Welcome back to another edition of K-Friday.
Before starting about today’s subject you have to know that I’m far from being a professional, I never worked in the industry and will never will. This post is mainly based on my perception of the industry, on interview given by former idols or trainees and other informational post written by people who work in the music industry (not the kpop but album production start pretty much all the same way) I will added the link for these post/interview at the end of the post if you are interested in reading them.
I have been part of the kpop fandom since 2010, I saw a lot of group debuting and a lot disbanding. The comments I saw from the general public who are outsider from the industry are generally all pointing toward the fact that idol have it easy, as look as you are pretty or handsome. When in come to males idol, some comment can become just ridiculous, even more if they are linked to how those males idol decide to serve their country (mandatory military service) “They have no problem shaking their ass for money, but when it come to military service they all go in the public service” is the general idea. Some of who you might follow k-news from the entrainment industry, might have raise an eyebrow at those comment, know that the Korean are proud of their army and will look down on anyone who try to avoid it, (don’t quote me on that, but I believe the South Korean military training is really harsh) or take the easy way, by service into the public service (which is pretty much like any 9-5 job).
But is it that easy to be an idol? Is it really for everyone?
No it’s not, it’s certainly not for everyone. Being and idol is hard, people who think idol have it easy are just plain wrong.
Yes you have to be good-looking and/or have a decent singing skills, but you also need to be mentally strong and ready to cut on your sleep hours and change your diet.
The Journey Begins.
BTS, Girl’s Generation, Shinhwa and all the other successful idols didn’t start on the top of the ladder, like in all job they start at the bottom which is the training period. Someone become a trainee by either being scout randomly on the street to pass auditions, other register to pass those auditions.
The audition process is long, think of any survival music show like The Voice. On the 200 people maybe only a handful will be kept. To be one of them you have to impress, by your look, singing/rap skills or dancing abilities. The better you are at dancing, singing, rapping, higher is your chance to be kept and if you are pretty or handsome, you chance are even higher.
So you pass the audition and you are part of the lucky one, now what? You become a trainee right away? No no no, you have to sign a contract first, this contract will allow the agency to have all the right over you and your body. They think you are too fat, you will have to lose weight, crooked teeth ? Sorry sweety they need to be sparkling white and straight so you will have to do something about that. Oh you really like that brand? Too bad we don’t so don’t even think about advertising them. What about contract length?
There was a time where the length of the contract didn’t matter, I think the longest was 13 years, which mean an idol was bound to an agency for 13 years, for 13 years they couldn’t do anything without the agency approval. These contract were known as “slave contract”, remember TVXQ last week? Well this contract is one of the many reason why Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu quite. There aren’t the only one, Hangeng from Super Junior did the same before them ( I have to say he had more reason to leave than the three, but that my own point of view)
Now that you have sign a contract (don’t worry it will not be 13 years since they are not allowed by law anymore, I think the longest is now 7 years) what’s come next?
The training began, say goodbye to those long day you were sleeping until 10 am and you eat whatever yo wanted when you wanted, no more social life, unless you are still at school in Seoul. Forget about leaving far from the capital and being a trainee. You want to become an idol? You have to live in the capital. Your parents can’t move with you cause of work, don’t worry an adult will be paid to look over you in a dormitory.
So the training began, singing lesson from early in the morning to late at night than slowly the dancing lesson will be added to that. You train each day everyday without even knowing if you will debut one day. There is idol who trained for at least seven years before debuting, like Jo Kwon, just don’t give up and keep chasing your dream.
During that time if you are not from the capital, you can’t see your parents and family as much as you want, you might miss out on a lot of thing some more important than other, like your father passing away. While Jun Hyosung, former member of the girl group Secret, was a trainee, her father pass away from cancer. She learnt about it only the next day, they day it happen she was coming back exhausted from training and school, she fell asleep and when she woke up the next day she had 40 missed call. Some might say it was her choice, but the agency must have known Hyosung’s father health state, they could have done something about it, making her seeing her father more.
You make sacrifice, you train hard and you eventually debut in a group. The agency promote you and the other member of the group until the first single drop. Now if you are signed under one of the big agency, thing will go smoothly because they have more money to put on you, if it’s a smaller agency, pray the song work and become popular because you will have to fight your way up. If you debut in the same times then an already popular group comeback or when a group from a big agency debut, you might be screwed unless you are really unique like B.A.P.
They debuted at the same times as EXO, but despite the fact they were from a smaller agency (TS Entertainment is a pebble, compared to SM which is the Ayers Rock) they gain attention by being different from the other boy group.
Money What is Money??
Let’s say the song work and you get high in the chart (digital, physical), your group gain some kind of attention and the group even start to have a small fan base. Does that mean you will be rich soon?
Before you get any money, the agency need to get all the money they put on you back. It’s a bit like a loan you get when you studying, before being able to live a life free for debt from school you have to pay that loan back when you start work. It’s only when the agency get all their money back that you will start seeing the color of the money you are making by shaking your ass on a stage, however there is time that you might make a little bit of money, like if you host a TV show, but it might be more like pocket-money than a real y paycheck, in other words don’t think you will become rich with that . So if the group is not successful and the album produced doesn’t sell, you might disbanded before even see the color money.
Obviously, to get the name of the group who are part of out there, you might need to release more than one album, unless as I already said, you have something different from the other girl group. If you are a bubble gum group with a concept base on “aegyo” you might be lost in the sea of that concept since it’s generally the concept agency take when debuting a new group. So pray your group name is not “Bubble Gum G” and more like “Hardcore G” with a concept similar to 2ne1, Black Pink or Sonamoo. And of course producing album cost a lot of money, so more album it is produced more money is put on you, this mean you will have to wait longer before having that money in your bank account.
Promoting is the Key
So if you want to be a rich idol, you need to get attention. For that you need exposure, more the public is exposed to your group and your song, more they will get to know you.
For that you need to have a good promotion team. Let’s take EXO (debuted in 2012) as example.
EXO was presented to the public as a large boy group, twelve members to be precise. Six of them would be for the Korean market group and the six other would be mainly for the Chinese market.
Now those twelve boys need to get know, so their agency SM Entertainment released teaser to showcase every member, at the end there was 23 teasers. SM created a hype around those twelves boys, they created a certain desire, kpop fan was looking forward to see EXO debut.
If you agency did their job right and highly promoted you, you might have a small fan base even before the official debut of you group, however those few fans will not be enough to make a decent amount of money, you gonna need more fan who will spend more money on you (there is a recurring expression comparing kpop fan to ATM for that reason) , for that you need more exposure which mean you have to appear on TV as much as you can.
This might sound a simple task, but in reality it’s one of the most difficult part after the training days.
Right now there is seven music programs show on which artists perform what . Inkigayo (SBS), The Show (SBS MTV), Show Champion (MBC Music), Mnet Countdown (Mnet), Music Bank (KBS2 and KBS World), Show! Music Core (MBC) and finally Simply K-pop ( Arirang TV).
It’s a good thing none of those show doesn’t air at the same time because you can be everywhere at the same time, however this doesn’t mean the show are not pre-recording, at least the performance. The pre-recording start early in the morning and continue until the live show airing in the afternoon so that’s mean you can’t leave after pre-recording, you have to stay until the end, which make really long day.
So let’s say the recording start at 5 am you have to get up probably around 3 am to get ready (usually makeup and hair are done in beauty salon). You get at the broadcast station record you part and then stay until the end (unless you have an other schedule like an interview or something), cause it might be seem as disrespectful for you senior if you just leave. The live show eventually began and 65 mins (shortest) to 90 mins (longest) later (hoping you performance didn’t got cut, cause yes this might happen, producer will cut performance of new group short to let the older group have more time) you can start to think to leave. Which mean that if it’s Inkigayo which start at 3:40 pm you will not be out before 4:50 pm the time to get out of there say hi to all the senior (be sure to bow at 90 if not more) and pay your respect to the music show producer you might just leave around 6 or 7, then you have to make a detour by the agency for a debriefing (you sang that part wrong, you didn’t move at the right time) and practice a little bit more. If you are lucky, you will get back to your dormitory before 10 pm.
Back home you are ready to get to bed remove makeup undo hair and maybe a shower and then hop to bed to wake up at 3 am again cause you have an other recording. This might last for one or two months which is the usual promotion circle.
Promotion circle over? You can’t rest yet cause you have to prepare for the next comeback in six month, if you don’t comeback almost soon as the previous one end, people will forget about you and the agency can’t let that happen, unless you are part of a big agency. BTS and BAP had come back every six month when they debuted.
All this is if you get into an agency who (kind of) care about you, and really want you to succeed, yes they will be hard on you but they are also human dealing with teenager/ young adult and they want you to achieve your dream. Some might act like a mother, father with you, some can be comprehensive even if they are running a business.
However it’s not always the case.
Welcome in Hell
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add that part to an already really long post, however this is now becoming a reality, we are hearing about it more and more.
Sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
“You are not good enough”, “You are too fat” this is thing trainee hear often, it’s part of their reality even if they didn’t sign-up for being treated like that. If you are mentally stable you might be able to suck it up and continue toward you dream. Now if those attack become physical it’s something else. It happened in the past trainee got beat up cause they made a mistake, two of the members (two brother) of the band The EastLight got beaten with baseball bat, one the two even got strangle with a guitar string, it’s only when the father saw his boys, the scars and bruises, that he realize what was happening. Some trainees (girl and boy) got sexually assaulted by their manager, their CEO, some of them had to have “sponsor”.
These teenager and young adult only wanted to live their dream, but this dream turned into nightmare and this is where the contract become dangerous. Before signing anything, make sure you have long talk with your parent and think about everything that can happen.
The path to becoming a successful idol is not an easy one and even when you are at the top you can still have hardship, the haters will make sure to leave nasty comment. You will be constantly criticize no matter what you do.
Being an Idol is certainly not a dream job, but it’s often to path you will have to take if you want to get in the entertainment industry.
~ Thank you for Reading ~
Interesting read regarding the topic
Chocolate Love – marketing 101 for deluded k-pop fans by Kpopalypse
KPOPALYPSE INTERVIEW: Melanie Lee (ex-ChoColat) By Kpopalypse
KPOPALYPSE INTERVIEW – Sarah Wolfgang/Hanhee (ex-TAHITI) by Kpopalypse