An Idle Life Before an Idol Life

Beginning in the 1900s, K-Pop music has gradually spread globally in the 21st century and has become one of the most widely known music genres, even in America. Most people know about Psy’s Gangnam Style these days even if they just think it is a pointless video of an unattractive guy stomping dance moves that could rival those of the Alhambra’s All-Male dance team. However, Psy is an exception in the K-Pop world because he did not have to experience the strenuous discipline of the Korea’s pop industry. Nearly every idol had to endure years of training before slowly rising to popularity. Many are unaware of this tedious process K-Pop trainees undergo.

The first step to this process is getting into a K-Pop management company, usually through auditions unless the trainee is scouted. Trainees are usually kids not much older than eleven years old. The audition process is fairly simple and direct, and is split into three auditions: the walk-in, the “call-back” and the final audition. Walk-in auditions are typically held every weekend in Korea and the United States. The call-back is held at the company’s headquarters and the final round is held before the head of the company. These auditions are extremely competitive and an online article from Seoul Beats claims that, “The closest thing to K-Pop auditions in the United States would probably be the first few episodes of American Idol.”

After being accepted into the company, the person is required to sign what the public considers a “slave contract” that binds them to the company for several years, training with low pay. The company will then, in a sense, mold and manufacture the person into their ideal image of a celebrity. Along with the severe training courses and diet plans, the trainees do everything together with their group, such as dancing, singing, exercising, sleeping and cooking. The Fair Trade Committee inspected twenty entertainment industries and found that the artists’ contracts consisted of ridiculous statements demanding the artist to tell their agency exactly where they are at all times and, if an artist cancels their contract, “the Star must stop all activities relating to or resulting from the Star’s celebrity status.” Joy, a former member of RaNia, also mentioned in an interview that they did not have phones before they debuted. They could not call, hang out with their friends, or have a boyfriend. The trainee’s life is essentially there for the industry to control. Without friends or phones, a majority of the teenagers today would not last a day under these entertainment agencies.

Once a trainee is within the agency, the final step is simply to do their best to gain popularity. Inside the company, there are several opportunities to audition for dramas and commercials in order to gain popularity. Yoona and Yuri of the nine-member K-Pop girl group formed in 2007, Girls’ Generation (SNSD), admitted that they had auditioned about 100 to 200 times for those.

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) nicely compresses all this information into one informative sentence, “[…] some of K-Pop’s biggest success stories were built on the back of so-called slave contracts, which tied its trainee-stars into long exclusive deals, with little control or financial reward.”

Jenny Lee