By: Angelina Z
Kpop has been an increasingly growing industry ever since its arrival in the west in the 1990s. Many, in fact, long to be like the perfect-looking men and women on stage singing to a horde of enthusiastic fans. After all, in this world, celebrities live a life of luxury.
Or so it seems; for celebrities in the western world, this may be true. In Korea, people can’t just form a group with their friends and hope that their hard work pays off. Kpop is a profit driven industry where they disregard the freedoms of their employees, much like many large companies abusing their workers.
To become a kpop star, one must go through a rigorous trainee program for a few years, before auditioning to debut and be put into an official group. Aside from the insanely slim chances of being able to debut, the trainees undergo a restrictive period of stress, abuse.
First, people must succumb themselves to unrealistic Korean beauty standards. Already-existing idols and social norms are demanding. South Korea is deemed the plastic surgery capital, with the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world. Lookism in South Korea is nothing like it is anywhere else, with girls especially constantly expected to dress and make up to be cute, leave their hair long, and be thin. Boys have less pressure but are nonetheless judged heavily by their appearances, sometimes disregarding their health and wanted lifestyle.
There is a weight quota of 35-50 kg for girls and 65-75 kg for males. that trainees have to stay under, and for good measure, 50kg was about my weight when I was a skinny ten-year-old. If they don’t fulfill these standards every week, trainees are kicked out and idols are punished with workouts or refused food. Malnourished bodies are only one part of the industry’s disregard for the trainees’ (and especially idols’) health. Some former trainees tell stories of trainers forcing them to do the splits, resulting in chronic muscle damage. Trainers are often physically abusive while they claim it to be “discipline.” Trainees have to train for many hours, usually getting only 3 to 5 hours of sleep per day. Idols are no different.
Disregard for its members’ physical health, however, is only the beginning. The trainees and idols also encounter verbal abuse, a lack of freedom, and selfish, controlling corporations. Anyone working to be an idol in the kpop industry is not allowed to date, contact friends, and isn’t even able to stay in regular touch with their families. Their private lives are monitored even as trainees. The only people they can have for solace are their few fellow idol-wannabes in the same trainee group as them or their music group if they are debuted idols. Some have private phones but risk of being kicked out of the industry. This lifestyle must be endured for about two decades on average.
As a profit-driven industry, kpop agencies have unfair contracts and take most of their workers’ profits. Most kpop idols scrape by earning little more than 10 USD per day. Many of the disillusioned artists now want to quit after seeing that their kpop dream is a harsh reality, that their fame comes at a terrible price, but need to pay an expensive fee which is unaffordable due to their reduced earnings. Some agencies go so far as to blackmail their idols with explicit videos of them. Many agencies also abuse their idols by making them pay out of their own pockets for expenses like travel for world tours. After their long contract is over, kpop idols usually leave the industry in debt to it instead of wealthier, while companies get pretty much all of their money. It’s no surprise that many kpop idols commit suicide.
I don’t listen to kpop and never have, but decided to look into the industry’s abuse. I never will support kpop until the day that its idols and trainees are promised fair pay, proper nourishment, and personal freedom. It is imperative not to support exploitative companies, and it is up to consumers to boycott inhumane treatment.