The recently revealed two year relationship between solo-artist IU (age 22, May, 16 1993) and indie-rocker Jang Kiha (33 year old, February, 20 1982), has been added to the long list of age-gap couples. Sulli, ex-idol member of f(x) and actress-singer Suzy Bae of Miss A, share IU’s pure and innocent public persona. Suzy is in a relationship with actor Lee Min Ho (7 years her senior), and Sulli is in a relationship with rapper Choiza of Dynamic Duo (16 years her senior). Why in South Korea, the country famed for its ‘flower boys‘, are beautiful young ladies dating men who are considerably older than themselves?
IU and Jang Kiha’s age gap of 11 years seems even bigger due to their public image. IU debuted at the age of 15, and shot to fame at age 16. She has reigned as ‘Nation’s Little Sister‘ ever since. In other words, her 16 year old self has been established as her professional public ‘character’. Meanwhile Jang Kiha is a singer in the indie rock band Kiha and the Faces, famous in 2009, and occasionally stepped into the spotlight in 2011 and 2014. Unlike IU, Kiha is not involved in the ‘Kpop’ world, and mainly hosts radio shows and indie gigs.
The revelation of a celebrity’s dating life was once career destroying, but in recent years, more and more celebrities have gone public with their relationship. In a country where innocence is beauty, and in an industry where beauty is everything, icons of purity like IU and Sulli are treasured. Is it just a coincidence that these ‘baby’ symbols of early 2000s are dating 10 years their senior? The model Jung Doori spoke out about this coincidence on Twitter.
Some share their views with Jung Doori, and think that an age gap over 10 years is “crazy”. However, there are many others who embrace this, such as popular Hallyu actor Kim Soo Hyun who said that he would marry a 21 year old girl when he is 41. The Korean entertainment industry is no stranger to age gaps, as there are numerous married celebrities who have huge age gaps.
Although the news of couples with big age-gaps hit headlines, the Korean public do not inflame into disgust towards the older male. Men who are dating much younger than themselves, receive more social stigma in the West.
The age of the woman seems to play an important part in the public’s mind. For example in 2013, the then 19 year old Hyeri Lee from the girl group Girls Day dated the then 35 year old Tony Ahn, making a 16 year old age gap. The media coverage was intense and Tony Ahn was scorned (and even praised) for it online. The female does not come out unscathed either. The announcement of IU’s relationship created a drop in her agency’s stocks.
In comparison, the marriage announcement of 29 year old actress Park Soo Jin marrying 43 year old Hallyu actor Bae Yong Joon (14 year age gap) had a very different media response. Both men and women deemed the relationship in a positive light.
What is the appeal of an older man and a younger woman in Korea? Is it the man seeking youth, or is it the woman seeking maturity? No matter which country, it is generally acknowledged that women seek security in a partner. The older a man is, the more security he is able to provide for her (generally). Security can come in the form of emotional and financial, as the man would (generally) have more assets and have more life experience than a man who is much younger. It just so happens that Korean women (generally) are more aware of these qualities and the benefits of having an older partner. This contradicts the heavily exported ‘Korean dream’, where music and television are about fate, passion and the natural connection of souls.
Obviously, there are exceptions as female celebrities have been revealed to be dating people who are the same age or younger. One must also be aware that many relationships, where both parties are young and attractive celebrities may exist, but be strategically hidden from the public. Everyone has a right to their own privacy, even celebrities. Whatever choices these women make, they are entitled to their decisions, and hopefully the media and the public will mature enough to not judge them for their personal decisions.
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