRIS, “Love Is Not a Crime“ for Ja Myung Go, “That Woman” for Secret Garden, and “If I” for The King’s Affection are only a few of her most notable works in this field. Baek’s soulful vocals eventually earned her the “OST Queen” title among fans.
In 2012, she joined The Voice of Korea as a revered judge and vocal coach. She held her first solo concert in seven years at the Jamsil Gymnasium in Seoul in 2013, followed by a national tour. Baek also flourished in her personal life parallelly. She married actor Jung Suk Won in 2013 and had her first child in 2017.
While Baek Ji Young built her name back from scratch, her perpetrator, Kim Si Won, got arrested in Los Angeles in 2012 on charges of having sex with a minor and filming her as well. Kim was thrown into jail and though it is unclear how long he served his sentence, the fact that he eventually had to face his downfall while Baek Ji Young became the rightful queen of the South Korean music industry, couldn’t have served a more satisfactory conclusion to this entire saga.
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