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The Hallyu World: Not another Sunshine and Unicorn story

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

A blog collaboration by Navya and Kavya

Hey you! You probably clicked on this link because you want to know more about the world of K-pop. Being a K-pop idol is far from easy. It takes more than just having dashing looks, a killer smile, or an angelic voice. It requires patience, commitment, determination, and to some extent, luck. If you asked me about the Hallyu world 4 years ago I’d probably call it a place where “dreams come true.”But, little did I know that I was wrong on so many levels.

The whole concept of K-pop and Idols sounds so appealing, doesn’t it? Imagine being able to do what you love in front of millions of people and being recognized for it. Living the ‘celeb’ life and the person that’s talked about all over the world; sounds pretty great right?

Well, I’m sorry to break your bubble, love, reality strikes yet again. The K-pop industry is unfortunately not another sunshine and unicorn story anymore.

Loving their music is one thing, but I also respect idols a lot because of how hard they have to work for the smallest of tasks. K-pop culture is very different from the Western music industry. For instance, K-pop idols rely completely on their fans. In the world of K-pop, fans are the number one priority after quality music.

Connecting with fans is a crucial part of K-pop, be it doing lives or fan signings. They are marketed to make their fans fall in love with them. However, being constantly watched by millions not only takes away the little privacy they are allowed but also puts them on a godly pedestal. And god forbid if they act out, it’s the end of their career!

There are so many idols and groups that had to go offline and even disband because of rumours from 8-9 years ago, pretty sad isn’t it?

These umbrella terms like “Idols” may sound very fancy on paper, but in reality, they are nowhere near to being treated like it. Many K-pop idols have even given their lives away to the burden of fame and depression due to various reasons like online harassment by fans or personal pressure from production companies which may look like petty issues for a few; but do they know how it feels to be mocked on everything they’ve lived for? Being tossed away after all the years of hardship, agony and time is certainly not what idols or anyone else in this world deserves.

Why does this happen so often in the K-pop industry? Why do you think these idols who chose to follow their hopes and dreams by entering the K-pop industry later chose to take their lives for the very same reason?

Unlike the American pop industry, anyone who wants to become a Korean artist has to sign up with entertainment companies in order to become an idol. And once they do, the tedious process of training dawns upon them. Being a trainee means having constant supervision. You’re always being tested, there are 6+ hour-long rehearsals and to top it all off idols are restricted to eating more than a specific amount. Female trainees are weighed almost every day to make sure they haven’t gained weight. From long rehearsals to strict diets, I’m always surprised by how K-pop idols manage to stay healthy.

And If you DO manage to pass the trainee stage and make it to debut, you are still required to practice choreographies most of the time, go for photo shoots, promotions and so much more. As the chances of debuting are very low, these trainees are expected to master several skills including dancing, acting, foreign languages, and pretty much everything that would benefit the record company.

Believe it or not, the popularity of the K-pop industry allures almost half of the youth population in South Korea. Thousands of young teens sign up with a few renowned record companies every day which results in the industry being highly saturated. When the companies are filled with more people than they actually need, less than half of them actually make the debut. With the rising stakes of competition, all aspects of judgement come into play.

Now that explains why the plastic surgery industry in Korea is so lucrative, doesn’t it?

Korean beauty standards are so high that the expectation to look ‘perfect’ forces many potential idols to “fix their flaws” by going under the knife. It’s so common that even children in Korea get ‘gifted’ plastic surgeries on their birthdays! This has always been a major issue in Korea. Women and men are expected to look, walk or dress a certain way, talk in a particular tone and if someone decides to break through these thick walls, they get an insane amount of hate.

Idols like Hwasa and Jessi, to name a few, had to face so much hate only because they didn’t fit the “Typical Korean Women” image.

Scandals are a huge downfall in most entertainment industries. Although sometimes scandals are intentionally stirred up for clout; with K-pop, it’s a whole other story. The slightest hint of bullying or a dark past could completely tarnish the idol’s reputation. Rumours or not. It’s really heartbreaking when idols are attacked for something that might not even be true.

In this cutthroat industry, favourable treatment is given to “beautiful” idols with truckloads of money poured into grooming them. Idols have to pay this money back to the company after their training years and hence are left with very little for themselves. While only big groups earn enough to sustain themselves, smaller ones often go bankrupt.

But the saddest part of the industry is that at the end of the day, many of these artists don’t even get to do what they spent years training for, on their own. Most of the songs produced in the K-pop industry are written and composed by the record companies that hire these groups.

Artists are denied Artistery.

Recording companies write the songs of all the groups under them. They decide how the music video looks, what clothes they wear, their dance choreography and basically everything related to what is put out in the world. While the real creators are just seen as their actors or show puppets, present to amplify their brand image.

While it is true that a few companies are making an effort today, it is still seen only with big groups who are recognised and have the power to speak up; whereas the same cycle repeats inside with the less known groups and trainees who wait for their entire lives to make it. Sadly, when compared the latter are larger in number.

The truth is, this system has been followed for such a long time that it has almost been normalised by now. At the end of all the facade, the industry functions as a mere popularity contest, where real talent isn’t required any longer.

Honestly, we’re always glorifying the life of a K-pop idol but it’s only fair for people to know what it takes to get there. The sacrifices, pain and hardships are all part of the journey as well. Though we’re all grateful for the amount of talent it has produced, the K-pop industry needs a major makeover and we should definitely second that!

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