What Happened to RIIZE’s Seventh Member, Seunghan? The Group’s Controversy Explained

What Happened to RIIZE’s Seventh Member, Seunghan? The Group’s Controversy Explained

RIIZE rightfully has been recognized as a potential next-generation leader in K-pop’s ongoing international crossover, in large part thanks to its refreshing embrace of approachability. But the way its label, K-pop giant SM Entertainment, has handled a controversy involving one of the group’s original members has provided a high-stakes window into the ongoing tension between South Korean artists balancing the demands of international careers with the country’s more traditional, accepted social norms. 


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When SM introduced RIIZE’s lineup in July 2023 via 27 casual Instagram photos that wouldn’t look out of place on any influencer’s page, it set a bar for how its seven members – Shotaro, Eunseok, Sungchan, Wonbin, Seunghan, Sohee and Anton – intended to connect with fans online in a relatable way; as Eunseok explained it during RIIZE’s interview in Los Angeles for Billboard’s recent digital cover story, the group wanted to share “a lot of pictures of our daily life and intimate [moments] on social media.”

But only six members of RIIZE participated in the cover. Interviews for the piece occurred almost exactly six months after SM announced that Seunghan would “halt activities” with RIIZE following an August 2023 leak of private, pre-RIIZE photos and videos that showed him kissing an unidentified woman in a bed and smoking a cigarette. Though tame by Western standards, the content went viral in South Korea, a country which has undergone rapid modernization but remains socially conservative — values that extend to the parasocial relationships fans have with South Korean music stars. Some fans condemned Seunghan’s actions – which they deemed inappropriate for a K-pop idol – and protested for his removal even before the highly anticipated boy band’s debut.

Ahead of releasing RIIZE’s critically acclaimed single “Get a Guitar” at the top of September, Seunghan, then 19, took to the group’s Instagram account on Aug. 30 to “sincerely apologize to the fans who are supporting RIIZE,” saying that he “caused damage to our team through personal matters…all out of my carelessness.” Adding that he hadn’t addressed the situation sooner out of fear and nervousness, Seunghan said he “reflected a lot” and vowed to “put the team first” by being more careful both on and off the stage. 

But across the influential Korean websites and forums dedicated to discussing – and, more often than not, tearing down – K-pop celebrities, criticisms of Seunghan continued even after “Get a Guitar” and October’s follow-up “Talk Saxy” began to earn them accolades.

On Nov. 22, 2023, SM Entertainment uploaded a notice that Seunghan was “feeling severely apologetic and is reflecting on himself for causing disappointment and commotion to not only the team and members but also to fans due to issues regarding his personal life that are leaked and circulated.”

While SM did note the content leaks were maliciously edited — calling it “severe defamation” and promising legal action — the label still settled on “the indefinite suspension of [Seunghan’s] activities.” According to its statement at the time, Seunghan also “relayed his intention to halt activities”; the label “judged that it is too difficult for him to continue activities through this situation.” On the same day, through RIIZE’s Weverse account, Seunghan shared in a handwritten letter that he was “deeply reflecting” on his “careless actions from the past” and apologized to the group’s fans (known as BRIIZE), RIIZE members and label staff. 

RIIZE’s members did not mention Seunghan when speaking with Billboard or at their concert in Los Angeles, and a non-SM representative made multiple requests that Billboard not mention Seunghan in the interview for the digital cover story. SM Entertainment did respond to questions about Seunghan’s status with the band, and the company has not provided an update about the legal actions it is taking on Seunghan’s behalf. SM’s company website still lists Seunghan as an artist and a member of RIIZE. Upon the publication of Billboard’s digital cover about RIIZE, popular English-language websites covering Korean entertainment reported on Seunghan’s mention in the story. Koreaboo noted that it “accurately mentioned Seunghan as a current member, something some media sources have not done since his indefinite hiatus began,” which TheUBJ.com echoed, saying Seunghan is “often omitted by other media.” The sites hint at how, in South Korea, K-pop media coverage tends to be heavily screened by management teams, requiring questions before interviews and text approval before publication. (Billboard‘s editorial policy does not allow subjects to review questions or exercise editorial input.)

Now, as they attempt to reach RIIZE’s burgeoning international fanbase, the various parties involved in the group — SM Entertainment, SM’s new majority shareholder Kakao and RIIZE’s U.S. label partner RCA Records — are facing a different group of fans: those demanding an explanation for Seunghan’s situation and an update on his future with RIIZE.

At press time, nearly 19,000 had signed a petition titled “Upholding Artists’ Dignity: A Call to SM Entertainment” calling for legal action regarding the “privacy breach” as well as an “immediate end to Seunghan’s ‘indefinite hiatus.’” During RIIZE’s May 20 fan-concert at L.A.’s Peacock Theater, a small but mighty crew began to chant “RIIZE is seven” and “Seunghan” before the band returned for its encore; similar chants erupted during RIIZE’s fan-concert days earlier in Mexico City. In late May, a behind-the-scenes video from an interview with RIIZE at the Tecate Emblema festival went viral, showing a member of the group’s team requesting that a host modify a question that mentioned “six in the group.” Some fans are even calling for a boycott of RIIZE’s music until a clarification.

Across its three decades as a leader in K-pop, SM Entertainment has acquired plenty of experience negotiating such situations. At two different times in his career, Super Junior’s Kangin was charged with DUIs. He initially took a two-and-a-half-year break from the boy band and went on another hiatus before ultimately withdrawing from Super Junior after his second offense; he remains signed to SM today as a solo act and actor. 

More recently, in 2018, SM introduced Lucas as a member of NCT by way of the boy band’s China-based splinter unit WayV; Lucas was also a part of SM supergroup SuperM. In August 2021, multiple women claiming to have had relationships with the star alleged he had cheated on them and/or subjected them to alleged “gaslighting.” Lucas quickly stepped out of the public eye before officially leaving NCT and WayV in 2023 — although he remained signed to SM and made his solo debut with the EP Renegade in April.

On the other side of the spectrum, SM also stood by Chen of EXO when “scores of protesters” took to the streets to demand he leave the group after the singer announced in January 2020 his plans to marry his girlfriend as well as the fiancée’s pregnancy.

Like Lucas, artists who exit groups and their labels after behavior deemed unsavory by K-pop standards do often successfully return as soloists, though they rarely achieve the same commercial success as their prior groups. While no official news has been shared yet regarding Seunghan’s future, rumors of the 20-year-old attending a Korean “cram school,” possibly in preparation for college exams, have surfaced. While some K-pop stars pursue both music and their studies (all seven members of BTS have university degrees), some wonder if this hints at his exit from entertainment altogether.

For now — even as Seunghan’s future with RIIZE hangs in the balance and fans protest his minimally-explained absence — RIIZE still seems to still be living up to its name. The group’s latest single, “Boom Boom Bass,” released on June 17, has already racked more than 12 million views for its official music video, and RIIZING – The 1st Mini Album (released June 18) has already sold more than one million physical copies globally, according to South Korea’s real-time album sales website Hanteo Chart. Make of it what you will: on album track “Talk Saxy,” Seunghan’s vocals are still there.