So, an article just came out about 2NE1’s Bom mailing drugs, and it reminded me that I’d been planning a post for a while now about drugs and the music business. I’m not really that interested in commenting on the Bom situation specifically (after all it’s already been done here, here, and of course here and probably countless other places by the time you read this, and plus I don’t really give a shit about it anyway, if she’s getting fucked up on some good shit good luck to her) but I thought instead k-pop fans might appreciate a general demystification around drugs, the music business, and how likely it is that their bias is about to sell their bodies for a shot of heroin or take bath salts and eat their manager’s face off.
A few things about me:
1. I don’t do or condone the use of any drugs whatsoever. I also don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke tobacco, I don’t even drink coffee or tea in the mornings. I’m also not on any prescribed drugs. I’m glad I made that decision when I was about 10 years of age to never start doing drugs because most people that I know who are my own age who went down the other path when they were younger are now a complete drug-fucked wreck and on shitloads of medication just to keep their bodies and brains alive after all the damage they’ve done to them. BUT…
2. I’m not a high-moral-ground-claiming, “oh my god that’s so wrong”-yelping, grandiose-lecturing cunt about it – I don’t care what other people do, it’s their own business and in fact I think all drugs should be legal. I think it’s a personal rights issue. It’s your own body, you should be able to do whatever fucking stupid shit you want to it. Drink raw sewerage, eat powdered charcoal, sniff petrol, inject battery acid… your body is yours, and if you don’t have the freedom to control your own body, what freedoms do you have? Nobody should legally be allowed to stop you from doing whatever dumb crap you want to your own body – even if it kills you. That doesn’t mean that I think you should do drugs (in fact I’d advise strongly against it), I just believe no-one should be able to put you in jail for something that you willingly do to yourself just because it’s none of their business AND…
3. I work in the music business. Oh boy.
To get some perspective on what working in the music business means as far as drugs are concerned, let’s start with a taste of some western music industry tales, from me to you in Korean gossip site “entertainment radar” style format to protect the
guilty innocent. Of course I wasn’t involved in any of these situations personally or in any business capacity whatsoever because I’m a fine upstanding law-abiding citizen who doesn’t involve myself with or condone drug use. Hell, I don’t even know who these people are, and since it’s well-documented that I have no journalistic integrity whatsoever I’m probably just making this all up for your entertainment (hey: to my lawyer – does this paragraph sufficiently cover my ass?).
1. Large rock festival Z tours Australia and many famous bands play. Headlining act on festival Z’s lineup and large ticket drawcard is group Q, well known around the world for their energetic rock style. The promoters get the rider for Q’s singer (for those unfamilar with the jargon a “rider” is a list of backstage and technical requirements for an artist, for big acts these can be comically fastidious and overblown but believe it or not sometimes it’s for good reason) and notice that a certain form of very hard and very illegal drugs are actually requested on the rider as an essential backstage requirement! They query it with Q’s management, and the response comes back: “no, we are not making this up, yes, this is requested, no, the band will not play the show unless this is guaranteed to be provided”. The promoter says “fuck that, we’re not giving them these drugs!” but doesn’t tell Q’s management this, the promoters just sign off on the contract anyway saying “yeah we’ll do it” because Q is a headlining act which is going to bring a big audience to the festival, they don’t want to risk a cancellation as it would mean financial disaster. The festival happens, Q play the show but their singer becomes very angry about the lack of promised hard drugs backstage (not to mention strung-out, hahaha), then the group’s management does something unprecedented and unexpected – they take the promoters to court for “breach of contract” for not providing the illegal substance… and win. Festival Z has to pay a hefty breach of contract fee and learn their lesson – they resolve to always provide hard drugs in future to international touring artists who request them.
2. In the early 1990s internationally famous band Y tours Australia but didn’t impose similar conditions on the local promoters to provide narcotics. The two principal members of Y are notorious crack cocaine addicts and figure that they’ll just pick some crack up locally on the streets – little do they know that Australia at that time was not a big country for crack cocaine. The group spend the entire tour chasing crack rocks in each city without success, they become sick as a dog from crack withdrawals and vow never to return. The group are still active today and so far they haven’t been back!
3. Group M were a popular girl group. They had a rocking but super-cute image and lots of teenage and tween fans who have been drawn to them by their breakout hit single and squeaky-clean parent-friendly non-sexualised charms. Each member of the group had a separate fan following, each member also had a cutesy Spice Girls style nickname, and “who is your fave out of the girls” was naturally always a busy hot topic on the band’s official fansite. However, those fans (and their parents) would have been horrified to know that in private circles each member of the group had another nickname, each name related to which illegal drug they prefer to consume!
4. Group G are superstars, a household name. During the afternoon they are soundchecking, at a big outdoor arena concert, when suddenly they realise – where’s our guitarist? A search party is conducted. After about 15 minutes of looking (the arena is big), G’s guitar player is found aimlessly wandering through the stands in a complete drug haze. The road crew ask him what’s going on. “Sorry – I lost my way from my bed to the stage”, he says. His bed is in one of the tour caravans, and the stage is right there in front of it and it’s HUGE, several stories tall, you step right out of his caravan and there it is right in front, you can’t miss it. Nevertheless, the road crew oblige him and build a concrete ramp extending from his caravan to the stage side entrance, and tell him “when the time comes, all you’ve got to do is walk out of your caravan and follow the concrete ramp, okay?”. He nods, completes his part of the soundcheck, and then wanders off in a drug-haze again. Night falls, and the concert is about to begin… G are ready to rock, but… “where’s our guitarist?”. He hasn’t shown up. The search party is called out again, this time they find him quite quickly, in the first place they look – he’s passed out inside his caravan. They wake him up, but he’s so drooling and wasted that he can’t even walk – still, the show must go on so anticipating total disaster the road crew resolve to drag him to the stage anyway just to see what happens. Two road crew members slowly and carefully carry him shoulder-to-shoulder up the concrete ramp, a third roadie straps his guitar onto him… and suddenly G’s guitarist springs into action, fully alert, and plays the intro to the group’s first song – like nothing ever happened!
That’s just four examples out of a potentially much longer list. What these examples are intended to do besides amuse you, is illustrate the following: firstly, in the world of music, drugs are everywhere. If you work in the music business and don’t encounter them on a regular basis, you’re just not paying enough attention. Secondly, the music business has its own culture, rules and tolerances, and it’s often completely at odds with the culture, rules and tolerances of the actual society that the music scene is in. Aspects of life that are not generally condoned (at least on the surface) in wider society are often encouraged and even celebrated in the music business, and the higher up you go in the food chain of the music industry, the more prevalent this is. Musical endeavours tend to draw in the more creative free-thinking type of individuals in society, and it’s that same free thought that drives innovations in music which also motivates other “behavioural and cultural innovations”, like snorting cocaine off the buttcracks of hookers – as a result, the music business and the world of organised crime have never been more than a stone’s throw away from each other.
“Rock Against Drugs, what a name. Somebody was high when they came up with that title. It’s like Christians Against Christ. Rock created drugs.” – Sam Kinison
Now let’s talk about Korea and k-pop for a little bit. Korea’s idol music scene has a little bit in common with the western popular music scene (like overuse of dubstep and bad hair), but it also has some important differences.
- Korea is a bit more uptight about recreational drugs than most western countries (at least on the surface)
- Performers are generally held to a higher physical standard, not just for marketing reasons but also to help their ability to perform demanding routines
- Actual performances are rarer and thus each one carries with it more pressure to do well
- Performances are held up to a higher degree of technical scrutiny by fans
- Performers practice a lot
None of these aspects remind me overly of the western pop and rock music scenes, which people usually get into because they don’t like the idea of working hard for a living. What they remind me of instead is the western world of classical and orchestral music. And guess what? The world of classical music is the world of some seriously drug-crazy motherfuckers. Out of all the different music scenes that I’ve worked in, I’ve encountered drug use most commonly with classical musicians.
I know you probably don’t believe this, or think that perhaps it’s an exceptional case, so I’ll explain.
Many years ago I went to university and studied classical music at the conservatory. I remember the day I went to auditions – there I was standing in the very large foyer, probably the only person in the history of the conservatory to audition with an acoustic guitar worth less than the price of the pen I had to sign the audition sheet with. I got bored so I started reading the student community noticeboards, and the most common notice up on the pin-boards after advertisements for people seeking accommodation were phone numbers of folks you could call to buy cheap drugs. These dealers weren’t selling recreational drugs, but performance-enhancing drugs normally available only on prescription for people with high blood pressure such as beta-blocker steroids Inderal and Propranolol, to relieve the symptoms of stage fright. In the classical music world using performance-enhancing drugs isn’t considered “cheating” (because they only take away nervous shakes and sweating rather than directly improve performance) and there are no drug tests conducted on musicians. Quite the contrary – the conservatory were happy for the ads to stay on the noticeboard, and the use of such drugs is generally encouraged and condoned. If your tutor finds out you’re taking them, he isn’t going to ask to see if you have a prescription or not, he’s more likely to ask you which brand you find most effective and recommend!
That’s not all – of course it isn’t. Classical musicians take all the other drugs the rock and pop musicians take too, on top of these. Various musicians that I’ve met were quite partial to a bit of crystal meth to keep them up late at night practising those long hours, cocaine before a performance to give them extra confidence, and then of course there’s the heroin. Just one example out of many that I could recount: during my time at the conservatory I once made the massive mistake of writing a piece of music for a chamber orchestra and then putting together an actual chamber orchestra to play it at a performance. Looking back on it with the wisdom of hindsight I should have just fucked the chamber orchestra off and used a fucking computer, no shit. There were only six people in this chamber ensemble but not one rehearsal that I organised had all six of them, these bitches were slacker than Hwayoung about showing up to practice (and in true Hwayoung style I had to organise a replacement for one of them mere minutes before the final performance). In particular one of my violinists would almost never show up – one day after getting pissed off and cancelling the session I went down the street to get some food and found him busking in the street outside! I thought to myself “how come you can play your fucking violin out here but not play at my rehearsal?” but then I thought about it and realised that it was the money factor – a great player, he could get decent money busking very quickly, so that was his go-to if he needed quick funds for a fix. Maybe in retrospect I should have made the entire ensemble rehearse outdoors on the street with their money tins out, that could have worked, maybe. Or perhaps I should have just gotten them all into Krokodil and then their arms would have fucking dropped off and they wouldn’t be able to play music anymore which would have made the performance a bit problematic but it would have been funny.
While I don’t work in the k-pop scene (or the classical music scene anymore, thank fuck), I can reasonably guess that because k-pop has got a similar high-pressure environment to classical music, I would expect the same drugs to be in use that people take in the classical music world just to function consistently in that environment. Korean society being conservative and having harsh penalties for drug use only makes this more likely in my eyes – when you’ve got an extremely obsessed-with-appearances morally upstanding society on the surface, an active seedy underbelly is a certainty. I wouldn’t expect high marijuana use (because the last thing a k-pop idol wants is “the munchies”, plus the quality is crap – DMTN’s Daniel was probably telling the truth about not smoking his own stash), and I also think that heroin addictions are extremely unlikely, because being “on the nod” is fine for slack western performers who can get carried around by their road crew like in the example above (oh, and Hwayoung could probably sustain a heroin habit without it interfering with her bath time too much) but in the tough idol system this would directly relate to a lack of functionality. Instead, I’d expect to see drugs that make k-pop idols lives easier rather than harder: beta-blockers to combat debut nerves, methamphetamine for its “go all night” properties, plus massive use of legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs and supplements to control and manage sleep, appetite and energy levels. K-pop drug use wouldn’t be recreational, it would be about “brain management”. Speaking of management, Korean idols are also micromanaged quite heavily and generally don’t have disposable income until the money starts coming in from CF work which can take several years if at all so I’d also expect in some cases for the labels themselves to be very much in on the game, controlling the supply. Some labels would probably even have their own known preferred dealers
just like the punk scene I worked in for many years who have special arrangements with label staff and know how to operate their business discreetly.
Some of you fucks are naturally going to say “how do you know all this?” and you’re right – I don’t. I’m guessing just like you, it’s just that my guess is probably a lot more educated than most people’s thanks to decades of experience dealing with every flavour of drug-addled fuck-up you can imagine from all corners of the world and in several different music scenes. My hot tip: expect an Open World Entertainment style scandal that goes right to the top of a company, but with the crime of choice being the supplying of drugs rather than sexual assault. When some startup nugu agency’s CEO gets busted sometime down the track for drug trafficking meth, speed and/or crazy prescription shit without a prescription to his own trainees so they can pull longer hours in the gym remember that I told you this in July 2014 before it blew up. In the meantime, enjoy everyone on all sides of the Bom drug smuggling debate losing their shit over something which isn’t even any concern of theirs.
p.s I might be anti-drugs at least as far as myself and my own life goes but I hate those “straight-edge” wankers. Fucking dickheads turning the simple act of choosing not to do drugs into some kind of fucking religion and bashing everyone over the head with it (often literally). Any of you reading this who are into that trendy crap and also think I’m in with that bullshit, no way. What a bunch of absolute cockheads. In my experience most of them secretly do drugs anyway when no-one’s looking – trufax.