APRIL Members Open Up About Bullying Controversy Involving Hyunjoo
In February 2021, Hyunjoo’s brother and her high school acquaintance shared posts online alleging that Hyunjoo had been bullied by the other APRIL members. DSP Media denied the allegations and took legal action against Hyunjoo and her family and friends. In April, Hyunjoo released a personal statement about the allegations, which DSP Media again denied. Chaewon and Yena were the first APRIL members to personally respond to the allegations, followed by Naeun and Jinsol. Hyunjoo took legal action against a former DSP Media employee, while DSP Media’s defamation case against Hyunjoo’s acquaintance was recently dismissed by the police. Chaewon once again denied that she had bullied Hyunjoo, and Hyunjoo shared a new post on her Instagram account, which Chaewon responded to.
The four members held an exclusive interview with Sports Kyunghyang to speak up about the current situation. They are all receiving psychiatric treatment and suffering from deep mental distress. They said, “Our time stopped on February 28. We’re the victims, not the perpetrators. We are being cornered as evil people and treated like sinners, and we want to set things straight.” Naeun, who was named as the instigator, added, “I feel like I’m being driven to death.”
When asked why they had kept silent for a long time, they replied, “It’s because the agency told us ‘to stay still.’ We didn’t do anything wrong, so we thought the truth would be revealed if we waited. But we’ve realized for the past four months that the occupation of being an ‘idol’ is one that’s difficult to receive understanding. There are some things we weren’t able to share in order to protect APRIL and former member Hyunjoo.”
The members shared why they agreed to do this interview. They said, “The misunderstanding seemed to grow further with only the agency’s official statement and our individual posts. In addition, we got so angry when we saw Hyunjoo write, ‘I will forgive you if you admit your wrongdoings and try to make them right.’ We’ve never done anything wrong or made a mistake to Hyunjoo. APRIL has grown with the concept of ‘clean idols’ for seven years. There were some things we didn’t want to reveal, but many people wanted us to share evidence. Now, we want to show everything.”
Then the girls discussed issues involving the shoes and tumblers that became controversial. They shared, “At that time, there were 200-300 pairs of shoes at the entrance of our dormitory. The company gifted each member with two pairs of the same shoes, for a total of 12 pairs. They’re ordinary shoes that any rookie girl groups would receive. They’re not expensive, and there’s no reason to steal them. It’s not like we wrote our names on them, and we didn’t know which shoes belonged to which person. It doesn’t make sense that we would steal shoes to bully someone. Four of the members are size 230, so we would often get the shoes mixed up. At that time, we would just think, ‘I wore the wrong pair.’ No one thought, ‘Someone stole them with malicious intent.'”
Concerning the tumblers, Naeun explained, “It is similar to the shoe situation. There are dozens of tumblers, nearly 100 of them, throughout the dorm and in the kitchen cabinet. There were so many that when our mothers came to help us clean, they said, ‘You have more tumblers than Starbucks. You could even open a café.’
“Many people wondered if it was dwenjang (soybean paste) stew or cheonggukjang (fermented soybean paste), but it was dwenjang stew. At that the time, the agency prevented us from buying food from restaurants because we were on a diet, so we bought salad and fruits or got food from a convenience store. My mom made dwenjang stew and froze it, so I heated it up, added tofu, and took it in a tumbler to work.
“The tumbler was red, not light pink [as Hyunjoo’s brother had claimed]. It didn’t even have a name on it. When I used that tumbler, she wasn’t even at the dorm. She was always sick, and at her request, she rarely lived at the dorms except when she was a trainee and early into our debut.
“I’ve never seen Hyunjoo use that tumbler before, and she neither said it was a precious item nor that it was given to her before her grandmother passed away. When she got very angry after seeing that tumbler that day, I apologized right away. I shared the stew with the members and washed the tumbler cleanly when I came home.”
Warning: discussion of suicidal thoughts
During the interview, it was pointed out that Hyunjoo attempted to take her own life because she was bullied by everyone. In response, the members said, “All of our members were afraid of Hyunjoo. Yet, we bullied and ostracized her? That’s absurd.”
They went on to explain, “Her brother wrote that after she tried to end her life, we realized what we did and apologized. That’s completely wrong. We’ve never seen or heard her trying to take her life. Since we didn’t know, we didn’t apologize to her.
“If you think about it, who would ignore their own member when they’re trying to take their own life? We would’ve naturally went to visit her right away. However, we didn’t have cellphones, and we didn’t hear anything from the agency. We learned about the details after this incident occurred.
“We tried to comfort Hyunjoo, who was having a hard time living in the dorm, and there’s even a video clip of us celebrating her birthday. We didn’t film it for broadcasting, but we threw a real surprise party for her. Hyunjoo was really happy back then. If she really had been bullied, that kind of video wouldn’t even exist.”
When asked if they talked with Hyunjoo, they answered, “She always said that she didn’t want to be an idol and that it was difficult being one. She said she wanted to be an actress.”
They continued, “Ever since Hyunjoo was a trainee, she always said she was sick. She often missed practice and made it hard for us. She even missed two music show schedules. On September 11, she didn’t show up for the rehearsal for KBS’s ‘Music Bank.’ At that time, we couldn’t take pictures on our way to work and had to enter through the back of the building. We still clearly remember crying because she didn’t show up before rehearsal and practicing the five-member version of the choreography in a hurry. She came back before the live show saying, ‘I should still do the live broadcast.’ Since then, we weren’t able to appear on the broadcast station while promoting that song, and we thought we had been penalized.
“For ‘Tinkerbell’ activities, she didn’t appear on MBC’s ‘Show Champion.’ We didn’t even know the reason. She didn’t appear even before our live broadcast, and our manager told us to back home. We took off all our makeup and hair accessories and headed back to our dorms crying. The next day, our agency said we have to work as a four-member group now, so we worked on the choreography all night long. Even at that time, we just thought, ‘Hyunjoo must be sick again.'”
APRIL also discussed the “rotten kimbap” incident mentioned by Hyunjoo’s brother. They explained, “When we came back to the car after finishing our schedule, there was kimbap in the back seat where the youngest members were. It was May, and maybe it was because we left it in the car, but there was a foul smell. Hyunjoo started to spray a lot of perfume. Yena is sensitive to smell, so she quickly got a headache, and we asked her to stop spraying perfume, but she started screaming like usual. She was shouting so much, and the manager who was talking on the phone at the time told her to be quiet. Chaewon delivered the message and told her to lower her voice. Hyunjoo started cursing at her, and she even yelled at Yena, saying, ‘Why are you opening your eyes like that?’ The next day, she didn’t show up for ‘Show Champion.’ We didn’t think she missed the show because of that. We just thought she was sick again, but we never saw her after that.”
When asked why they thought this incident occurred, they said, “There’s a limit to idols who live apart from their families without cellphones in their adolescence. We’re all adults now, but some us were 14-15 years old at the time. We weren’t able to get along with each other during the short trainee period. Also, we can’t get close to all the members, and we may not want to. Not everyone can get along. Is that so wrong? All girl groups are probably like that. We might get jealous of each other, and we may get hurt by words, even though they’re not intentional. But we endure it while trying to adjust to each other. We believe all idols, senior idols, and trainees will understand us.
“When we were living in the dorms, we couldn’t say anything even if we were upset. At that time, we only did what the agency told us to do. We didn’t even have time to take care of each other. We started missing each other and realizing how precious we are to each other when we lived separately after five years, but due to Hyunjoo, APRIL fell apart. We hope she doesn’t blame the members for the hardships she went through.”
The members then talked about their plans for the future. They commented, “First of all, we’d like to apologize to our fans.”
They continued, “All the members have devoted everything since their teens to make APRIL what it is now. There were some issues, but we endured them well. None of us want the team to disappear in disgrace under the stigma of being a ‘bullying group’ due to someone’s distorted claim. Some of the members suffered from Hyunjoo’s insincerity and lies and had such a hard time that they wanted to die. We hesitated to disclose all the information, but now, all of us will do our best to explain expose until it is resolved.
“We understand that the police dismissed the defamation case against Hyunjoo’s younger brother and classmate. That just means there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the claims were false and not that the content of their posts are true. We will ask for a reinvestigation on charges of defamation caused by timely false information, and we hope that the truth will be revealed through a deeper investigation.”
When asked what happened before Lee Hyunjoo left the group, the APRIL members responded, “In consideration of Lee Hyunjoo who was having a difficult time with dorm life, our agency allowed her to use her cell phone, and they also allowed her to go back and forth from her home while promoting. However, we had a hard time because Lee Hyunjoo accused us of being criminals.” They said that Hyunjoo frequently claimed that the members stole her belongings. “One day, Lee Hyunjoo said 100,000 won (approximately $88) disappeared. Lee Hyunjoo named the youngest Jinsol who was her roommate as the culprit and said it would be somewhere like her pockets, and Jinsol fell to the ground and bawled at the humiliation while having her back pockets checked. She said all of our bags should be checked, so we emptied all of our bags. It felt like we were stripped. We didn’t have rights. It was really unbearable. At the time, CCTV footage was checked from our dorm and outdoors, but such actions were not found.”
They continued, “One time, Lee Hyunjoo claimed, ‘Yena and Jinsol tripped and hit me in the practice room.’ The CCTV footage checked, and there were no such actions. She then changed what she said to claim it was in the hallway in front of the bathroom. Again, there were no such actions in the CCTV footage, and she then changed what she said to claim she was hit in the bathroom with no CCTV.”
One member recalled, “There were 5,000 won (approximately $4) practice sweats sold at the underground shopping center. They were navy and all the same style, so they couldn’t be told apart. I took them out to wear after my mom put them in the drawer, and Lee Hyunjoo said, ‘Hey, those are my pants.’ I thought it was a joke and asked, ‘Why are these your pants?’ She responded, ‘The length looks like my pants.’ I once again became a thief, and everyone came rushing over. My feelings at that time cannot be expressed in words. I thought, ‘If I am with this person, I’ll become a criminal.’ Because incidents like this happened so often, our members eventually wrote our initials and numbers on our personal belongings and underwear.”
The APRIL members said that they would also suggest to Hyunjoo that they should eat together, but she would respond that she doesn’t want to. “She then went to the agency and said, ‘They went to eat without me.’ Lies like this continued repeating, and we were again summoned and scolded. We later got so stressed that we said, ‘Let’s buy a voice recorder.’”
The interviewer asked the members if they ever told Hyunjoo to stop, and they replied, “Hyunjoo didn’t ask us directly. Normally if one of your belongings disappears, you would ask first, ‘Have you seen this?’ Without that process, she went straight to the company and told them. Then we’d all have to gather up and be treated like criminals. That we bullied her? That’s not true. Hyunjoo framed all of us. At the time she claimed that there was theft and violence, we looked into the facts with our company, but it was never found to be true. Also, other than Hyunjoo, no one ever said that their belongings had disappeared or that they were ostracized. Nothing remotely similar happened after she left the dorm.”
Asked why they believed the “bullying” issue was raised in the first place, the members explained, “Hyunjoo was always sick and absent from practice. She was like a time bomb who could explode at any moment, so it was scary. We honestly had to be careful with our every word. But as members of the same [group], we worked hard to understand her, take care of her, and get along with her because we wanted to protect both APRIL and Hyunjoo.
“For Hyunjoo’s birthday in February 2016, before she left the group, we organized a birthday party for her. We didn’t film this video for a show. It’s a real video from the birthday party. We turned off the lights and had a surprise party for her, and Hyunjoo was really happy when she was blowing out the candles. If she was really bullied and we had really bullied her, we would not have held a birthday party so happily.”
One of the members also spoke about a time when she bought shoes for Hyunjoo during a time when she had no money of her own and was receiving allowance from her mother. She shared that she put the shoes in Hyunjoo’s locker along with a letter saying, “I wish you’ll be happy, unnie.” The member added, “Hyunjoo wore the shoes when she appeared on KBS 2TV’s ‘The Unit.’ I was so happy. If I had perpetrated violence against her, would she have worn those shoes on the show?”
To wrap up the interview, the members shared a few words they wanted to say to Hyunjoo. “I don’t know why she’s forgetting all of the happy memories with the members and only having distorted memories… It’s such a shame. Because of this incident, our hard work from the past seven years has come to nothing. We are in great pain as even our families are being criticized. APRIL now has the title of a ‘group of bullies,’ and even when time has passed, our members will live on with the title of ‘perpetrator of bullying.’ We want to receive an apology from Hyunjoo who brought this situation about, and we want to tell her to return things back to the way they were with her own hands.”
Recently, Naeun’s older sister recently revealed photos of some of the pages in Naeun’s journal to defend her. However, one of the pages behind the page shown in the photo appeared to include a sentence that was criticizing someone, leading to greater public backlash against Naeun.
Sports Kyunghyang stated that they had gotten their hands on Naeun’s journal from 2016, which was filled with APRIL’s scheduled activities, hearts and star marks next to her loved ones’ birthdays, and handwritten phone numbers of her family and manager on the last page because the group could not use their cellphones. The news outlet described her journal as “not much different from that of any other teenage girl.” She wrote about her fans, “I met our fans, and I was happy,” while referring to them respectfully. She also wrote, “It was a really fun day,” after coming home from watching a movie with her manager or group member, or “Why am I like this,” when she was scolded while recording a song, after which she added, “I’ll work harder.”
However, her journal entries from February 2016 also contained several instances of Naeun expressing her pain due to Hyunjoo’s alleged reluctance to practice, lies, and contrasting behavior. On another day in a different month, she wrote, “I want to die because of [Hyunjoo] unnie.”
Sports Kyunghyang also secured the APRIL members’ psychotherapy records, which confirmed that Naeun and Chaewon had received therapy for six months at the time of the aforementioned journal entry. The outlet added that Yena and Jinsol were too young at the time and found therapy to be too difficult.
Sports Kyunghyang revealed some more entries from the members’ journals and psychotherapy records in 2016.
On February 25, Naeun wrote in her journal, “[Hyunjoo] unnie is sick again. Even more so these days, I’m growing more tired, and the members are growing tired. I want to know what the problem is. Is it too big of a problem for me to understand… does she really want to achieve this dream?”
Naeun recorded in her journal on February 27, “[Hyunjoo] unnie is sick again. The heart is burning. She likes presents, but she says she doesn’t like practicing, working hard, and hardships. If she does it like that, will her wishes come true? Is there an answer to this? It’s a miserable and tiring day.”
Naeun’s psychotherapy record for March 31 says, “I’m in a very serious state. Several times in a day, I want to die. [Hyunjoo] only tries to win the crown without exerting any effort.”
Chaewon’s psychotherapy record on April 16 reads as follows. “She was sick during one year out of her two years as a trainee, but she’s so selfish… I don’t want to see her anymore. I also don’t like that all of the other kids are having a hard time…I’m wondering if we’re fools for working hard…I think I’m at my limit now. I’m just hanging on each day. I don’t cry much, but I’ve been crying every day recently. These days, I want to die.”
Yena wrote in her journal on May 13, “For the first time, we performed at a music show as four members. I kept getting confused because it has only been two days since it was changed to four members, so I made a mistake. I was really worried. When we stepped down from the stage, our members poured out the tears they had been holding in. I feel miserable today too.”
However, on June 21, netizens have pointed out that one of the photos presented as evidence is incorrect. APRIL shared they took the photo in 2015, but netizens claimed that it was actually taken in 2016 during their reality program “APRIL’s My Wish.” The sticker photos have the logo “STYLE NANDA” on them, but the outfit that Naeun is wearing in the photos resemble what she wore during the reality program.