K-Pop, or Korean Pop Music, has sensationalized the entertainment industry worldwide. Not only are the fans in Korea ecstatic, but international fans are supporting the celebrities all around the world. All eyes are on these “idols,” and the extreme pressure to make money and stay famous has pushed the industry and its clients to horrific extremes to preserve their relevance.
Girls in South Korea who want to make it big in the entertainment industry will often times take “sponsorships” from high-ranking executives. The executive will help bolster the budding celebrity–getting them gigs, giving them expensive clothing, and advertising their brand. In exchange, the executives expect sex from the idol.
In 2009, Jang Ja-Yeon, a star in the K-Drama, Boys Before Flowers, committed suicide, outlining in her letters the sexual and physical abuse she underwent from a number of prominent executives in her industry. Women caught in this situation have no choice as most executives can also make police investigations shut down completely.
Talent contracts in the South Korean Entertainment Business are often referred to as slave contracts because they require their recipient to essentially adhere their rights to the talent agency for a period of years. The motive of these contracts is simple: attract talent with the promise of fame, and then exploit them for profit. These contracts would also restrict celebrities from making deals with other talent agencies, even after the current one expired.
The South Korean Fair Trade Commission has recently ordered the most notorious talent agencies in the industry to stop making unfair contracts with budding celebrities. This is a step forward, but there still is a lot of change to be made regarding the rights of contract recipients.
Body Image Pressure
JinE, of the Korean girl group Oh My Girl, had to leave in the middle of promotions to deal with anorexia. The industry puts immense pressure on its idols to stay extremely thin, and JinE said that she would constantly starve herself in preparation for promotional activities (appearances of social media, etc.) She has now assured her fans that she is healthy.
However, this is not a female-exclusive issue. Jimin of the hugely popular K-Pop band BTS became malnourished, saying that he wanted to be “one of the better-looking guys.” Himchan of B.A.P. cracked a rib after dramatic weight loss. Quite commonly, the pressure to be thin drives idols into severe eating disorders.
After making it big, most K-Pop idols have to deal with fanatic fans constantly invading their privacy (called Sasaeng Fans). Tao of EXO has had to deal with a fan tapping his hotel room, JunHo of 2PM constantly has fans stalking him near his home, and the girls of I.O.I had pictures posted of them in the bathroom on the internet. Most idols are also physically harassed in public, sometimes suffering severe injuries.
There are also “anti-fans” who will go to extreme lengths to sabotage, injure or even murder K-Pop idols. Yunho of TVXQ was once given a drink that had glue in it, poisoning him. He was admitted to the hospital, mostly only suffering psychological trauma from the incident.
The lives of K-Pop are dangerously glamorized in the eyes of fans and the media. The industry is a machine for manufacturing success, but the moral consquences of that are huge. These idols, at the end of the day, are humans, not objects. Their stories and their privacy should be respected.