While K-Pop has evolved a lot over time, there are still certain types of concepts and imagery that the Korean public finds more appealing and acceptable than others. For girl groups especially, the clean, pure, innocent concept is still looked most highly upon, although girl crush and darker or sexier concepts have become slightly more accepted, just not so much around conservative groups.

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At first glance, the K-Pop group Honey Popcorn seemed to fit these ideals. With bright, bubbly personalities, a colorful and cute debut concept, and pretty visuals, they came across as any other rookie girl group of the day when they released their first music video, “Bibidi Babidi Boo”, in March 2018.

However, there was more to the three-member group than met the eye. The three girls — Mikami Yua, Sakura Moko, and Matsuda Miko — originally started out as J-Pop members from the bands SKE48, NMB48 and Bakusute Sotokanda Icchome, respectively.

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But that’s not all. After “retiring” from these groups, the three girls joined the Japanese adult film industry, which is where their controversy stems from. Yua even joined a music group comprised of Japanese adult video stars, Ebisu Muscats, before she joined Honey Popcorn.

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In a heavily conservative culture such as South Korea, the fact that the girls worked as adult video actresses while also trying to debut as a K-Pop group was not well-accepted. In fact, people protested so much that a petition was even filed on the presidential website, trying to get the Korean government involved in banning the group from the industry.

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“There are many cases where idol stars directly affect fans. Idols are heroes to the young, especially teens,” the petitioner wrote. The petition did end up getting over 35,000 signatures, with one Twitter user writing, “Is it not a problem if they film porn while promoting themselves as K-pop idols? I hope they never return to our country.”

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The group, which was created under Kyun Create, was prepared to have a showcase in mid-March, but it was cancelled after these protests, presumably because of the backlash. However, the public was surprised when the decision was reversed, and Honey Popcorn did end up having their showcase along with the release of their debut EP the same day.

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The girls were well-aware of their controversy. Yua, the leader of the group, spoke at the showcase, saying, “I am engaged in such [adult video] work in Japan. I also consider that work serious, but right now I want to focus on promoting Honey Popcorn.” She added, “I will try to be grateful for the fans who can root for us.”

Yua herself was openly a huge fan of K-Pop, with a YouTube channel that featured many videos of her dancing various girl group choreographies. In fact, Honey Popcorn itself was apparently, basically, a passion project that Yua funded on her own, and the production value of their music videos is even more impressive with this in mind.

Fortunately, not all those that spoke about Honey Popcorn were against the group, and they did gain a loving fanbase despite their controversies. One user on Melon stated, “I want to live in a world where Honey Popcorn can sing with confidence.” Another reasoned, “Korean girl groups also often perform lewd dance moves. Is there a reason why these girls can’t follow the footsteps of idol girl groups?”

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@HONEYPOPCORN1/Twitter

In December 2018, member Miko Matsuda stated that she would be retiring from the group, and in June of 2019, three new members — Nako Miyase, Ruka Tajima, and Sara Izumi — joined. They released another music video, “De-aeseohsta“, the following month as a 5-member group, but that has been the last that’s been heard from them.

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@HONEYPOPCORN1/Twitter

Hopefully they are all able to continue to pursue whatever makes them happy, and if that’s being a K-Pop idol, maybe they will be able to make more music in the future!