Let's Throw it back to the 90s for part of this episode:
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, listeners to the first K-pop generation must be familiar with groups such as S.E.S., Fin.K.L, Shinhwa, g.o.d, and S#ARP (pronounced ‘sharp’). S#arp, in particular, was a co-ed K-pop idol group that became very popular in an industry most full of single-gender groups. Their fun, upbeat music was able to cut its way through much of the competition and find a place within the K-pop world. S#ARP debuted in 1998 as a five-member co-ed team featuring Lee Ji Hye, Seo Ji Young, John Kim, Oh Hee Jong, and the leader, Jang Suk Hyun. The group’s first album ‘The S#ARP’ a distinct hip-hop feel and featured rap-heavy singles like “Yes”.
Despite the place they made for themselves, S#ARP might be known more for the way they ended rather than what they did during their career as a group. The Korean entertainment industry was shaken with their bullying scandal. Lee Ji-hye was badly bullied by Seo Ji-young, who had the other members bully Lee Ji-Hye as well. The behavior continued to the point that the company was ultimately forced to disband the group.
As mentioned before, S#arp was one of the best co-ed groups and consisted of 5 members, Lee Ji-hye, Seo Ji-young, Jang Seok-hyun, John Kim and Oh Hee-jong. They debuted in 1998 with album ‘The S#arp’. This group was originally funded by Seo Ji-young, who was one of the female members.
S#ARP’s second album, Closer, was a reboot in terms of the group’s musical style. Released in 1999, Closer moved away from the hip-hop style and went with a more of a pop-oriented sound, which was more in line with the other types of idol music being produced at the time. Their single Tell Me Tell Me became a fan favorite whebn its dance-pop sound struck a chord with listeners and became their first song to reach number 1 on the music charts, both the Inkigayo and Music Bank. Another single from the album Closer was also a huge hit for the group, and the upbeat track encapsulated the new sound S#ARP would be known for and has also become one of their most recognizable songs.
In 2001, S#ARP released their fourth album, 4ever Feel So Good and it was unquestionably the biggest album of their careers. The title song, Sweety, became a smash hit that year reached the top of the charts for two weeks. Driven by the vocals of Seo Ji Young and Lee Ji Hye, the song was bright, energetic, and super-cute. It was unavoidable as it swept across the K-pop charts.
The group did extremely well under the production of Roo'Ra's Lee Sang Min who was known for his exceptional song production skills. At the climax of their fame, the company recruited Lee Ji Hye as the main vocalist, which catapulted into a series of jealous torture by Seo Ji Young. (Lee Ji Hye auditioned for her spot to get in while Seo Ji Young just wanted to use the group as a quick play for fame with her friends).
Lee Ji Hye had to suffer countless abuse. Seo Ji Young was dating Ryu Shi Won at the time and even made him go to Lee Ji Hye and slap her while making various threats. Seo Ji Young even forced her mother to find Lee Ji Hye at a broadcast hall and rip her hair out.
For years, Lee Ji Hye suffered this abuse until Seo Ji Young demanded that she be kicked out of the group. The agency refused since the group was already so popular, leading Seo Ji Young to amp up the abuse until the situation got so out of hand that the company announced a press conference announcing their disbandment.
The rumors went wild. People speculated about the reason behind why Lee Ji-hye was being bullied. Some people considered it may caused by jealousy, which was due to the many high notes in their songs, so the company put Lee Ji-hye as the main vocal because she was a great singer. Because of that, Seo Ji-young was jealous of her. Until the group disbanded, Seo Ji-young bullied, threatened, and fought Lee Ji-hye. (Lee Ji-hye got into the group by auditioning with a chance of 1000:1. Seo Ji-young had originally planned to put her friends in the group. But Lee Ji-hye got into the group as the main vocal so Seo Ji-young was afraid that things wouldn’t work out her way.)
The biggest reason behind the disbandment was on a KBS radio show on October 8th, 2002, where Seo Ji Young swore at Lee Ji Hye calling her a useless b*tch. Pissed off, Lee Ji Hye shoved Seo Ji Young, leading Seo Ji Young's mother to find her the next day and physically assault her again at a broadcast hall (October 9th).
While the media was speculating what was going on, the company eventually decided on a disbandment. Seo Ji Young paid her manager to make up lies to make her look like the victim at the press conference. The manager, however, knew the truth behind everything that was going on and just told everyone the truth.
Ryu Shi Won said that after Seo Ji Young didn’t show up for Music Bank, she came to him. He was with her the whole time until late at night. He thought she was going through too much stress, so he brought her to the hospital. He stated that Seo Ji Young had been through hard times before because of Lee Ji Hye, and that this wasn’t the first time. Ryu Shi Won was disappointed that Lee Ji Hye was not really getting punished for her actions. He called their entertainment company headquarters saying “Do you know how much Ji Young’s going through?! She’s already been through bad times because of her.”
Jang Suk Hyun was busy with the filming of the sitcom Orange so, while he was away from the rest of the members, he said that he thinks “Chris and Seo Ji Young left her out, and teased her harshly” and as a closing statement he said “I hope this situation hurrys and just becomes something in the past, and without our two female members, there is no S#arp, so I hope Ji Hye and Ji Young will make up just this once for him, the group, and the team.”
After years had passed, Lee Ji hye and Seo Ji young met again on Intimate Note. Lee Ji hye tried to be friends with Seo Ji young, but Seo Ji young pretended like she was the victim. To this day, she still pretends to be the victim.
Lee Ji Hye then started up a flourishing solo career which ended her up in the hospital from overworking herself. Seo Ji Young visited her with a bouquet of chrsyanthemums (in Korean culture, these flowers are only given to the dead/used for funerals), showing that her hatred for her is still not over.
During the May 7, 2013, episode of MBC’s Human Documentary, Lee Ji Hye talked about the time her fellow member Seo Ji Young had physically and verbally bullied her, leading up to the group’s disbandment in 2002. She recalled her bitter experience with the members 11 years ago.
Lee Ji Hye expressed that she had to hide her feelings and endure a lot of pain, fearing that her group and career would come to an end.
“I even rode in a separate car. I was a member of S#arp, yet I was always alone,” she tearfully recalled.
Jang Suk Hyun, who was still close friends with her, also appeared on the episode. During S#arp’s promotions, he repeatedly asked her to endure the bullying for the sake of the group. “She went through a lot. Only Lee Ji Hye could’ve endured that. If she hadn’t, the group would’ve disbanded much earlier,” said Jang Suk Hyun, praising her strong personality.
For the second part here is a string of cringy (yet kinda cute) commercials from the 2010s for Etude Cosmetics featuring Dara and SHINee