Idols no longer girls, but women

In Korea, a handful of K-pop starlets have long been dubbed "Korea's little sisters," a Korean term that indicates nationwide affection toward the girls.

But the nickname, which has been awarded to lovable, girl-next-door types, comes with an implicit expectation that the girls would stay forever innocent.

Defying the expectation, a growing number of K-pop starlets are proving that they, too, can date men and fall in love.

Singer-songwriter IU sent shockwaves throughout the nation when a selfie of her in her pyjamas with Super Junior member Eunhyuk went viral in November 2012.

Some fans immediately looked more closely at the photo and said IU was wearing pyjamas and posing "too close" to Eunhyuk.

The photo, posted by IU herself on her Twitter, sparked speculation that IU was romantically involved with the male idol. Other "evidence" such as IU's former remarks on TV shows and the two wearing same items in separate photos continued to surface.

Many Koreans felt both betrayed and disappointed by the 18-year-old starlet, who declared that she was no longer a girl.

But the scandal did not deal a blow to IU's career. IU became freer to make daring moves and take on challenges in her music and acting in a departure from her girly image. Music fans here say that they could sympathize more with her love songs now.

Following the incident, more and more female idols made public their relationships.

Girls' Generation member Yoona, 24, baffled many Korean men when she confirmed that she had been dating singer-actor Lee Seung-gi, 28, on New Year's Day in 2014.

Just two days later, Yoona's bandmate Sooyoung, 25, also said that she had been in a relationship with 31-year-old actor Jung Kyung-ho.

It doesn't end there. Another member, Tiffany, 25, made public her relationship with 2PM member Nichkhun, 26, in April.

A series of confirmations about their romantic relationships with male stars have made Korean fans realise that the female idols are not girls any longer.

And then came Miss A's Suzy, 20, who recently confirmed that she had been dating hallyu actor Lee Min-ho, seven years her senior.

The news surfaced on March 23 after local news outlet Dispatch released the photos in which the two were seen on a date in London.

Many of her avid fans, mostly men, expressed disappointment, with a netizen going as far as to say "I thought that she was innocent girl who does not know anything about men" on Twitter.

Suzy has been hailed as "Korea's icon of first love" since she debuted in the nostalgic film "Architecture 101" that later became one of the most watched movies in Korean film history.