In the last ten years, the genre of k-pop has gained interest internationally. The increase of popularity is because of the bands’ music, nevertheless, the change of hair color and style when a new album is released keeps the fans interested in the band and pulls others to listen to their music as well. However, while the idea of wearing designer brands and making a large amount of money by performing songs on stage may seem exciting, k-pop group members sacrifice and go through many hardships to accomplish their dreams.
Before introducing their music to the public, k-pop “idols” go through a training period which takes at least three years. The amount of time changes according to the trainee and the company involved. At a young age, the trainees have to sign a contract with difficult requirements under the management agency they will work for. On bbc.com, Euodias, a half-Korean/Chinese girl who lived in Britain but had the hope of becoming a k-pop trainee, shared her experience with the public. At the age of ten, she signed up for various auditions and successfully got through to the next stage in one year. Euodias was then given a two-year contract which required her to leave her family to move to South Korea and pay thousands of dollars for her training. Upon signing the contract, Euodias was sent to a very strict company. “We only left the building to attend our normal school lessons. Korean trainees went to local state schools, but because I was British, I went to an international school. Other than that we weren’t allowed out without permission, which was usually refused,” Euodias said.
After sacrificing their childhood to constant training, idols might not even become successful. K-pop groups first enter the music industry when they “debut”, or when they release their first song and album. This helps create an image to grab the attention of fans. According to netizenbuzz.blogspot.com, trainees have a 0.1% chance of debuting, which means that only one in 1000 trainees can debut. Often, the popularity of the company plays a great role in determining this percentage. The chances are very low that rookies will debut after their 20s which means they have to find a new career path, rendered difficult with their lack of education due to time spent on training.
When picking trainees, management agencies don’t seem to care about weight or visuals. They focus on the potential of whether or not the trainee can be sculpted into another victim of the Korean beauty standards. They have them sign a contract which allows the management agency to control what the trainees eat and how much they exercise. K-pop idols, such as Sana from the girl group Twice, didn’t always have the figure she has now. According to themadameblue.com, “Per Korean beauty standards, a slim figure, small face and V-shape jawline, pale skin, double eyelids, flawless skin, and larger eyes are often considered a must to be beautiful.” After picking out rookies for a group, the overweight trainees are put on strict diets, making having disorders normalized in the k-pop industry. Billboard.com states that JinE, a member of the eight-member group Oh My Girl, developed anorexia after the restrictions she received about her weight from the company. For promotion, the members had to lose between 17 to 20 pounds, which led to body dysmorphia. This not only negatively affects the idols, but the mindset of young viewers as well; the public weight losses promote the standard of being skinny.
The fans of k-pop think that the industry is harmful to young viewers as well. A devoted fan of the k-pop band Stray Kidz, Isabella Elkhoury said, “The k-pop industry is setting a wrong example by giving the message that you have to visually fit the standards to become successful.” In the United States, the possibility of a band going through the same restrictions as the bands in South Korea are very low. The opportunities the kids in the United States get is pretty amazing, taking into consideration that in South Korea, k-pop idols have to sacrifice their childhood to become the singer they dream to be. The stans, fans of the k-pop bands, aren’t that happy about the conditions the k-pop idols had to go through, but they are still thankful that they did since if not, they wouldn’t have a chance to know about the band. “I think their music is worth the sacrifice and that’s why people should respect it more,” Isabella said. “I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like k-pop, but they have to acknowledge how much work and effort is put into the music they produce.”