Photo: Omega X via YouTube
Omega X has taken steps to press charges against Spire Entertainment’s former CEO, accusing Kang Seong-hee of verbal and physical abuse, including sexual harassment, the K-pop group announced in a November 16 press conference. The legal action — which includes a filing to terminate their contract with the company — comes a little over three weeks after a fan of the boy band posted an alleged eyewitness account of abuse at the hands of then-CEO Kang on Twitter. Omega X consists of 11 veteran members ranging from 21 to 27 years old — leader Jaehan, Hwichan, Sebin, Hangyeom, Taedong, Xen, Jehyun, Kevin, Junghoon, Hyuk, and Yechan — who previously debuted in other groups before their old bands disbanded or went on hiatus. The so-called “K-Pop Avengers” formed the group as a second (and for some, their last) chance at a ruthlessly competitive industry. Vulture has reached out to Spire Entertainment for comment.
In the weeks leading up to Omega X taking legal action against Spire Entertainment, evidence continued to accumulate against the agency. Kang eventually lost her job, and the band began to speak out. “The reason why we couldn’t help but endure and keep quiet about all of this until now was because we were afraid that our last chance [in the music industry] would disappear if we didn’t,” Jaehan said at the press conference. Below, everything you need to know about the group’s accusations against Spire Entertainment.
The news first surfaced after Twitter user @hwi_418 shared an alleged eyewitness account of an incident in Los Angeles after their concert on October 23. They were waiting for an Uber Eats order to arrive when the fan claimed they saw Kang scold the band and appeared to physically assault the boys. “I saw the CEO of the kids company hitting the kids,” the user alleges, linking an audio recording that purports to show the verbal abuse. “My hands are really shaking, I don’t know what to do.” A member allegedly collapsed to the ground. The woman in the clip can be heard saying, “Have you ever done that for me?” and continued to tell the member, “When I was going through such a hard time, did he ever take care of me? I’ve collapsed before! Get up!” Eagle-eyed fans then unearthed a separate Twitter thread from October 4 that alleges a fan’s mom spotted two Omega X members “being yelled at by a woman” in Chile, fueling outrage online.
On October 24, SBS News published an exposé on the agency and its CEO, releasing multiple videos that claim to show additional incidents of verbal abuse and disturbing behavior. In one such clip, which might be an extended version of the first Twitter user’s account, a person who appears to be CEO Kang allegedly yells at the boys in a Los Angeles parking lot. “Do you think losers like you could be loved by people?” she asked. “Are you big? You didn’t come this far on your own.” Jaehan falls to the ground and she asks the other members if they ever helped her when she fell. The second video released by SBS purports to show Kang grabbing the leader by his collar and throwing him to the floor while his bandmates attempt to intervene.
Spire Entertainment denied all allegations of abuse in a phone call to SBS. “The person who posted the clip on social media, they’re more of an anti-fan against the company,” she claimed, adding, “I just asked them if they have ever helped me when I was having a hard time. An assault? No way.” Omega X’s last post on their shared Instagram account went up on October 19, but beyond their silence on social media, the group did not address the allegations until the coming weeks.
The agency released a full statement the same day the first SBS report was published. “First, we bow our heads in deep apology for having caused concern through this unpleasant news,” Spire Entertainment wrote, going on to claim that the band and the agency “have currently resolved all their misunderstandings, and they ended the conversation by saying that they wanted to move forward while being considerate of each other.” The reconciliation didn’t last long. Another SBS report dropped that day that detailed allegations that the company canceled the members’ plane tickets back to Seoul, an action that some viewed as retaliation, leaving the boys effectively stranded. The next day, SBS reported that the band had to purchase their own tickets with the help of family.
Omega X broke their silence on November 6. Opening their own Instagram account outside the purview of Spire, the band shared their own statement to address the incident for the first time. “We created this small space for communication because we wanted to thank the fans who love us and the people who are cheering us on, and we also wanted to directly inform you of the current situation with our own mouths, as the parties involved in this incident,” they wrote, saying that a contractual agreement left them unable to post on social media without the permission of the agency. “When our suffering recently became known to the world, we were worried that everything we’ve accomplished up until now would evaporate and go up in smoke. However, we have now decided to put our fears behind us and muster courage together.”
“Our group was a second opportunity for our eleven members, who gathered together after rising from difficult times of despair and refusing to give up on our dreams…thanks to our fans, we were able to endure the past two years. There were days when we received such unwarranted treatment from our agency that it made us want to cry, but our only source of strength that made it possible for us to endure it all was remembering the cheers of our fans,” the statement read, promising to continue to perform and “chase our dreams up until the very end.” On November 7, Spire announced that the CEO resigned.
SBS continued to uncover additional allegations of abuse, including a claim that she forced members diagnosed with COVID-19 to perform onstage. Screenshots obtained by SBS on November 11 allege Kang and her husband, the company’s chairman, forced the group to hide positive COVID tests alongside a video where Jaehan can be heard protesting the plan.
The group ultimately decided to move forward with a press conference on November 16, where they announced charges against the agency and a filing to terminate their contract at the Seoul Bar Association, according to reports from Korea JoongAng Daily and the Korea Herald. Omega X detailed new allegations against Kang and the company, including gaslighting and threatening behavior. “Not just Kang, but also employees and managers yelled insults at us and gaslit us,” Jaehan said. “And during the recent world tour, we were physically assaulted by them too.” Yechan recalled, “Another high-up at our agency told us ‘die’ in the group chat while we were touring South America.”
“She not only forced us to drink after our practices, but she made sexually harassing comments and touched our thighs and faces, persistently abusing us sexually,” Jaehan claimed, referring to Kang. “Even when such meetings were over, she would continuously call and text us and verbally assault us.”
“She would threaten us that we should ‘grovel’ if we wanted to remain as Omega X and that she would either kill us or kill herself if we didn’t,” he added.
“We had no choice but to stay with her and do as she wished,” Hangyeom alleged. “She’d also tell us there will be no next album if we reject drinking.” The group also said they are seeking medical treatment. “Whenever I got home, I became anxious that Kang would call any minute,” Hangyeom continued. “I eventually couldn’t take it anymore and started going to a psychiatric clinic. In fact, even now, when I hear a phone ring or vibrate, or anything remotely like an alarm, I panic.”
“Once, when another panic attack happened, I told Kang that I couldn’t breathe. She mocked me, saying, ‘Oh, are we going to see articles that say ‘Omega X becomes a ten-member band because Hangyeom has panic disorder?’ I was shocked by that,” he finished. Multiple members broke down in tears at the press conference. They say Spire Entertainment has not yet given them a “sincere” apology and “threatened us with a falsified statement of accounts,” according to Junghoon. Their lawyers allege the company tried to get the members to pay ₩300 to ₩400 million each (around $220,000 to $298,000) to settle the “debt” they owe, a number in line with SBS reports.
“I know not every agency is like that, but I think a lot of K-pop trainees and even current idols are being treated unfairly,” Taedong said.
There have been multiple allegations of abuse at the hands of K-pop companies. The idol industry is a top-down structure where performers and musicians — who are trained from their preteens or early teens, often living with other trainees under the care of the company — are often replaceable employees who have little power in a system where multiple groups debut each year. The Korean government has taken steps in recent years to loosen the grip these agencies have on stars with laws forbidding underage singers and actors from participating in overnight performances and being pressured into sexualized performances. A separate law sought to end “slave contracts,” or agreements where idols were forced to pay companies an exorbitant amount of money if they breached their contract or decided to leave. The contracts also barred them from signing with other agencies.
In 2019, members of TRCNG shared evidence of TS Entertainment staff members allegedly assaulting and extorting them, while the leader of East Light claimed in 2018 that they were victims of assault. Bigger names like Han Geng of Super Junior and EXO’s Lu Han and Kris Wu filed lawsuits against their former labels, alleging mistreatment, bad contracts, and sexual assault. Fans were also outraged in 2015 when a video from a behind-the-scenes DVD appeared to show a manager raise his hand against BTS’s Jung Kook, who seemed to flinch in response. In that case, Big Hit Entertainment apologized for the incident, fired the staff member, and said they prohibit “coercive or oppressive actions” against artists.