Visual Dreams – how k-pop markets the idol, not the music

I’ve noticed an increasing concern in the k-pop online community about the financial and business aspects surrounding idol groups.  So here’s another one of those posts for those of you who wonder a bit about the business side of marketing idols and idol music, and why companies do seemingly strange stuff, like make Hyoyeon wear a cowpat on her head in the “Visual Dreams” video.

A long time ago I did a post about k-pop and marketing.  If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you go and read it right now.  Then come back to this article and read some more.  Do it, caonimas!

So, now that you’ve read the “Chocolate Love” post, you will understand the following:

  • Idols don’t make much money, except those at the very top
  • It’s difficult for most idol groups to break even financially
  • Endorsements and commercial films (CFs) is where the big money is made, not music sales

That’s a nice starting point.  Let’s go a little deeper.


How much money does your bias make from music sales?  Do they even make money at all?  Let’s take a look.

Here’s 2015’s top 10 performers in physical album sales, by group (source – this Soompi article):

1. EXO (1,205,657)
2. BIGBANG (423,341)
3. BTS (343,928)
4. SHINee + Jonghyun (334,586)
5. Super Junior + Donghae & Eunhyuk (333,091)
6. Girls’ Generation + Taeyeon (327,624)
7. VIXX + VIXX LR (271,823)
8. INFINITE + Sunggyu (267,862)
9. CNBLUE + Yonghwa (199,263)
10. GOT7 (176,447)

Now here’s 2015’s top 10 performers in digital sales, by individual song (source – this Netizenbuzz article):

1. Big Bang – Loser: 1,273,161
2. Big Bang – Bang Bang Bang: 1,197,818
3. Big Bang – Bae Bae: 1,170,831
4. Big Bang – If You: 840,598
5. Big Bang – We Like 2 Party: 821,680
6. Big Bang – Sober: 788,269
7. Big Bang – Let’s Not Fall In Love: 728,330
8. EXO – Call Me Baby: 702,179
9. GD&TOP – Zutter: 596,038
10. SHINee – View: 586,510

Let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, that we bias somebody in EXO, because they’re popular and we want to be popular with our friends at school and gosh they’re so cute, it’s hard not to like them.  EXO are a very popular group, who make a lot more money than most groups in Korea, and they sold more physical product than any other k-pop group in 2015.  How much of their actual income is coming from the sales of music versus other legal or illegal activities?


An EXO album might cost $20 to buy and their individual songs might cost 50c to download, these aren’t super-precise figures but are fairly standard and used here just to keep the math simple.  We’ll ignore things like streaming services completely because artists make sweet fuck-all from streaming.  Streaming may be outperforming physical sales by volume, but when you look at what actual artists get, the profit shares for streaming are so beyond shithouse that they’re not even worth bringing up.

We’ll start with the physical package, using industry-standard price ratios.  SM’s terms may vary from these but because I don’t know exactly what they are, I’ll go with what I do know from working with businesses of a comparable size with similar product in the west, and my maths might be a bit shit but we’re only estimating here anyway.  Keep in mind this maths is massively simplified and I’ve let a LOT of details out.  This maths is more to illustrate a concept than give you an objective reliable figure anyway so try not to miss the fucking point of this post and poke holes in it like a fucking OCD nerd.  Here we go:

EXO – 1205657 physical sales in 2015
x$20 (price per unit)
24113140 gross profit
-20% (4822628) (bulk photobook fabrication, 1205657 units)
-1% (192905.12) (bulk CD fabrication, 1205657 units)
19097606.88 gross profit – manufacture
-30% (retailer cut)
-22% (distributor cut)
-30% (to SM Entertainment)
total -88% (16805894.0544)
2291712.8256 net profit
-50% (to songwriters and producers)
1145856.4128 net profit to group before costs
-50000 (recording costs)
-300000 (MV costs)
795856.4128 final net profit to group
/9 (nine members in EXO currently, income divided between them evenly)
$88428.49 net profit per member

Now let’s look at digital sales, using common figures for digital profit share that are standard in the music business:

EXO – 702179 digital sales in 2015
x50c (price per download)
351089.5 gross profit
-30% (105326.85) (hosting fees to online distributors)
245762.65 net profit to company
-85% (208898.2525) (share of remainder that goes to SM)
36864.3975 net profit to artist
/9 (nine members in EXO currently, income divided between them evenly)
$4096.04 net profit per member

So we’re looking at about $93k per member yearly as a rough estimate.  Not bad, right?  Now this is all assuming a few things:

  • EXOs contract is as fair as a typical major-label western contract with similar ratios
  • More physical copies weren’t created than what was absolutely necessary to fulfill demand
  • Sales haven’t been overestimated (sajaegi, pressing plant overruns, etc)
  • EXO’s trainee debt is all paid off so this money isn’t going towards any of that stuff

Now remember, this is a (very) rough estimate for an absolutely top-of-the-tree A-list group and I can’t overstate that enough.  EXO made over a million physical sales but they were the only k-pop group to do this in 2015, your average k-pop group is extremely fortunate to make even 100,000.  EXO could sustain themselves off music sales alone if they really had to.  Run these numbers for another group just a little further down the pecking order of idols, and watch the numbers change.  Let’s pull an example out randomly and look at Apink’s physical sales for last year:

Apink – 83109 physical sales in 2015
x$20 (price per unit)
1662180 gross profit
-20% (332436) (bulk photobook fabrication)
-1% (13297.44) (bulk CD fabrication)
-30% (retailer cut)
-22% (distributor cut)
-30% (to Acube Entertainment)
total -88% (1158472.9728)
157973.58 net profit
-50% (to songwriters and producers)
78986.7936 to group before costs
-25000 (recording costs)
-150000 (MV costs)
-96013.2064 final net debt to group
/6 (six members in Apink currently, debt divided between them evenly)
-$16002.20 net debt per member

Apink are by no means an unsuccessful group, they’re one of the more enduringly popular and long-running k-pop girl groups out there, but even at their level it’s clear from this (generous) math that they couldn’t live off their album sales alone.  The vast majority of groups would be in a position like this – at best.  I’ve left out the digital calculation but even assuming their biggest hit did as well digitally as EXO’s (spoiler alert – it didn’t), it wouldn’t have been nearly enough to make the money back.  Other things to take into account:

  • Bulk fabrication costs would be higher per unit for a group pressing less units, I haven’t factored this into the Apink calculation
  • Once again we’re assuming supply exactly meets demand and fair play from all involved
  • I’ve estimated Apink’s label would spend half as much as EXO’s label on recording and MV making but this may or may not be accurate
  • Any debts would of course be added onto other debts like existing trainee debt etc (this issue covered in the Chocolate Love article)

In summary, it’s safe to say that unless your favourite group is not just doing well but is absolutely motherfucking monster-ass huge, their music sales won’t even come close to making the members a profit, just because of the huge costs involved in getting the music out there (including those all-important MVs) plus the cut that is taken by the label, distributors and retailers.  Apink’s sales would make some money for Acube (their share using the above figures: $394933.97) but not for the individuals in the group… and with less successful groups than Apink (about 99%), both the artists AND the label are losing money –  a LOT of money.  Let’s run these numbers again, this time for a group that is objectively not successful with their music yet by any standard.

DIA – 2375 physical sales in 2015
x$20 (price per unit)
47500 gross profit
-50% (23750) (bulk photobook fabrication)
-10% (2375) (bulk CD fabrication)
-30% (retailer cut)
-22% (distributor cut)
-30% (to MBK Entertainment)
total -88% (18810)
2565 net profit
-50% (to songwriters and producers)
1282.5 to group before costs
-25000 (recording costs)
-150000 (MV costs)
-173717.5 final net debt to group
/7 (seven members in DIA currently, debt divided between them evenly)
-$24816.79 net debt per member

I’ve changed the numbers a bit to reflect more realistic photobook and CD fabrication costs for a small group – photobooks in particular cost a bomb and companies who press less units per individual run don’t get the hefty discounts that a large customer like SM Entertainment would get due to economies of scale.  DIA didn’t “do it amazing”, it seems… but interestingly, they didn’t do all that much worse than Apink as individuals.  However MBK definitely didn’t do well, making only $6412.50 from album sales.  That’s not enough to sustain even one person’s wages at the company or even the utilities and rates for their office building for a year, at least Acube’s income would have paid for a few staff and some coffee machine refills.

Now, you could take all these sales figures and (undeniably pretty wonky) estimates that I’ve made of potential earnings/debt and attach huge amounts of importance to them and throw them up on forums and say “oh no look DIA is flopping, maybe they should disband” or “I hope Apink have a huge hit next time or they could be fucked” or “MBK is surely broke” but that would actually be stupid.  The above isn’t how the business works.  Yes, it’s how the music business works, but k-pop isn’t the music business, it’s the music idol business.  Difference.


All k-pop companies know all of the above already.  Big agencies like SM, YG and JYP know that due to their existing market power there’s maybe a 20%-50% chance that whatever they debut will end up making its money back on album sales, one day.  For newer or lesser-known companies who have never had a massive huge hit under their belt (about 99% of them) they know that being the underdogs and with herd-mentality fans being what they are, that chance is more like 1%.  Sure, tricks like different repackages, different versions of albums for each member that rabid fans will buy all of etc will boost physical sales a little bit, but only the bigger labels can really get away with that kind of expenditure in the first place.  Nobody is going to pay attention to a new relatively unknown group like DIA releasing seven different versions of their debut album, it’s definitely not worth all the factory fuck-about to sell only a few hundred copies of each.

Now because you’ve read the Chocolate Love article, you know that the big earners for idols and their companies are endorsements and commercial film work.  So how much money is made there?  Well, it depends on the company who is getting the idol to endorse them, and how much they think that their endorsement is worth.  Companies typical report a 30% profit increase when a k-pop idol endorses their product, but that can go as high as 200% in extreme examples, so naturally idol endorsements are a popular option for companies.  However as far as earnings are concerned on the k-pop end once again it’s economies of scale that matter the most.  30% sales increase could mean a few thousand dollars, or it could mean a few million dollars, or it could mean many million dollars, so it’s impossible to put a fixed figure on it as it depends on the company involved and what’s being sold.

LG sold 100,000 of the KP500 “Cooky” phone in South Korea, and another 600,000 units across other Asian countries.  The means that assuming a 30% sales increase due to endorsements Girls’ Generation’s activity is worth to LG the profit per unit on the phone x 210000 (30% of 700000), whatever that is.  It wouldn’t be much for LG these days but in 2009 when “Cooky” appeared, their smartphone business was more profitable.  An endorsement that makes several million in profit increase means that spending lots of money to ensure that high-profile idol puts their smile in the advert is worth the returns that spending a few million on some idols to endorse their product provides.  Just a few very high profile endorsements like this are enough to wipe away years of training debt.  Of course not every company with a product has that kind of money to spend on idols, so the lower-tier companies will pick the lower-tier idols who are cheaper, whereas the biggest companies will play with the bigger stars.  Even smaller endorsements however can net some pretty decent profits for idols and the companies involved.

A lot of people in the k-pop online community now know that endorsements are the big money-earner, and while I’m not exactly sure how much I can personally take credit for spreading that knowledge, hopefully I had something to do with it for a small minority of you.  However, while many k-pop fans do understand all of the above at least on the surface, the reality of how this affects idol marketing hasn’t really sunk in properly with the k-pop community, so when people who are into k-pop see the industry at work in front of them, they don’t make the required connections to understand what is really happening, so therefore the activities of the industry make little sense to them.  People are still blinded by music sales as an important thing, but once you look at music sales and everything else as a stepping stone to the really important things, it will all fall into place for you.  Now I’m going to demonstrate this, while jumping all over the place and discussing various things and how they might impact an artist’s income, not through sales, but through exposure.


As a diehard music fan, which I have been my whole life, I only really care about the music – everything else to me is just a sideshow.  However from the k-pop companies’ perspective, music is just a stepping stone.  The number one priority of a k-pop idol company is not to make music, but to make idols.  Of course to make idols, music that people like is helpful, so music is made anyway (which is where my interest in the process comes in).  If you like the song, and sing along/bop/fap/[fill in the blank] to it while watching the (expensive – even when it’s cheap) music video, you might find a performer you really like.  Especially if they are styled perfectly, which is why companies spend all that money on stylists to get such a clearly-defined visual effect.  More people in a group increases the chance of this happening with at least one member.  Enough people fall in love with a person and they will probably buy whatever that person sells them.  The goal is an idol who has star power that can be sold to companies for massive profit.

The video works as an advertisement to the companies as well.  Oh My Girl are quite a new group and don’t really have star power yet, however Yooa picked up endorsement work shortly after “Closer” came out anyway.  She’s very pretty and no doubt someone (the video director, or the CEO, or whoever was in charge) said “okay, that one, I want that one there to have more screen time and she can be in the drama portions too, she looks like a fucking model from the fucking elf kingdom or some shit, hopefully if the video gets played enough some people will notice her” and guess what, they fucking did.  Attention from potential endorsers that can translate into money is what the k-pop company is seeking.  The song is just a means to make you watch the video enough to notice the girl and then to say “hey, she might look good in my designer clothing brand” and then a phone call is made and business happens.  The music is not the business, the music is a business card.


Do music charts matter?  Do awards matter?  In themselves, no.  However, what matters is the exposure that a chart position or an award might provide… or that NOT getting a chart position or award might provide.  Let’s talk charts first – a higher position is generally better than a lower position, but if a group can peak at #186 on the chart and still get exposure somehow from it, mission accomplished – it’s better to get the exposure from a highly-shared “look at these losers who bombed” article than the tiny amount of money a high chart position provides. Keep in mind that chart positions are also relative, not absolute – a #1 position might not even mean that many sales at all if it’s a slow week generally speaking.  I think we’ve already established how music sales really mean absolutely nothing unless you’re of SNSD/EXO/BigBang calibre, and that by extension neither do chart positions.  The stupidity of charts probably deserves its own post but I’m in the unfortunate position of knowing a little bit too much about this issue yet not being able to prove any of it without compromising professional ethics, so for now just take my word for it that charts mean nothing, zero, nada, zip – place no importance on them whatsoever.  But even if they DID mean something, the amount of money that this actually means for your faves (unless they’re at SNSD/EXO/BigBang level) is so small that it doesn’t even matter anyway.

So let’s talk about awards.  Of course winning an award is better than losing – if you win you get an article somewhere that says “group x won an award“, now that’s more exposure so that’s good, but if an article is written “group x just missed out on an award“, that’s still an article so a “newsworthy loss” can be just as good as a win.  Most of all however, more people watch the show than read the articles, so just being on the show in the first place matters more than anything else.  These groups are not struggling to win the most votes, they are struggling to be noticed the most.  A group might get on an award show and lose, but what matters is that they got on the fucking show and got exposure to a TV audience that could potentially lead to something bigger.  Maybe someone will see them and fall in love and give them money to endorse stuff.  A group that has a memorable appearance on a show is far, far more important than a group who wins, and when you look at the stages you’ll see that “memorable apperances” are what they’re all really aiming for.


Are you waiting for a k-pop comeback that hasn’t come out yet?  Are you wondering why it’s taking so so long?  Maybe the real reason is that the objective that the agency wanted (an endorseable star who collects work left and right) is actually already completed, and so there’s no real rush on the musical side now.  Let’s think about After School.  Nana is so endorsable that she basically prints money every time she takes a crap and the other two Orange Caramel members aren’t too far behind her on that front.  If they’re already bringing in all that cash, financially they don’t even need a comeback, and the only reason why they might consider it is to shut your whiny ass up, but they’ll probably delay it some more because you’re not that important to them compared to companies willing to shell out hundreds of thousands to Nana per advert.  Here she is dancing for an advert, to some After School song that was released not long ago.


Here’s a question someone recently dropped into my


This question is probably referencing recent simultaneous MV releases by YG Entertainment’s new boy groups iKON and Winner, and it’s a good question, but now that you’ve read everything up to this point, the answer should be obvious.  The music buyers aren’t the real market that YG cares about.  Yes, the sales are a nice supplementary income to have, but what YG really wants to do with these groups is to stand out, and make an impression, by not being subtle about things but instead by dropping multiple high profile releases that get people watching, get them talking, get them sharing and discussing, and maybe some of that talk and sharing makes its way to some people with money in their pockets looking for someone to sell school uniforms or whatever.  If the buzz about a group is big enough they might even get endorsements land in their lap before they debut – which is the real reason why companies do so much pre-release hype, “reality” shows, knockout shows, etc etc.


Short answer: shut up, idiot.

Long answer: known group x are celebrities, and lesser-known group y are not.  However one day known group x may not be working for the label any more, or they might all die in a car accident, or whatever, and there goes the label’s investment.  Real-estate investors don’t buy all their homes in the same area, they try to “diversify their portfolio” so if a fire or flood comes or a meteorite drops down and wipes out an entire city block they’ve still got assets somewhere else.  It makes good business sense to try and get lesser-known group y a bit more known.  Stiff fucking shit if you don’t like it.  Also by hanging out together with the vets, the newbie nugus might get noticed by more folks who are checking out the others and that includes advertisers and so forth.  You get the idea.  Now shut up, idiot.


I shit you not, Krystal from f(x) must get one endorsement for cosmetics per month, that’s how often I see makeup products with her face on them when I’m out shopping for k-pop.  And to think this group’s fans were actually worried about f(x)’s future?  Come on now.  Mind you, Krystal does look fairly boring to me, so maybe it’s just some other chick on the fucking eyeshadow case and I just think it’s Krystal each time.  Anyway whatever.


We all know that Truedy won season two of this dull reality TV show, yet since the show is over it’s all been about Yezi, whereas Truedy is nowhere in sight (presumably crying in a stairwell somewhere).  Of course if the show was sensible Yezi would have won but reality TV shows in Korea are 100% scripted affairs so they can’t just go and change the script and have a different person winning to who was initially agreed to win when the deals with the various partner agencies were first signed.  What they also can’t change is who the public falls in love with, but the whole affair is proof once again that what these shows are all about at least from the point of view of an artist trying to get somewhere is not who wins, or even who gets on the CD that gets released, but the exposure that being on the show provides and what each person can do with it.  Yezi recognised that the real competition was for the public’s attention, made the most of it, and reaped the long-term career benefits.

Yezi’s bitch-stare image is lots of fun, that gaze is quite unique specifically to her and translated a lot better to the public than Truedy’s Yoon Mirae clone act, after all Korea already has one Yoon Mirae so they don’t need another.  Did Yezi get noticed by people wanting to sell product?  You bet she did, and you can probably guess what type of product, too.


Do I give a fuck about this crappy TV show about a bunch of trainees all trying to get into some group or whatever?  No!  All they have is that shitty intro song, wake me up when an original song that is decent comes out of it.  (EDIT: this has now happened – yay!  I still don’t give a fuck about the actual show itself though, just the songs.)  But it’s obvious just from looking at 30 seconds of it that everything is scripted and the winners are predetermined.   Recently it’s also come out that contestants on the show don’t get paid, which should surprise nobody.  Of course highlighting the Produce 101 contract between the trainee and the TV show is a distraction from the main event – the contracts between the TV show and the girls’ existing agencies!  For those of you who like my predictions, here’s what will come out of this: the girls who are destined to get the most exposure in this thing (because that’s what’s important) are already contracted to existing agencies anyway (with their own corresponding trainee debts etc) and Produce 101 is an agreement between the TV company and the agencies who the girls are already locked in with to promote those girls and put them in front of the lens.  There’s even a sliding contract fee scale: to just be on the show there would be a set price, but if you want your girl to be a finalist, or have more camera time/exposure/inclusion in fake-ass narrative/drama set-ups/top of the dance pyramid/whatever you pay a premium fee.  The agencies don’t care who wins, because they already know who will win, it’s not in the contract in case the paperwork leaks but they’ve all been told verbally.  It’s not about the win, it’s about putting their bigger money on the more charismatic girls to give them the biggest chance possible to impress and hoping something in them shines through on TV and is seen in a positive light and makes a good impression to people selling clothing brands or whatever.  In the meantime the other girls who aren’t signed to agencies already get to go along for a free ride and sure they don’t get paid but they don’t have a huge debt at the end of it either, they’re actually getting off lighter and with a better experience than the more well-known girls – no debt and less drama vs a locked-in contract for years, huge trainee debt and being forced to fuck up your performance and embarrass yourself on national TV just because it’s part of the narrative.

But what if they’re hated?  There’s still hope – and it wouldn’t be a Kpopalypse post about marketing and popularity without talking about…


Many years ago I did some part-time work (a necessary evil when ye olde western music business makes no money) for a large corporation that shall remain nameless for legal reasons and that I stopped working for about ten years ago.  We were told by one of our marketing gurus that someone who has a positive customer experience will, on average, tell three other people about what a great experience they had.  On the other hand, someone who has a negative customer experience will tell eleven other people, on average, about how much the company sucks a llama’s smelly ass.  The message that they were trying to convey to us of course was “don’t fuck up at your job because everyone will hear about it and the company will get a shitty reputation”.  Actually this nameless company already had a shitty reputation so whatever, but the real message that I got from it was “people like to bitch and moan, and this can be exploited for commercial gain”.

What do Rebecca Black, Twilight and Fifty Shades Of Grey have in common?  The answer that probably instantly popped into your head is “they’re all shit!” and you’re probably right now on the verge of writing a big rant in the comments below chastising me for having the audacity to remind that that this unholy trinity of hideous popular culture exists.  However, you’re missing the real answer to the question, while at the same time simultaneously proving my point, which is this:

I would be blissfully ignorant to this day of all three, had my friends just shut the fuck up and not said anything.

People love to talk about stuff that they hate even more than stuff that they love.  People like to read about it too – every year my “worst of” k-pop list always outperforms my “best of” list for total views.  Rebecca Black’s “Friday” was never intended for mass public consumption, having been created by a label that essentially scams young people by promising them a music video and a shot at fame in exchange for a few thousand dollars and then rushing out the most ultra-tacky cheap-as-a-board shit possible, it only gathered steam because it got featured on a popular blogger’s “worst of” list not unlike my own and was unintentionally comical enough to spread from there.  Once “Friday” picked up an audience from constant resharing, it was running at about a 8:1 dislike:like ratio –  for every one person who loved it, eight people thought it was garbage but couldn’t stop talking about it and sharing it., thus getting the video in front of even more people, 1 in 8 of whom liked the song.  This was enough to translate into millions of downloads, and due to her record label’s silly contract that ensured Rebecca kept 68% of the earnings, she was soon a millionaire.  68% profit share to the artist is an unheard of sum in a real music industry contract – but the Ark Music Factory contract was designed this way on purpose so as many people as possible would feel better about forking out the initial few thousand dollars of “production fee”, the company didn’t actually expect a song to succeed, the paperwork was designed assuming the song’s inevitable failure – like a music industry version of the Nigerian advance fee fraud scams that promise big reward later if you give a little now.  That’s why the company tried to pull the videos once they got successful, they weren’t serious music industry players but scam artists and by accidentally having one of their videos that was only ever meant to be shared with the singer’s family and school friends go viral, they had actually been exposed (even though they were still getting money).  Rebecca then took them to court to get the rights to the song back and donated her fortune to Japanese earthquake victims and her school, which makes her a better person than not only her label but 99.9% of her haters (song is still shit though).  The lesson – the cliche of “any publicity is good publicity” is a cliche because it’s true – hate-exposure is still exposure and can make you money, both short term and long term.

When T-ara had their controversy and were witch-hunted some advertisers panicked and dropped the girls out of endorsement deals because of the potential for negative brand association… and then other companies saw the girls as freely available and picked them back up again, which just goes to show how marketable they still were (and still are).  In the meantime fans all over the world saw the witch-hunting by Korean netizens and rallied around their newfound underdogs, guaranteeing them a global career.  Companies in Korea have since learned their lesson not to panic over fake bullshit – right now the big irrationally-hated pariah in k-pop who tons of people supposedly can’t stand is IU… but has all the hate hurt her?  No, in fact she recently scored commercial film work as well as a hosting gig for SBS and a drama role and this is all straight AFTER she became the devil or whatever so how the hell did that happen?  Lots of Internet chatter leads to lots of sharing around of her image and actions, which leads to companies going “if we hire her, people will talk and share”.  Then advertisers say “if we attach our products to this IU person, people will talk and discuss and argue about her while sharing our products”.  Making people respond emotionally (positively or negatively) is a powerful tool of engagement, and marketers and the market both recognise it and use it.  It’s the reason why Unpretty Rapstar has such stupid judging decisions – they wind you up on purpose so you talk about it on the Internet about how annoyed you are and share the show like crazy, plus it keeps you watching to see what dumb shit they do next.  Another prediction – be prepared for more IU endorsements but with her doing a bitchface-stare instead of a happy stare to fit in with her new idgaf image.  I was going to put a video here which someone thoughtfully linked to me and which has lots of quality IU bitchstare as well as DIA’s Seunghee and it was really bitchy and hot but it got fucking deleted for some bullshit copyright reason so here’s a picture of Hong Jin Young and a tiger.


Oh and lastly, before I forget:



That’s all for this post!  Hopefully this has been educational, or if not, hopefully you found something to complain about on forums and websites where this article is linked, thus boosting my web presence and traffic, and possibly attracting companies offering lucrative deals to Kpopalypse!  Thanks in advance!


*Also known as the Howard Stern effect, but Rebecca Black was actually famous globally whereas nobody outside America cares about Howard Stern

16 thoughts on “Visual Dreams – how k-pop markets the idol, not the music

  1. This is fantastic stuff. I would love to see a similar breakdown on how touring/concerts impacts an idol’s income, as well. Are there a ton of overhead costs for an SNSD or EXO show at the Tokyo Dome, for instance?

    Are entertainment companies usually pretty passive when it comes to CFs (i.e., waiting for the phone to ring), or do they have employees actively working the phones/contacts to try to get idols CFs?

  2. Wow! This was so insightful, thank you! Now this has me thinking about all that bulk buying of albums to get into Fanmeetings and stuff. Companies use the star power of their idols to sell the albums, basically?

  3. Oh! I also remembered, BTS had an endorsement with PUMA, then there was this contest where fans had to buy puma products and take photos of them wearing these things for the incredible CHANCE of getting… a polaroid, of one member. I learned that day to not underestimate the love for Oppa.

  4. Damn, another good article; simple explanation of some ugly truths. For what it’s worth, i do think you bring a good attitude to it all: “Don’t-give-a-fuck-cynical.” 🙂 And thanks for the f(x) paragraph, i was worried about their future for nought (last year; now everything’s better.) You are aware of f(x)’s Chocolate Love video? I think it’s their only CF MV, for once selling a phone (instead of, or besides, themselves.)

  5. This is why fans’ obsession with their idol’s talent and the whole culture of needing validation (position in the chart, awards, being noticed by foreign artists, etc) as well as shaming ‘useless no talent member’ make me laugh. An idol’s ability to make a lot of people buy stuff is the most important quality.

  6. Pingback: I am a wonky wonkus; or, Who, exactly, doesn’t make money from music? | My Other Blog

  7. Interesting and entertaining article. If only the ones at school gave this much information and insight without being absolute jackshit boring.

  8. Since your top 10 male download chart is from September here is the December one…the overall 2015 one is not easy to copy so lol
    1. BIGBANG’s BANG BANG BANG 1,498,380
    2. BIGBANG’s LOSER 1,405,987
    3. BIGBANG’s BAE BAE 1,328,826
    4. BIGBANG’s IF YOU 1,071,443
    5. BIGBANG’s Lets not fall in love 1,015,631
    6. SONG MINO’s FEAR 977,377
    7. BIGBANG’s SOBER 923,312
    8. IKON’s MY TYPE 908,013
    9. BIGBANG’s WE LIKE 2 PARTY 862,284
    10. BIGBANG’s ZUTTER 743,187

  9. I’m stupid when it comes to Math, so maybe I don’t get something, but this part (it’s Apink, but it’s the same for all of them):

    -30% (retailer cut)
    -22% (distributor cut)
    -30% (to Acube Entertainment)
    total -88% (1158472.9728)

    Isn’t it -82%, not 88%? Or did I miss something before that? Just asking, because I’m a bit confused, but anyway this article is great and I learned some new things from it.

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