Thanks to the many candid revelations of Kpopalypse interviewees (
including ones who may have received pressure from people acting on behalf of major entertainment agencies to STFU) there’s now a growing awareness in the kpoponlineosphere that being a musician in the Korean pop scene is actually a pretty raw deal. But – how much are your favourite idols being buttfucked, exactly? Should you be concerned about this? This post has a mixture of 100% confirmed answers from secret online sources, plus other data Kpopalypse has collected and verified contains a bunch of wild speculation that I probably just made up, but read it anyway because it’ll probably be entertaining even though it’s definitely all fictional, so please read on and enjoy!
Of course, it’s exceptionally hard to generalise too much about an issue like this, so it’s impossible to say “yes” or “no” in all circumstances. The exact level of buttfuckery actually varies wildly from group to group, agency to agency, and it also varies depending on what type of assraping we’re talking about, because there are in fact many ways to get fucked over in the music business. Due to the complexity in addressing this type of question, we’re going to separate our risk categories into four broad types:
Financial risk: Will you actually make any money? Will you incur a large debt, and what’s your chances of ever paying it back? Will your label try to give you even less than your shitty contract already allows?
Health risk: Will you be allowed to eat more than boiled chicken breasts, salad and brown rice? Will training work you to the bone? Will you be asked to go about your daily business in non-OH&S compliant ways? Also, what about your mental health?
Reputation risk: How likely are you to get into a boring scandal that nobody with a life cares about that isn’t even your fault anyway? Do your company know how to navigate the idiotic norms of Korean society effectively so you emerge with a fanbase intact and/or still have a viable career as a post-idol? Also, what sacrifices will you have to make in order to maintain an artist’s image?
Classy-sexy risk: Will you be put in situations that make you feel uncomfortable? Will you have pressure to portray a certain image which may be crossing lines that you’d rather not cross? Will you be misrepresented if you say yes, or pressured if you say no? Also, what’s going on behind closed doors?
Let’s now take a look at various categories of groups and see what risks you are most likely to be taking if you were to attempt to debut under any of the following conditions. Through these examples, you can perhaps get a general feel for how perilous your idols’ current situations are.
(To be clear: the videos are just to give an example of one of each “category” of group as well as prettify the post and don’t necessarily suggest that those specific things are happening to those specific groups – although it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening to those specific groups, either.)
THE A-LIST IDOL GROUP
The really stratospherically big groups, on the biggest labels.
Financial risk: – LOW. The good thing about debuting on one of the largest k-pop labels is that if you can actually make it to the debut stage, a slavering drooling pre-made fanbase of company stans eager to uncritically consume any content with your name attached to it is pretty much a guarantee. These easily-robbed fools will attract product sponsors to your agency and ensure that it won’t be long after debut before your trainee debts are paid and you can start earning some money. Don’t get too carried away, you’ll still earn a measly pittance compared to media celebrities in places like the USA, Europe and China, but you’ll still be able to live comfortably, and perhaps buy property one day. Also, if you don’t manage to make it to debut stage, you won’t have anything to show for it financially except a few wasted years of your life but you probably also won’t get slugged for your years of trainee costs.
Health risk: – HIGH. As one of the biggest labels in town, your agency has a standard to uphold. That means long hours of intense training, shitty diets, arduous weigh-ins, and exercise. Those aren’t the only challenges however – expect a completely toxic environment full of bitching, backstabbing and shady power plays as everyone around you competes for the high-stakes position of “future A-list k-pop idol”. If you don’t burn out yourself, expect to see it all around you – mental disorders, nervous breakdowns and self-harm will be common. Life will get a little easier once you debut and the “all or nothing” stakes are removed from the equation, but there’s still competition between members of groups interfering with the group dynamic, which you’d better hope is a good one because you’re going to be spending the next few years of your life eating, sleeping, working and masturbating within a few feet from each other.
Reputation risk: – MEDIUM. On one hand, your agency is exceptionally media-savvy with many years of experience in handling bullshit scandals, so they know just how to shield you should you be caught holding a banana the wrong way at lunchtime. However they need to be that sharp, because with all eyes on you at any time you’re in the public eye, not to mention jealous “anti-fans” on the prowl, they will have their work cut out for them batting back scandals like a soldier throwing back live grenades landing at their feet. At any time some completely normal boring shit that you do could blow up into “the next big mess” and soon you’ll be reading some tedious comment about how your apology wasn’t good enough on Asian Junkie, and nobody wants to read that.
Classy-sexy risk: – LOW. Large labels care a lot about reputation and they’re far too smart to risk blowing their business model on throwing you into an ill-fitting “sexy-off” with some other upstart group. They’re also not likely to get too creepy behind the scenes for the same reason. However that doesn’t mean that you won’t be approached by “sponsors with offers” or “people who can help you advance your career”, so it pays to be streetwise, even if you’re never allowed unsupervised on an actual street.
THE TRANSITIONING-TO-A-LIST IDOL GROUP
Groups from smaller labels that unexpectedly blew up and started carrying their agency with them to success.
Financial risk: – MEDIUM. You might be pulling in as much attention and income as the long-term A-listers, maybe even more, but as a company that has never had an A-list group before, they need to pay off their own massive startup loans and huge expenses before there’s any money left over to give others, and as the idols you’ll paradoxically find that you’re often the very last ones to get paid. It’s possible that if you can sustain the fame and thus the revenue for a few years, the company might meet financial stability and join the legitimate A-list and perhaps even pay you one day, but it’s equally possible that they might make some bad decisions and go belly-up. Good luck hard-carrying not only yourself but your entire company out of debt.
Health risk: – HIGH. The training environment wasn’t quite as toxic as a true A-list group because when you were a trainee your company were kinda nobodies so the stakes were lower, but now that you’ve debuted the pressure is on hardcore to push through any physical and mental obstacles, whatever the cost. You really will be worked right to the fucking bone so hopefully you don’t have a great love of sleep, healthy eating or rest. (Don’t worry about your voice though, THAT will be fine – you’ll probably only get 40 seconds of half-mimed singing per night, maximum.)
Reputation risk: – HIGH. A huge amount of fame plus a company relatively inexperienced in handling the intense prying scrutiny of Korea’s online fuckwit fanbases and shady gutter press is a powder-keg combination. Scandals WILL hit your group eventually, it’s just a matter of time, so you’d better hope that someone who knows what they’re doing is handling it.
Classy-sexy risk: – LOW. You’re in much the same situation as the genuine A-listers. Just be careful and stay away from mumble rappers with an attitude.
THE UNEQUIVOCALLY B-LIST IDOL GROUP
Groups with big budgets shooting for the A-list but that never quite got over the line with the public at any stage.
Financial risk: – HIGH. Your label is trying their hardest to push you into stardom, dropping big bucks on music videos and top songwriters/choreography so you don’t look “cheap” compared to the A-listers, and all that money has to come from somewhere. However not much of it is coming from your team, who are only just scraping by, so your bosses have had to sink in tons of money and take our large loans to keep the company alive and the collective k-pop dream afloat. Hopefully your next comeback will be the one to turn that around, but it probably won’t – and even if it did, your bosses are going to pay back their own debts first before even thinking about yours. Better start thinking up a plan B in case everything turns to shit, which it probably will. p.s your contract sucks too
Health risk: – HIGH. Training regimes for B-list agencies vary significantly, but shitty poverty-stricken diets and being gym-coached to the point of collapse are a common theme. Post-debut life isn’t that great either with OH&S non-compliance-a-plenty as you’re forced onto unsafe stages and rushed between schedules at ultra-short notice, but at least you get a little more downtime than the big groups, even if you’re forced to live one rung above a homeless person in terms of squalor because the agency can’t afford a proper sized dorm.
Reputation risk: – MEDIUM. Sadly your agency is fairly clueless about reacting to scandals, but on the plus side, you’re not exactly a household name so it’s not like those charges of being a compulsive problematic beret-wearer that your label never satisfactorily addressed are really going to stick anyway. Sure, trashy comment translation sites will do their best to make it seem like everyone remembers your slightest mistake from ten years ago, but the reality is that almost nobody remembers you at all.
Classy-sexy risk: – MEDIUM. Desperate to get ahead and wipe out their debts in any way possible, your agency is likely to pressure or trick you into doing all sorts of shit. Shady editing to give your innocuous dances a double-meaning, trying on outfits “just for some test shots” that wind up as official press material, and then there’s the offers from “sponsors” for “extra quality time” that are much harder to say no to thanks to your debt-riddled scenario. Don’t expect much sympathy if you go the public #MeToo route either – it’s 2019 and everyone will just write off any statement you make no matter how sincere as “anything for attention and fame”.
THE UNAPOLOGETICALLY Z-LIST NUGU IDOL GROUP
Groups on skeleton budgets that are obviously never getting anywhere, and seemingly everyone knows it except them.
Financial risk: – LOW. You’re not making any money whatsoever, but on the other hand your label isn’t really spending any on you either. Rather than splash out the big bucks to maximise their chances of skyrocketing you to fame, your agency has taken the opposite approach and cut every corner possible just to make their product happen at all. While you question if anybody is really going to fall in love with your group’s cheap outfits and dance routines, at least you can probably afford to pay for the Bedazzler at the end of your contract term if it comes to that.
Health risk: – MEDIUM. Training still sucks a fuck, but you won’t get worked all that hard in the end, simply because there isn’t really all that much work for you to do.
Reputation risk: – LOW. You can’t destroy a reputation that you don’t have. Just try not to murder anyone and you’ll probably be fine.
Classy-sexy risk: – VERY HIGH. It’s a proven fact that a lot of nugu “k-pop idol” agencies are just fronts for sex industry work. These agencies don’t have any intention of actually debuting their stars in a viable way – often they’ll just rush out any old ultra-cheap product to justify their existence, and what you think is an oddly cheap idol debut that “anyone would be crazy to make” is actually a heavily dog-whistling sex industry work resume. Before you know it, you’re booked for a string of bucks/hen’s nights and/or “private shows”, wondering where your idol dream went. Of course, that’s not even the worst case scenario – the bottom of the pit is the CEO who won’t even bother to debut you but is recruiting young “talent” to be his personal sex slaves, often also collecting “training fees” from the parents in the process. Of course not every nugu agency is like this, and many nugus do in fact deserve your support, but throwing in your lot with a nugu agency as a budding idol can be incredibly risky. Do your research, or one day you might be talking to Kpopalypse about your sordid trainee life in a “I’ll tell you everything because I respect your writing, but you can’t actually publish any of this with my name on it” interview, that totally didn’t inform this post in any way, shape or form.
THE ADULT ORIENTED IDOL GROUP
Groups with a racy image, designed specifically for adult club work rather than chart performance.
Financial risk: – LOW. Given that your source of income is the club, you can expect to be paid about the same rates as any club dancer (i.e reasonably well). Also your videos don’t cost that much because they mainly revolve around your body rather than anything else. Of course there’s still the chance that your CEO is a crook, but that’s not any more likely in this scenario than any other.
Health risk: – LOW. Adult idols generally rock a different body type to the more commercially-geared idols, and as a result the training regimen tends to be a lot healthier. Because loss of reputation isn’t really an issue there’s also more freedom in many circumstances, which definitely doesn’t hurt. It’s not independent artist levels of freedom but you may at least be allowed to smile and breathe at the same time while a camera is rolling occasionally, and that’s more than what most of your peers get.
Reputation risk: – LOW. Everyone already thinks you’re a dirty hoe, so there’s not realistically much damage anyone can do to you. Just stay away from any BTS members if they drop into your club and everything will probably be alright.
Classy-sexy risk: – MEDIUM. While it seems fairly obvious that you’re going to have to deal with creeps (and you definitely will), as an adult-oriented idol this will come as no shock and you’ll quite possibly be able to prepare yourself specifically to deal with situations if they start getting out of hand. As essentially a glorified sex industry worker, you’ll find that you’ll reap the same benefits in terms of a lot of the same “controls” that keep sex workers safe in the workplace. While it’s definitely not work for everyone, the adult-oriented idol has an advantage because it’s a whole different ball game when it’s something that you’ve specifically signed up for.
THE PASSION PROJECT IDOL GROUP
Groups started as passion/vanity projects by super-rich cunts, where money and success are still desired, but not the primary goal.
Financial risk: – LOW. Your CEO is so super-rich that he/she really doesn’t give that many fucks about anything. Sure, they’d love it if you became a hugely successful A-list idol, but they’re not going to hold a baseball bat over your head and crack your skull so they can sell your brain tissue if this doesn’t happen, nor are they radically going to change what they’re making you do just for financial reasons, because doing so would defeat the entire purpose of why they recruited you. Latest song not a hit, sorry but nobody gives a fuck, your boss will just make an extra million dollars by breathing for a few minutes in another room and then everything is fine. It’s more important for them to be able to create exactly the kind of group that they specifically want to create, everything else comes second, and by everything I really do mean everything – money, fame, perceptions of others, the wishes of fans, even recouping their debut costs – and especially your opinion on any of the above.
Health risk: – MEDIUM. Unfortunately, if you’re in one of these groups “your health” is also one of those things that comes second, and the training regime while not up to crazy top-tier idol level is still grueling, because your boss has poured in all that money and you better believe that they want everything to look “just right”. After all what’s the point of having a vanity project without the vanity?
Reputation risk: – LOW. One of the benefits of being stanking rich is that you can either pay to shut people up, pay an entire office floor to deal with scandals while you drink Pina Coladas on an island somewhere, or you can just not give a fuck and go swimming in your money. This scandal-neutering power plus the general B-list status of the idols and the fact that once the financial incentives are removed there’s no real obligation for anybody to care means that nothing ever really sticks in a way that truly matters.
Classy-sexy risk: – LOW. It’s easy to say ‘no’ to almost anything when you don’t have to worry that much about where your next meal is coming from – unless it’s your boss doing the asking. However don’t worry, your boss isn’t going to get creepy on you – why would this person risk ruining their beloved project that they spent millions on just for a quick grope or two? In the event that they are really that type of creep they’ll just be nice to you and pay far less to grope someone else in a sex club instead (probably one of the other idol types on this list).
THE BREAKTHROUGH INDEPENDENT GROUP
Groups outside of the idol system that got exceptionally lucky.
Financial risk: – LOW. Congratulations, thanks to writing your own material and owning all your own shit, plus having no expensive trainee period, you’re actually able to make money right on the spot as soon as you get a hit song! Just try and forget the emotional trauma caused by the last 10 years of being borderline homeless while you released your previous 26 songs nobody gave a fuck about.
Health risk: – LOW. It’s nice to not have some dickhead telling you to do dances, star jumps and stretches for 16 hours every day. Also there’s a reasonably good chance that if your group has survived this long, that you actually genuinely get along well together (as opposed to just when a camera is rolling), which has a way of helping the mental health along somewhat.
Reputation risk: – MEDIUM. Now that you’ve got a little bit of fame and more importantly some money, look forward to being hated by everyone! Idol group fans will despise you because your annoying nobody-ness is pushing their bias off the chart, the entire beauty industry hates you because you look all weird and shit and they can’t attach their products to you, and even your old friends in the “indie” scene can’t stand you because of their own inverted snobbery as they scream “sellout” while secretly wishing they were in your shoes. Plus as an independent group you don’t really have much in the way of resources to fall back on if one of your own band-scene friends brings up that time you drunk too much soju and peed in his girlfriend’s ear while singing the chorus of AOA’s “Heart Attack” and tries to sell the grainy photos to Sports Seoul. Still, for all the hate you get, you probably won’t have to work too hard to be forgotten about, given that that’s what people want to do anyway.
Classy-sexy risk: – LOW. The “network of pressure” doesn’t really exist in the same way for independent artists. Of course you’ll still meet creeps and weirdos and get the odd weird proposition, but as the one completely in control with no higher agency to consider, dealing with it is as effortless as junking a spam email.
THE NUGU INDEPENDENT GROUP
Groups outside of the idol system that didn’t get exceptionally lucky.
Financial risk: – LOW. You can’t risk what you don’t have. As a nugu independent, you’re used to funneling your own personal money into projects, and while it would certainly be nice not to have to do that and you wouldn’t say no to fame if it landed on your doorstep, damned if you’re going to suck corporate cock to make it happen. Independent groups are generally the most low risk/low reward option, and are heavily favoured by many people precisely because making music is a more fun activity for many than risking everything for a slim chance at fame.
Health risk: – LOW. Apart from a high-sugar, high-carb diet of “road food” and too much alcohol, there really aren’t any health risks to being in this type of project. Just be careful driving and give way to vans full of idols going too fast on the freeway.
Reputation risk: – LOW. You have to be a pretty cunty cuntrified cuntosaur to be on this tier and find a way to ruin your reputation. Writing an offensive blog about k-pop for seven years straight is probably the only thing that might do it (don’t ask me how I know this).
Classy-sexy risk: – LOW. I’m not going to say that crazy shit never happens because that would be untrue, but it’s rarer in the independent scene where most people operate as a reasonably tight-knit community and the only creeps are generally complete outsiders. If someone tries to classy-sexy you up just point in the distance, say “look it’s Jennie from Blackpink! She’s in your area!” and when they turn their head run off in the other direction.
That’s all for this post! Stay safe and happy and Kpopalypse will return with the answers to more k-pop mysteries at a future date!
9 thoughts on “Kpopalypse’s mysteries of k-pop: How concerned should you be about your favourite k-pop stars?”
Wonderful post! Really laying it out on the line. Everyone should read this, especially if they’re young and considering investing their life for a shot at fame…
I’m really fervently glad that Gfriend seems to have avoided the bad stuff, they seem actually happy, and they’re so successful now they can coast. 🙂
I wish we could jump 10 years down the road to figure out the mystery of the certain someone that was forced to STFU by a company that absolutely does not start with the letter ‘S’.
A LOT of the details and names on this post sound waaaayyyy too specific…….
To be clear: the videos are just to give an example of one of each “category” of group and don’t necessarily suggest that those things are happening to those specific groups.
It’s interesting how the number of Korean idol groups really started to take off after the ban on prostitution. This might not be entirely coincidental.
I’m not all that sure that the health risks for adult idols are all that low — I know that strippers often have serious problems with alcohol whether it is drinking before they go on stage to clam their nerves or being required to drink what a customer buys them… and the body type might be different but its often more about implants than actually eating more.
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Dreamcatcher is surely B-List 😦
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