Over the years, Korean Pop (K-Pop) has been slowly gaining popularity and attention for its wide range of musical concepts and outstanding choreographies that draw viewers from around the globe. Many people who aspire to be a K-Pop idol give up whatever they can just to attend an audition, such as traveling to a foreign country or even auditioning with no experience of singing or dancing. The world of K-pop may seem pretentious, but there is more that lies underneath the perfect idol image.
The K-Pop industry is a one-way ticket for young aspiring idols to achieve their dreams, but is also one of the most competitive and difficult industry in terms of perfection, maintaining self-image, and invasion of privacy.
To begin with, they train most idols from a very young age to achieve the epitome of perfection. After passing auditions, that is when their journey to becoming idols begin (Chua). Trained from a very young age, giving away the years of their childhood, to chase their dreams.
During this time they are referred to as trainees and are trained from a period as short as 2 years to 8 years and up, and some do not even get to make their debut, making the time they trained, of little or no value. To make sure that these trainees are keeping up with the standards, the companies hold monthly evaluations to make sure that they are making progress (Chua). These monthly evaluations and longing for a debut drives these trainees and is what makes them practice so hard (Chua).
To achieve perfection, the company’s vocal coaches and choreographers train the trainees for hours (Chua). Even after training with the experts for so long, the trainees continue to practice honing their skills to not disappoint themselves and their teachers. Because of this, there is a significant amount of pressure that comes with doing well.
At the same time, these idols must maintain their self-image because they are representatives of the company. One of the most common methods that these idols used to maintain their self-image is dieting. Many idols, especially girl groups, have to maintain their weight and must follow a strict dieting plan (Chua). These idols go through lengths on end to keep their body weight in control and most of them choose very extreme and dangerous dieting methods that lead them to collapse on stage. For example, one extreme dieting method that an idol chose was the one food diet, and the food she chose was a cucumber to lose weight in only 3 weeks (Chua). Because of these extreme and unhealthy diets, they do not get the food and nutrition they need to dance and exercise leading them to be very malnourished. Keeping up with their self-image is significant in the K-Pop industry as a poor reputation could instantly make the stars lose fans and could end their careers in an instant (Asong). It is not only about maintaining weight but also to not get caught in dating scandals. In South Korea, the paparazzi are always up to date with the stars and are looking for the next gossip or news. Therefore idols and trainees have to follow the company policy stating they are forbidden to date for a certain period depending on the contract they signed (Asong).
During an idol’s time in the spotlight, every action that they take is monitored by the fans and the media, which leaves little to no space of privacy and more room for an unhealthy mind. With fan culture, there are many types of fans who will do anything for their idol. There are the normal fans, then there are the crazy die-hard fans or, sasaengs, referred to as in Korea, who are unrealistically obsessed with the idols. Some of these sasaengs will go as far as finding out the idols’ numbers, getting on the same flight, breaking and entering the idol’s homes just to steal their clothes, and even devoting their life to stalk these idols (Asong). Because the idols are watched closely by the media, it is easy for them to be exposed and caught in scandals. These scandals include drug allegations, dating life exposed, or even locations leaked which endangers them and puts security at high risk. Idols in Korea affected by these scandals usually take a hiatus or never fully recover from it due to the severity of how the Korean media portrays it. The damage done to the idols’ image not only ends there but leads to malicious comments. On top of training from dusk to dawn, to being weight watched, malicious comments add even more pressure to performing idols (Baudinette). For instance, recently this year one of the primary causes of an increased suicide rate within idols was due to cyber-bullying and online criticism (Baudinette). Mental illness is not frowned upon in South Korea, but it goes to show that many of these idols are mentally struggling to grasp a hold for help for even of fear of the public’s view. The public’s view plays a huge role in these idols’ lives as they control most of the power that could ruin their career with a small rumor to as substantial as defamation.
In conclusion, these idols are just doing what they can to chase after their dreams. Nothing is as strong as their dedication to wanting to perform for their fans and enjoy their love for singing and dancing. With the amount of pressure from wanting to achieve perfection and love from their fans, it makes them strive more for greatness and joy just to see their fans happy, even though they must go through many hardships to get where they are.