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K-pop star ends relationship weeks after it sparked a fan backlash

By Jessie Yeung, CNN

(CNN) — After apologizing last month for a new relationship that angered some particularly animated fans, K-pop star Karina is once again single – highlighting the long-standing challenges of dating in the fervid fanspace of Korean entertainment.

Karina, of the girl group Aespa, and actor Lee Jae-wook have broken up after going public five weeks ago, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing statements from the pair’s respective representatives.

Lee’s agency, C-JeS Studios, said he had ended the relationship to focus on work, “leaving them as colleagues who support each other,” Yonhap reported.

The agencies had confirmed their relationship in late February – a rare instance of K-pop singers publicly dating in an industry where stars, known as idols, face heavy scrutiny and pressure from some fans.

Karina came under fire after the news broke – with some fans sending a truck with an electronic billboard to the headquarters of Karina’s agency, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. “Do you not get enough love from your fans?” it read. “Why did you choose to betray your fans?”

“Please apologize directly. Otherwise, you’ll see declining album sales and empty concert seats,” it added.

Shortly after, Karina did so with a handwritten letter posted on Instagram, apologizing to her supporters and vowing to “show more maturity and work harder going forward to all (my fans) without disappointment.”

Not all fans were upset – many expressed support for Karina and Lee, arguing that stars deserve to have private lives and personal relationships as well.

But that wasn’t always the case. In the past, K-pop stars who went public with their relationships have faced heavy public backlash, sometimes impacting their professional careers and contracts. As a result, record labels have long imposed strict rules on their stars, limiting their ability to date publicly – and promoting the fantasy of accessible, unhitched celebrities.

There have been some signs of change in recent years, with attitudes slowly shifting among both fans and agencies. Notably, the agencies of Blackpink singer Jisoo and actor Ahn Bo-hyun confirmed last year that they were dating.

But as the billboard incident showed, the taboo lingers – and though Karina and Lee’s statements made no mention of the controversy, fans were quick to blame the incident for the end of the relationship.

“I’m truly disappointed and I don’t understand why two people who love each other should separate because of fans. Your private life is nobody’s business except the parties involved. This is truly disgusting,” read one top comment under Karina’s most recent Instagram post this week.

Another commenter wrote: “The next time you’re dating someone you are NOT posting an apology!!”

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