From unauthorized dates to drunken massage parlor trips, some of South Korea's biggest K-Pop stars have been giving the military a bad name -- and now the top brass has had enough.
In a country where the mandatory two-year military service for all males is a big deal, the suggestion that celebrity recruits have been enjoying preferential treatment has created a fierce nationwide backlash. In addition to leading the top trending subjects on all nationwide news portals, social media and news sites were swamped by angry user comments, while military barracks rumbled with soldiers' complaints.
So last week the Ministry of National Defense announced it would be scrapping its celebrity soldier unit.
"Although we initially formed the unit to promote the military, a number of unfortunate incidents damaged the public image of the military and lowered the morale of all the regular soldiers who are in the service," said the ministry's vice-spokesperson Wi Yong-seob at a press conference.
On January 1 this year, South Korea awoke to paparazzi photos that showed K-Pop star Rain was secretly dating top actress Kim Tae-hee.
Rain landed himself in hot water because he was halfway through his military service and his secret liaisons involved special leave that is not given to regular soldiers, as well as civilian contact -- which is not permitted during duty.
Last month, a local TV crew secretly taped a group of celebrity soldiers, including Rain and fellow K-Pop star Seven, drinking together in a private restaurant following a performance to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War.
Adding insult to injury, two of the celebs, Seven and Sangchu, then reportedly broke away from the group to visit an illegal massage parlor, which was also broadcast on national TV.
The backlash was immediate and furious, with the public demanding disciplinary action and musing about the integrity of military service.
"This news about Seven and Sangchu is a sign of the lack of military discipline even during the 20-month service period. And so the degeneration of the military service will continue," tweeted well-known lawyer Choi Young-ho.
In the barracks
Soldiers currently serving in the army were particularly disgruntled.
"The news made everyone very angry in the barracks," said Yoo-min Kim, 24, whose army service ended in May. "The question we were all asking was 'why do they get to have that kind of special treatment?'"
Some even questioned their entertainment value.
"What soldiers would like to see for those special concerts are the girl groups and not some male singer," said Kim Kwon, 29, who was recently discharged from the Ministry of Defense.
With the closure of their unit, the 16 celebrity soldiers will be sent to regular military units -- with eight of them facing punishment for violating military rules. In the past, punishment for a similar offense ranged from reduced leave to a spell in a military jail.
Two members are being deployed to units in the provinces -- which will come as a rude shock after their relatively cushy desk job in the capital.