The Kpop industry is a massively growing well-oiled machine that doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. Some of the biggest groups in Kpop such as Big Bang and Girls Generation ( these are some of the better names believe me) are earning in the millions every year. It has created many great artists and songs throughout the years the one most people would know is Psy with his song “Gangnam Style”.
Psy was born to an affluent family in Seoul’s Gangnam district. Like most popstars he didn’t like school and was interested in music. He was able to go to university in America to study business but dropped out to attend the Berklee school of Music but he also soon dropped out of that as well and returned to South Korea. He released a couple of albums but became known as a controversial artist due to the very strict censorship laws in the South Korean entertainment industry. After years of doing Korea’s mandatory military service and having decent success in South Korea he eventually joined YG Entertainment in 2010 and finally in 2012 he released his sixth album and the lead single “Gangnam Style” and the rest is history… to some.
How you become a popstar in Korea
Psy’s is a rather unique way of becoming a successful singer inside of Korea but not to the outside world. Most who do want to succeed in the area aren’t as lucky as Psy to come from a rich family. If you don’t have the connections you have to go audition at one of the multitude of entertainment companies throughout Korea however the biggest and best mostly reside in Seoul such as YG Entertainment , SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and Pledis Entertainment to name but a few.
These companies either hold auditions for people to come and attempt to join them or they send their scouts out like any other record label to find the talent , sometimes, at a very young age. This can result in many stages of auditions to weed out the weaker candidates because in reality these companies are looking for their future return on investment and they all want the best of the best to come work for them … stressing the “for” part.
If you get to the point where they agree to take you on as a trainee you have only begun the hard work. You normally enter what has been commonly referred to as a “slave contract”. When you are in training you may also be in school at the time but the company will require you to do training and exercise almost everyday of the week on top of that. You will be trained in singing , dancing, learning languages of markets they will enter and how to act on tv shows and and how to react with their future fans at every stage. This process could last years and there’s really a cut off point once you are hitting 23/24 years of age you may be considered too old to debut. They will provide accommodation for their trainees in a dorm like setting but depending on the financial resources of the company depends on how decent that accommodation will be.
Phones aren’t allowed while being a trainee so there is very little contact with the outside world and phone usage is still restricted quite a bit even when you have debuted. Another major rule for Kpop idols is the restriction on having a love life. Company CEOs impose strict no dating rules for their idols and will eventually lift the ban once they reach a certain age or for a variety of other factors. This is done so that the fans can feel that the idea of dating their favourite idol is attainable and will hopefully lead to more them buying more merchandise or concert tickets. This has led to the idols trying to date in secret and lead to issues with the media finding out about it. At times there are rules about getting plastic surgery to keep the idol looking young which the company will initially pay for but once you start making money they have the bill waiting for you to pay off which could take years as it will be added to throughout your career as a professional musician. When you are nearing the end of your training you will be put in a certain group of other trainees who the company feels you might work as a group but your spot isn’t guaranteed at any time as new trainees can be brought in to take your place if the company sees fit and you may never debut.
A lot of these companies now are turning the final stages of forming their newest group into a reality show so fans can get invested with the members before they have debuted which makes it even harder on the potential trainees. It is getting harder and harder for these groups to stand out within the already saturated market of the Kpop industry One of these I watched and would recommend if you are interested in the process is about a group called Monsta X (again the names are a weak point of the industry) who have now seen pretty good success but are still considered quite young:
None of the issues ever really came up in the Kpop industry as part of their contracts they aren’t legally allowed to discuss the details of their contracts at all. That was until three members from a very much well known and loved group , TVXQ, brought their company SM entertainment to court saying their 13 year contract was too long and that the distribution of profits was unfair. It became a long drawn out process and the company made the lives of these members hell until the South Korean court decided in favour of the members.
This set a precedent for groups to be able to break away from the grasp of these corporations and produce music independently however it is still quite a financial burden to do this and many idols wouldn’t have anywhere near that kind of money so they are forced to continue with the idol life. While there are many groups out there that are full with happy members but more cases of sexual abuse and poor conditions for idols are showing a lot of the industry for its true colours.