Many musically inclined Korean pop fans both in Korea and around the world seek to become Korean pop idols. As a result of noticing this lemming-like trend, Kpopalypse has been happy to dish all the dirt about the perils of the k-pop idol career path. However is being an independent musician really any better? This post has all the trufax on what you can expect from both career paths, so you can make your music industry career decision wisely!
This post will break down the common “areas of concern” that many seeking to enter the music industry may have, and discuss what I think are the most likely outcomes for those who are in the field of k-pop idols vs independent musicians, based on my observations of the former, and first-hand experiences with the latter.
EASE OF ENTRY
K-pop idols: to become a k-pop idol generally means passing an audition, and then going through a training process. The audition isn’t drastically difficult if you are reasonably adept at your craft, after all people pass auditions all the time, so in the rare case that you’re not delusional about how great you supposedly are, you may surprise yourself here. However, what comes after the audition is where a lot of very capable people get weeded out of the process – long years of thankless training. Do your research on the agency before signing your life away on some shit contract, lest you wind up with one of the many companies that is just a front for prostitution and sex work (and this applies equally to men and women). A good agency will still treat you like garbage probably but they will also promote your product and handle everything from meals to time management to accommodation, without asking you to suck some crusty old man’s dick (probably).
Independent musicians: to become an independent musician is easy! Just git gud at your craft and then make some music that someone somewhere may conceivably want to listen to, and shop it around. There’s several online options for selling your music that don’t require the involvement of big nasty record labels and creative agencies, however the upside of these nasty labels is that they will promote you heavily (usually). Without a big company in your corner, the responsibility for you to push your product falls on yourself, so you’d better get ready to do the hard promotional yards to make yourself known if you want to get anywhere meaningful. Don’t be shy about getting your music out there, but try to gauge when people are receptive, and try not to annoy the ever-living fuck out of everybody you know by turning into a walking advertisement for your music at times when it isn’t appropriate.
K-pop idols: idols come and go quickly, but the path to be a k-pop idol is long, and even people from the most well-known agencies don’t tend to explode with popularity right at their debut. Career progress is usually gradual, and it takes a few years for most idols to become self-sustaining entities. Block off at least half a decade (including training period) if you’re serious about wanting to get somewhere and hope that your agency has enough promotional clout to position you well and is abreast enough of the tides of music fashion to not put you in T-ara’s “Yayaya” outfits.
Independent musicians: if you’ve ever thought to yourself that Korean music scene is mainly just k-pop idols, think again as the number of independent musicians struggling for fame (or not) in Korea is actually far greater. With such a huge competitive pool, it’s exceptionally difficult to stand out, but don’t worry – most of these so-called “indie” groups have absolute garbage horse-swill for music, so if you have any music taste whatsoever, you’re already at a huge career advantage. Just expect it to take some time, and remember that you’re in charge of your own promotion so don’t give up your day job just yet – since you don’t have an agency to grant you a hefty loan, you’re going to have to fund it all yourself.
K-pop idols: get ready for fun times such as singing in front of an audience you’re not allowed to interact with meaningfully, dancing the same dances every day for months, sleeping in new and interesting transport vehicles, having lots of cameras pointing at you, having fleeting conversations with deliriously unhinged fans and being locked in a building a lot while waiting for something to happen.
Independent musicians: a good occupation for people who fear change, your life won’t evolve in uncomfortable ways very much because you’re probably not going to get anywhere.
K-pop idols: you’ll be generating lots of wealth – for your company. If you’re really lucky, you may even see some of it, but don’t expect much more than snack-machine change before you’re rubbing shoulders with Twice and BTS, which is something only the top 1% of idol groups experience.
Independent musicians: on the plus side, you get to keep nearly everything that you earn. Unfortunately, the downside is that “nearly everything you earn” is nine-tenths of fuck all. Keep working that day job and take heart that if you earn enough on the side with music to pay for a musical instrument or a massage parlour session, you’ve probably outpaced the income of over 95% of idols.
K-pop idols: if you evolve into a trusted position at the agency you may be allowed to write a song for yourself, once or twice, and then not often again after that, as the agency realises that you’re not anywhere near as good at writing pop songs as the people that they usually pay to do it. More likely, you’ll be allowed to “co-write” songs, which usually means adding half a line of lyrics, letting someone else do all of the rest, and collecting the “OMG my bias is so genius” cred from your fans. Sure, it’s not very creative, but never fear because you can always start a cool side-project for your creative energy and write tons of neat songs there and sell them independently of the group and… oh wait, your agency contract specifically forbids this, never mind.
Independent musicians: you have all the creative freedom that you could possibly want, with a corresponding lack of creative auditing, meaning that you’ll never know if you truly fucking suck and are wasting everyone’s time. Perhaps send your songs to Kpopalypse roundup for a solid critical appraisal. Or better yet, don’t.
APPROVAL FROM OTHERS
K-pop idols: everybody loves you! That is, as long as you behave perfectly at all events and public appearances, look good enough to be attractive in that generic way but not too good that it fires the flames of bitter fan jealousy, act completely humble at all times even when it’s not warranted, admit to all personal failings that you possibly can whether you’re at fault or not, never complain about anything ever even if you’re being regularly raped or have a terminal illness, respond to all controversy in super-quick time with pitiful grovelling apologies, and most of all smile a lot. You remember how to smile, don’t you? Oh and don’t joke about anything ever, because it’s probably going to be taken seriously by someone, somewhere. Smiles are okay, but humour is dangerous.
Independent musicians: nobody cares about anything that you do, which is great because it means that you can do anything at all and not get into trouble for it, so feel free to pull over that tour van and have sex with that goat in the paddock by the highway you’ve been eyeing off, even the goat probably isn’t going to notice or care. However such lack of interest in your activity also means that you can save the world by inventing a new form of music that also functions as clean energy and prevents all famine and war and someone from BTS will probably still get the credit for it when they remake it with a slight musical adjustment and a few tropical house noises thrown on top.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
K-pop idols: k-pop idols are super fit because they don’t eat much and exercise a lot, mainly through practicing the same dance routines over and over again until they finally pass out onstage from exhaustion and malnutrition. Sometimes they are so keen to be fit and healthy that they get rushed to hospital at short notice for emergency consultations with doctors and physicians about the best ways to maintain their health. There’s never a bad time to get a few more health tips! K-pop agencies do their best to encourage the health regimen of idols through strict calorie-controlled diets, where “less is more” reaches its logical conclusion, “nothing is everything”.
Independent musicians: better get ready for a life of fattening junk food and little exercise, as you race to and from your music practice and the job that you work to keep your musical dreams funded, with barely any time to prepare proper meals. Touring is even worse, with most stops only offering soggy glutinous mush and high-sugar, high-carb treats chemically refined to make an nutrient-rich onstage vomit as likely as possible. It’s fine to puke onstage if you have to, just keep the puddle away from any hungry k-pop idols, your regurgitated dinner contains kilojoules way in excess of their allowed diet.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRAVEL
K-pop idols: if you’re lucky enough to become a viable touring concern, you’ll travel to lots of amazing places that will all look the same because you’ll only ever get to see the airport, the stage, the van and backstage. Idol schedules don’t really allow for much galavanting around the countryside during downtime, unless you manage to score a photobook modelling gig or your video director decides that your next video would look cool on top of a volcano covered in gummy bears (no eating the gummy bears!). Your company owns your ass, so you can’t just go wandering around town like The Wonder Girls do in their movie… and even they had to sneak out of their hotel when JYP wasn’t watching before they could go anywhere fun.
Independent musicians: touring is fun, and for an autonomous travelling musician, “the road” brings with it the intoxication of total freedom. New and exciting places to go and things to see and do are just one wrong turn away, so don’t be shy about exploring that dark back alley or boggy swampland. Touring travel mishaps rarely happen so there’s no reason to be afraid, just make sure that you’re making the most effective and enjoyable use of your time. It’s like a paid holiday, just usually minus the “paid” part.
K-pop idols: nothing forms the bonds of true friendship faster than being forced to live, eat, wank and sleep in the same room as between 3 and 10 other members of the same group for years on end, without any time away from each other or personal space. Naturally disagreements and fights will break out but don’t worry, these will just bring you closer together, like a true family. Then you can do interviews where the host hints at group discord and you stare directly at the camera and intone without a hint of a lie that you are all “like brothers and sisters“, while the vaguest hint of a tear forms in your eye, as you recall the moment that your sibling went into your room, took apart all your favourite toys, shat inside them and put them back together.
Independent musicians: one day I was on the road with a punk band, and after a show a girl I had never seen before comes up to me and mentions me by name. How does she even know my name? She was well-dressed and polite, she didn’t seem like the scungy crust-punk types and dodgy sluts that followed our band around. It turns out that she had been corresponding with a mutual friend back home who told her that I was a nice guy who could use some entertainment and to look out for me. We get chatting and she agreed to take me out the next day to see the town. We went and ate sushi and saw Tromeo & Juliet at the cinema, it was a great time (and I know what you’re thinking but no, we did not get classy-sexy, we had good clean fun only). It was actually a fucking godsend not because of what we did but because I got to spend a whole day away from the pricks in my own band who were completely giving me the shits by this point in the tour. It doesn’t matter how much you love your friends, you will want to get the fuck away from those assholes after a while on the road. The little things that only mildly irritate you about your best friend will make you want to kick them in the head once you’re stuck with them in a stationwagon for 72 straight hours.
K-pop idols: you’ll be either constantly overworked to the point of near-death, or in semi-permanent between-comeback contractual limbo where your agency doesn’t want you to do anything, but you’re not contractually allowed to do anything for anybody else either. Like comparing water torture with having someone put out cigarette butts on your arms, one will make you miss the other, but neither are pleasant for long periods.
Independent musicians: since you’re probably getting paid fuck-all, your entire existence as an independent musician is basically leisure time. Be sure to enjoy it by not working too hard, getting too good at your craft or promoting yourself effectively, then you can continue to coast along selling three copies of each song you put out and not feeling any pressure to approach your music with any kind of work ethic.
K-pop idols: everybody I ever speak to about drugs in the world of k-pop strongly denies that drugs in k-pop are even a thing, so we definitely know that it’s a thing. Just like the man who says “I’m not gay” probably isn’t gay but the person who says “oh my god I’m certainly not gay, like ewww, you can tell how straight I am, I’m so not the gayest person ever, please how dare you even suggest that I could be gay” is probably smuggling a few cocks up the bunghole, we know from the oddly emphatic denials that drugs are actually everywhere. Also there are the idols getting busted all the time, so that’s kind of a giveaway. Rest assured that as a k-pop idol, you won’t have too much trouble finding drugs should you decide to start looking, and failing that there’s always good old legal alcohol and cigarettes to gradually ruin your life with.
Independent musicians: apparently one of the most common enquiries from Korean bands when they touch down in a western country is “where can I get western drugs?”. Some may suspect that this might be because drugs are a little bit harder to come by for down-and-out independent musicians, as certain people involved in the Korean independent music scene can attest to, but the real reason is probably lack of quality. Eventually Korea’s drug-making scene will probably overtake and surpass the west just like their pop music did, but until then Koreans will probably just have to put up with marijuana cut with lawn clippings and begging other touring musicians at airports.
K-pop idols: as getting laid is one of the main reasons that people are attracted to the idol life, it’s paradoxical that the lifestyle of idols is so superficially puritanical. Don’t worry however, as sexy times shall soon be yours. If you’re not fortunate enough to get Wein-and-dinesteined by your bosses on the way through training, you’ll still be able to experience classy-sexy action easily enough. Sometimes same-sex relationships happen within a group, but more commonly idols cross-fuck with others from the same agency, because if the sloppy wet genital juices are expunged within the confines of one building it’s easy enough to keep this activity hidden. For meeting idols from other agencies there’s Shinadong Tiger’s not-very-secret bangbus service that will park you in a secluded spot while you do the nasty. Just don’t be tempted to fuck around with fans, they can’t be trusted and will post your shenanigans on social networking faster than you can say “I like banging idols, but I like the attention from being someone an idol would bang even more”.
Independent musicians: very few people decided to start or join an independent musical combo with the objective of making their sex life worse, and there’s a reason for that. Even if you’re not broadly successful in the dating field, being in the public eye even on a low level at least makes you visible and noticeable, and that can be enough to get you over the first hurdle of attracting attention. Then it’s up to you to not be a dickhead and blow it, which I’m sure you can manage as you’re a reader of Kpopalypse blog which therefore makes you a very smart and erudite woke individual.
FINDING A LIFE PARTNER
K-pop idols: as an idol with any degree of fame, your life partner choices will be essentially restricted to other people in the world of entertainment with similar or greater levels of fame than yourself, simply because these are the only people you’ll be able to trust. You can’t really tell whether someone who is not in the business or who is on a vastly lower tier is really trustworthy enough to share your life with, or if they have stalker-like bunny-boiling tendencies that are just waiting for the right moment to show themselves. Nutters and psychos tend to be very patient and careful, so you must be equally careful and not expose yourself unduly to the nutcase brigade, therefore dating another idol or entertainer is a safer option – someone won’t care too much about basking in your reflected glory if they have their own to worry about.
Independent musicians: as someone who is reasonably visible on a low level but who nobody actually gives a fuck about to any great degree, the potential for life partner locating is fairly promising. Although the stereotype is for wild and raucous musicians to gravitate to the slutty groupie type, the fact is that this tends to only happen for casual affairs – when it comes to longer term relationships, independent musicians tend to both attract and prefer partners who offer the grounded stability and pragmatism that they themselves lack. Often such partners also have a fair degree of business acumen and many of them move into music careers themselves behind the scenes, often supporting their partners as well as others. Moral of the story: keep being an irresponsible douche, and it will work out!
K-pop idols: once your idol term is used up, if you achieved any sort of fame you might be able to diversify into some other kind of entertainment role – but probably not, as the world is no doubt sick of the sight of you by now and there are younger, more attractive idols to take your place in the public consciousness. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, right?
Independent musicians: well, you never really had a sustainable music career to being with, did you. By the time you’ve been doing independent music for a while and might feel like moving on, you’ve probably at least got enough knowledge to be useful behind the scenes in some vague way, where you can experience getting sporadic work and being underpaid even more. Also, the day job you’ve been grinding at to support your music career is probably by now really grateful for your continued steadfast commitment while all their other employees have flaked out, so you might want to consider just moving back into the normal world and giving the entire corrupt and sketchy music business the heave-ho.
Hopefully this post has made it clear exactly how being an idol vs an independent musician can enhance your life! So what do YOU think is the best option? Feel free to take the poll below which will remain active for one week, and Kpopalypse will return in a new post soon!