The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Rich enough to ‘flex’ but not enough to pay taxes, apparently

Rapper's overdue taxes, health insurance bills reveal a less glamorous side of the 'flex' culture

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Jan. 3, 2023 - 14:42

    • Link copied

Dok2 (Instagram) Dok2 (Instagram)

The South Korean national health insurance operator's list of heavy defaulters – those whose overdue premiums payments exceed 10 million won ($7,833) – includes self-styled “rich” rapper Dok2. He has failed to pay 16.6 million won from 2018 to 2019, it showed.

The revelation came just a month after the National Tax Service made public the same rapper’s overdue balance of 320 million won in taxes. When this was disclosed, Dok2 posted promotional images of his upcoming album on Instagram, with no mention of his tax arrears.

The National Health Insurance Service did not reveal how the amount of Dok2’s unpaid premiums has changed after 2019. But since it removes the names of those whose overdue payments fall below 10 million won, Dok2’s name on the list means he still owes at least 10 million won to the NHIS as of 2023.

While the musician himself has remained silent on the situation, the public has been vocal about the apparent irony of a man who famously bragged about his wealth in his songs and public appearances.

The case of Dok2 adds to a string of controversies surrounding celebrities and social media influencers who earned fame by showing off their riches in what is called the “flex culture.”

‘Flex’ and hip-hop

In his song “1LLIN,” Dok2 raps: “Get money, get dough/Get paper, let’s get more.”

The irony of the current situation is that Dok2 has been the posterchild of a lavish spending culture among younger Koreans. In the past, he revealed on TV that he has stacks of 50,000 won bills at his home and held a performance in which he scattered 10,000 won bills to his fans during his 2019 concert.

Dok2 shows off stacks of money and numerous luxury items in his home during a 2015 Mnet appearance. (Mnet) Dok2 shows off stacks of money and numerous luxury items in his home during a 2015 Mnet appearance. (Mnet)

Among Koreans, boasting one’s wealth through lavish conspicuous consumption is widely called “flexing,” a narrow application of the original US slang term that means showing off one’s physique, belongings, or anything considered valuable. Flexing is often seen as an attempt to signal that one is superior to others though such traits or belongings.

Its popularity grew in the country with frequent uses from local rappers including Giriboy and Yumdda, the former of whom released a song named “flex” in 2018.

Korean rappers have not been shy about demonstrating their spending habits. Dok2 has said on TV that he bought a Bentley and a Ferrari for his birthday, while another rapper called Yumdda posted a YouTube video of himself spending 40 million won in a single day.

Less glamorous side of flexing

The flex culture has taken off as a sociocultural phenomenon, not just here, but abroad.

Celebrities, influencers and even ordinary people gain large followings on social media by showing off designer clothes, expensive homes and luxurious overseas vacations.

But this has not been without some adverse effects.

Appearing on TV, Korean rapper Sleepy shared how he felt pressured to flex, despite his financial limitations.

A 2018 episode of the KBS show “Kim Saeng-min’s Receipt” showed unpaid bills piled up at the rapper’s rented home, whose luxury car was given by a friend and expensive watch had stopped working. The musician revealed that he had only 70,000 won left in his bank account.

“That was when rappers had to flex. I felt pressure to post (photos of) brand new (luxury) items on social media,” he said, adding that he had changed his ways since then. He stopped buying brand-name products and worked part-time jobs to save up.

Last year, a YouTuber named Song Ji-ah with over 2 million subscribers was embroiled in a controversy after it was revealed that many of the designer label clothes and accessories that she wore in her videos which she claimed to be authentic turned out to be fake.

This image is not directly related to the story. (123rf) This image is not directly related to the story. (123rf)

Lim Myung-ho, professor of psychology and psychotherapy at Dankook University, said watching someone flex allows viewers a vicarious experience. “Many people have the desire to be rich, and (watching these videos) is a way of circumventing such desires,” he said.

A survey last year by local school uniform brand Smart of 783 middle and high school students found that nearly half -- 46 percent -- of them have bought brand-name products, with the leading causes being that they “saw celebrities use it” and “didn’t want to be left out among friends.”

On Dok2's tax and health insurance arrears, internet users left some scathing remarks.

“I thought this was a man who boasted about his cars and money on TV,” wrote one commenter on a news article about Dok2 being accused by the NTS of not paying taxes.

“Celebrities who don’t pay taxes (...) It’s our (the public’s) money that makes them rich. Paying taxes is the least they can do to give back to society,” wrote another.