SEOUL, South Korea — Two of South Korea’s pop idols, HyunA and E’Dawn, have learned of the painful cost of falling in love and declaring their relationship in public: On Thursday, they were fired by their management company.
The two performers’ falling out with their Seoul-based label, Cube Entertainment, opened a rare window on the jealously guarded world of K-pop stars, who go through highly regimented training from an early age, and on the companies that help them build worldwide followings.
“No dating” clauses were once common in the contracts of young K-pop stars, according to industry experts, with many managers saying that publicly disclosed romances would undermine their idols’ allure and careers. Avoiding romantic relationships, or at least keeping them secret, remains an unspoken rule.
So HyunA, 26, one of the genre’s most recognizable female stars, and E’Dawn, 24, a boyband rapper with a smaller but still substantial global fan base, took a highly unusual step in going public with their relationship last month, contradicting an earlier denial by Cube.
“When we manage artists, we consider mutual trust and faith our top priority,” the label said in a statement released to local news outlets on Thursday, explaining why it had removed the two star artists from its roster. “We decided the trust is broken beyond repair, so we are expelling the two from our company.”
The news set off an uproar among K-pop fans in South Korea and beyond.
“HyunA and E’dawn have been kicked out of Cube bc to the industry idols aren’t people. They’re products. They aren’t allowed to be themselves or love who they love,” one fan tweeted, adding: “Ya’ll should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Repeated calls to Cube did not go through on Thursday, and local news outlets reported a near-paralysis of the label’s website as numerous fans tried to connect to at the same time.
HyunA, who rose to global fame after she appeared doing the horse dance in Psy’s runaway hit “Gangnam Style” in 2012, and E’Dawn, a member of the boy band Pentagon, recently worked together in the K-pop trio Triple H.
When reports that the two stars were dating surfaced in the local news media early last month, Cube quickly denied it. But HyunA and E’Dawn apparently went public without their agency’s consent, telling the news agency Yonhap that they had been dating since May 2016.
Although going public could hurt their careers, they said that if they were not honest about it and went along with the company’s denial, they would “not be able to look their fans in the eye.”
After that, relations between Cube and the artists quickly soured. Cube canceled all their scheduled promotions. It promoted a new Pentagon single, “Retro Future,” without E’Dawn.
“The K-pop idol industry is still based on the agency owning the idol, whose character the company creates,” said Kim Zakka, a music critic in South Korea. “Since the business worked based on the fantasy of the fan having a pseudo-relationship with the idol, the idol dating in real life breaks the business model.”
Since HyunA’s character was built to invite “sex fantasy” among fans, the revelation that HyunA was dating a lesser-known peer may have led Cube to conclude that its business model for her would no longer work, Mr. Kim said.
Some local fans supported Cube’s decision, vilifying HyunA and E’Dawn as egotists who had “betrayed” their management company and their colleagues.
But by late Thursday, the drama surrounding HyunA and E’Dawn had developed a further twist.
Local news reports quoted a senior executive of Cube as saying that the decision to kick out HyunA and E’Dawn was “not final.” The comment followed a 6.57 percent drop in Cube’s stock price on Thursday, which market analysts attributed to the news of the two artists’ ouster.