Over the past few years, K-pop has become increasingly popular among people of all ages.
Korean pop groups have been breaking records, covering music charts, emerging into the Western entertainment industry and winning the hearts of listeners all around the world. Fans admire these Korean idols due to their overflowing talent, charisma and visuals.
However, what most of us forget to realize is the difficult life many Korean pop idols hold in their past and even in the present.
Before even having the chance to train under entertainment companies, kids and young teens attend cutthroat auditions, which on average have competitive rates of 700:1.
If one manages to pass the audition, they are put under a contract with their corresponding company. These contracts can range from two years to a decade. Once in the company’s training program, trainees go by schedules starting as early as 4 a.m. and ending as late as midnight.
A typical K-pop trainee’s day is filled with dance practice and vocal lessons as well as added Korean language lessons for foreign trainees. Extremely unhealthy dieting was highly encouraged, with companies wanting women from 5’2 to 5’9 to weigh the same weight of a maximum of 104 pounds.
In a BBC article headlined “I could have been a K-pop idol – but I’m glad I quit”, former K-pop trainee Elaine Chong said it was common for trainees to pass out due to exhaustion, and it was normalized for trainees to starve themselves.
Chong told the BBC, “The attitude among the trainees after that [collapsing due to exhaustion] was like, “Good for her! She wants it so much!” Looking back on it now, I think it was really disgusting.”
On top of achieving and maintaining small-scale weight measurements, trainees would go under monthly evaluations.
In the case of YG Entertainment, one of the current three most successful Korean entertainment companies would require trainees to perform one group performance as well as one solo performance.
Trainees would be evaluated by staff, receiving heartless criticism, and those who failed to bring out a satisfactory performance were sent home.
In the Netflix documentary “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky“, Jennie Kim of BLACKPINK said, “I remember having to send a good friend of mine home every month because they got eliminated from the test,” and “Being told that I’m not good at stuff face-to-face and trying to keep everything together, when I hear those things, it was very harsh.”
As an outsider of the Korean entertainment industry, it can be obvious to see how cruel the treatment of K-pop trainees can be. It’s common for us to question the industry’s tactics and why haven’t they terminated these jarring rules.
The answer to this is that it’s because it works. As unfortunate as it is, the inhumane treatment of trainees and idols is what shapes them into the picture-perfect celebrities we see on TV. The idea of failure and stress allows the motivation of trainees to grow.
The members of the top-selling girl group Twice have opened up about what it was like before debuting. Japanese member of Twice, Momo revealed how their company had instructed her to lose 7kg in a week to be in time for the group’s debut showcase, according to the International Business Times.
The past trainee exercised 24/7 consuming nothing but a single ice cube, afraid that even that would cause her to put on weight. The trainee was terrified to go to sleep, fearful that she wouldn’t wake up again, proving that as horrible as the environment is, it was stressful enough to “help” trainees reach their goals.
Having already put trainees through enormous amounts of stress, these feelings of anxiety are carried throughout idols’ careers.
Because of the perfect image companies have tried so hard to shape their trainees into, they create a standard for every single idol in the industry. Everyone is perfect, and if someone isn’t perfect, they’re deemed to be “unworthy” of being an idol. This strict mindset of companies influences netizens, molding their mentality to expect perfect idols and to tear down anyone who is any less than that.
Simply put, the conditions that young kids and teens are put through during training programs are inhumane and wrong.
Over the past few years, numerous idols have opened up about the immense amount of stress they are put under as a trainee and as an idol. With countless hours of work and practice, harsh expectations and criticism from netizens, and colossal amounts of pressure put on them by their companies, certain idols have gone as far as taking their own lives, deciding that this so-called “perfect and glamorous” life wasn’t worth it, according to People.
Although training methods used by entertainment companies have proven to be more than successful, as a fan, it saddens me to see people that I look up to being treated so poorly while also being forced to put up a happy front for commercial purposes.
To add to that, many fans despise the companies’ tactics so much to the point where they would boycott upcoming promotions and releases and refuse to purchase merchandise, hurting the company’s sales and therefore, forcing companies to give in to their demands.
A fine example of this was when in 2019 BlackPink fans also known as “Blinks” sent a truck to YG Entertainment, displaying a list of demands they wanted from the company due to the lack of activity and the releases the group was partaking in, according to Billboard.
At the time, BlackPink was the most successful Korean girl group and was given one musical release a year when it was obvious that members of the group were keen to release more. As a result of this protest, YG Entertainment was quick to release a statement saying that the girl group would be releasing an album early in 2020.
However, within all of the negative stigma surrounding the Korean entertainment industries, there are certain diamonds in the rough that prioritize the health of their idols.
BigHit Entertainment, currently the most successful Korean entertainment company managing popular international boy group BTS, according to the L.A. Times, is one group that seems to take the wellbeing and health of their idols into account. This can be seen from the boys’ scheduled breaks to their physique.
The infamous boy group was given a break in 2019 for a few months rewarding them for all of their hard work throughout the past few years, according to BBC, allowing them to rest from their usually hectic schedules.
Fans have also noticed healthy weight gain from the BTS members, which stands in contrast to other idols who put themselves under dangerously low weight measures. It is clear to see the difference in how different companies treat their artists and how the difference in treatment can affect the group’s overall well-beings and mental health.
This shows that companies don’t always need to enforce harsh rules towards their artists in order to create a successful group.