Being a K-Pop Idol Probably Sucks

Seven musicians stood on a platform together, ready to be lifted up to a sold out crowd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. At that point they could probably hear the roaring crowd, the fire being shot into the air, and the music that they would soon be performing with in harmony. For the fourth night that week, K-Pop group BTS were ready to put on a show. The group has seen worldwide success, and is slated to go even farther as time moves on. They aren’t on top of the world, but safe money goes to them being there one day. While they are called idols, you wonder how much you should actually idolize their lifestyle.

A Peek Behind The Curtain Of The K-Pop Industry

The Big 3 and BigHit vs. The Rest

BTS are on, success-wise, an all time high and it’s easy to be envious of that. The group had their tough times in the past and groups that are of lower popularity sometimes see even more struggle. It wasn’t always packed crowds in NBA and MLB venues, and it wasn’t always the celebrity lifestyle that most see now.

When BTS first started out they shared one house. Excuse me, I meant to say one room. They were signed to BigHit, a company that had only started up in 2005. The company had never managed an idol group on their own. Money is tight for nearly anyone who debuts while not with JYP, YG and SM, the “Big Three” companies. Similar to musicians signing an advance on a deal, K-Pop has what some would refer to as “trainee debts”`Just like any part of life, some have it worse than others. The “Big Three” labels pay their employees once they debut, while other labels make people pay off debts.

Empty Pockets

When it comes to “brand reputation”, WJSN ranked ninth when pitted against other girl groups. One would think that ninth in a category of music would have you raking in the cash. 2016 was the year  the then rookie group won the Asia Artist Awards “Rising Star Award.” On paper they seem like a fairly successful group. Only a few days ago in an interview hyping up their new release, the group revealed that they have yet to get one paycheck.

Everyone loves to hear a story like the previously mentioned BTS. Humble beginnings and rising above the odds is something that everyone loves. Sadly, for some people “the come up” never happens. BerryGood recently shed tears at their latest album showcase, fearing that this might be their last release. Despite artists having a whole team behind the scenes that works with them, they often place the burden on themselves. Leader of the group, Taeha, said that she wanted to “make a lot of money for our CEO.”

Image Matters

While financials isn’t talked about in the K-Pop industry, it only scratches the surface of what idols and trainees have to manage. Public image is something that everyone has to maintain. Imagine every day that you leave your house you have to look happy, humble and pretty. Not on the odd day that you feel amazing or look good, every single day. No exceptions.

On a VLive show, Momo, member of girl group TWICE, recounted how she had to lose 7kg (15 lbs) of body weight in a week to be featured in a showcase. Translations of the monologue quote that Momo “didn’t eat anything for a week”. Momo claimed that her lips turned white because she was dying. She cried while trying to sleep out of fear that she “would not wake up again.”

The Recent Cube Entertainment Conflict

Recently, two very notable employees of Cube Entertainment were kicked out. Hyuna is known for her success as a soloist, and E’Dawn is known for being one of the backbone members of boy group Pentagon. Why were they kicked out? Did they beat up a fan? Or did they get caught shoplifting? No, they didn’t. They publicly announced that they were dating.

Some workplaces expect their employees to disclose relationships, and they didn’t do this. So while some burden can be placed on the couple, the scales of unprofessionality tipped in favor of Cube Entertainment because of how they handled it. But let’s be honest, there were other elements at play here. Maybe it’s pure speculation, maybe it’s an educated guess: Cube might have been aware of the backlash that the dating announcement caused.

After the news broke there were groups of PENTAGON fans that were calling for E’Dawn to leave the group. After weeks of being pulled from events, the couple discovered their departure from the company via news headlines. Cube’s publicly traded stocks saw a huge dip that same day. Hours later the company announced that they retracted their statement and haven’t made a decision on Hyuna and E’Dawn yet. Since a decision has not yet been made, their careers still hang in the balance. JYP Entertainment has a dating ban on their idols. The ban is worked off three years after your debut. Their most prominent group TWICE will have their dating ban lifted in October.

In Reflection And Looking Forward

While it feels the industry and the culture around K-Pop is improving, there are still strides to be taken. K-Pop is so many things, and does so many things for people who listen to it. There’s a lot to love about the music. People should continue to enjoy the genre while going to bat over the issues that they feel are problematic.

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