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The Dark Side of K-Pop: Idols vs Machines

VIXX-Error Music video
Pictured here is leader of the group N.


With one song they became worldwide famous.

For many people in the world, the idea of becoming a superstar is a dream. In South Korea, those who wish to become famous have to go through a rigorous process and even then, some question whether its worth it.

To get into a company in South Korea, individuals must pass a series of tests. Below I’ll list the steps in order to get into a company of your choosing.

1. The Audition. Of course, just like any other group or company you want to join, you must first pass a test. Monthly or biannually companies will host massive auditions open to the public. Usually, you have to meet a certain age requirement, but it’s open to most everyone. For bigger companies such as JYP, SM, and YG Entertainment people come out in the hundreds in hope to become the next big superstar, but companies may only pick five individuals.


Pictured here is Jellyfish Entertainment’s (my favorite) audition from two different months. One set was open to both genders while the other was only open to male applicants.

2. The second interview. Great, so the company has liked your singing, but now you have to fit the personality. In almost every single audition applicants that make it past the first audition must be formally interviewed. You can still be kicked.

3. Acceptance. If you’re one of the few individuals who get to sign a contract, one must prepare themselves for the hardest next few years of their lives. Contracts are binding which is where the term “slave contract” comes from. Artists must abide by these, and those wishing to nullify any contract must go through a long, difficult, and expensive court procedure.

4. Training. Just because you’ve been accepted doesn’t mean you’re ready to debut. Trainees go through intense training procedures which include but aren’t limited to dance rehearsal, singing lessons, pronunciation lessons, Korean lessons (for non-Korean trainees), and English/ Japanese/ Chinese lessons depending on where the company is focusing their target market. Schedules usually run from about 5 am to about 2 or 3 a.m. the next day and a trainee is expected to make it to each rehearsal especially if training to debut with a group. Some trainees can be in training for five or more years before debuting and some end up leaving the company due to never debuting. It’s very competitive and rigorous for these people to keep up with the hundreds of idols debuting each year. Some idols even participate in elimination contests (which are trending heavily in Korea as of now) in hopes to debut faster.

* Daewon a former member of Jellyfish Entertainment, auditions for what is now VIXX (the show is called Mydol), but is eliminated due to no progression.
*Daewon later debuted under a new agency and with a group called Demion. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 2014 (only one year after debut) due to financial difficulties.

5. Debut. The final step is to make your big stage appearance. By now the company has spent thousands on either the individual or the group which puts them into debt. This is why idols strive so hard to make it big. If they flop after debut, many idols are stuck paying back the companies without a solid job. Smaller groups have mentioned that they are in debt even though they debut because more than 50% of the income made from merchandise and shows goes to paying back their debt. Only if they make it big do they see any sort of income, but again this goes from contract to contract.

6. Concerts. After you’ve made your debut and gotten into a groove, artists must promote as hard as they can. This usually leads many idols to fatigue and overworking, but the pay off is more money and a growing fandom.

This is honestly the dark side of K-Pop. The part that many fans forget to see.

Some idols have gone past the point of no return. When the stress of constantly working and minimal pay and family time becomes too much, idols have been known to end their own lives. On December 18, 2017, Kim Jonghyun, a member of the huge SM Entertainment group SHINee killed himself by asphyxiation in an apartment room. Investigators believe he died from inhaling either toxic fumes or smoke, as they discovered coal briquettes burnt on a frying pan upon arriving at the apartment.

His agency released his final music video as a soloist as well as an album which he had completed prior to committing suicide.

With this being said, let me jump onto the lighter side of K-Pop starting with of course the sea of lights.

Probably the most famous pictures from concerts come from up high when the lights are down low and the lightsticks come out. Bigger gropus tend to dominate this category due to the thousands of fans that turn up at their concerts.

Cassiopeia or fans of the group TVXQ fill the stadium with a red light.

Fans are no joke, especially in Korea. Supporting of any arts already has a strong presence in Asian culture, so it’s no wonder that taking care of those making said art is part of the fan ritual. This ranges anywhere from making sure that they have plenty of gifts at fan functions as well as renting out whole food trucks to feed their favorite artist when they are working.

In return, idols prepare their own special gifts for fans. These range from also giving food to hand warmers in the winter when lines form for concerts, or even hand made candels.

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* VIXX’s leader N (who is pictured at the top of the article, made 630 candels to hand out to fans on HIS birthday which is on June 30th)

Every so often fans and idols will experience something truly special. A moment where fans take over the concert, and sing to their favorite artists become timeless and it strengthens a bond between the two which is very different from westernized performances.

*make sure you have tissues if you decide to watch the whole video. It still makes me cry as a fan.

In conclusion to this extremely long rant post, fans who love K-Pop are one with their artist, but I think it’s extremely important to remember that they too are just people. They also have idols, and they also enjoy life, let’s let them enjoy life. I only barely scratched the surface of the dangers of becoming an idol, but for those who make it, it’s also an extremely rewarding opportunity to step outside of their box and see the world from a different point of view.

Sources: Jellyfish Entertainment, Allkpop, Soompi, Koreaboo, YG Entertainment,

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