K-Pop idols seem to have it all—fame, beauty and wealth, but all of those comes at a price.
Besides the seemingly glamorous façade of the K-Pop world, there are also many ‘ugly truths’ behind it.
1. Many Idols Have Gone Through Years of Gruelling Training
If you’ve been a long-time K-Pop fan, you’d certainly know that it’s not easy to become a K-Pop idol. Even K-Pop idols have confessed and talked about their hardships on variety shows.
Big companies such as JYP, SM, and YG Entertainment are known to have brought up many well-known celebrities you know today, and most of them are known to debut at a very young age.
K-Pop training, often referred to as “boot camp” can take up to 10 years or more! Can you imagine how young they were when they had to go through a rigorous training process to get to where they are today?
Basically, these huge entertainment labels have very high standards for their artists.
In order to become the most ‘ideal’ idols, they were trained through various aspects in the industry such as dancing, singing, acting and anything else that the companies see beneficial for their artists.
The worst part of this process is that some trainees can be completely dropped if no required improvements or goals are made, no matter how long and hard they’ve trained.
Besides, the training gets even tougher and cutthroat when the trainees are pressured to compete against each other to secure their spots in the final phase of the training process, where new a K-Pop group is to be formed.
Those who don’t make it will continue to train without knowing when they get to debut—or they don’t at all.
2. K-Pop Idols Resort to Plastic Surgery to Achieve Beauty Standards
Apart from talents, the idols are also expected to undergo plastic surgery to achieve a ‘perfect’ visual appearance, be it male or female.
Rapper Kim Eunmi, who goes by the name Grazy Grace has even discussed the pressure companies put on their trainees to fix their appearance so that they would gain more attention and better treatment if they’d become more ‘beautiful’.
Although most idols don’t publicly discuss about it to maintain their image, some of them have actually been open about getting plastic surgery.
3. Extreme Diet and Tough Gym Routines to Achieve the ‘Perfect Body’
In the K-Pop industry, artists are required to comply to strict weight standards to achieve the image of a ‘perfect body’.
Many former trainees had revealed the struggles they went through to maintain their weight during their training days.
One of them said she had starved for 10 years since trainees under 163cm (5’3″) had to reach the debut weight of 38kg (83 lbs).
She also claimed that the company set up CCTV at their dorm to monitor their lives and constantly check on their refrigerators. They had to secretly eat, and then usually threw up after that.
Many K-Pop idols have also confessed that they have to check their weight regularly, and they’d be punished if they exceed their weight limit.
Momo from TWICE also revealed that she lost 7kg (15 lbs) in one week in order to be able to go up on stage for the showcase.
She went to extreme lengths to lose weight, such as not eating anything besides a single piece of ice during that one-week period and even went to the gym.
She also frequently spat, hoping that it would help reduce her weight. She confessed that she was afraid she might not wake up in the morning when she went to sleep, and it made her want to cry.
As a result of starvation and unhealthy diet routines, many K-Pop idols have suffered from eating disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia.
Besides strict diets, the society is also another contributor to this issue. Being a public figure, many K-Pop idols have been subjected to body shaming for being either too skinny or not skinny enough.
Because of the society’s standards, they are also often pressured into achieving the ideal body.
Although body appearance is often associated with female K-Pop idols, male idols have also suffered a great deal from weight control.
Besides strict diets, gym routines can also be gruelling. Former Crayon Pop member, Way confessed that they used to dance with 4 kg of sandbags on their feet for several days so that they would look lighter while dancing.
4. Many K-Pop Idols struggle to make money
You may think that K-Pop idols make a lot of money, but in reality, they actually struggle a lot behind the scenes. This is because they have a debt to pay off when they start working.
In January 2018, former K-pop star Prince Mak revealed the struggles of being a K-Pop idol on his Youtube channel and mentioned that idols had to repay the amount invested in them during their training such as accommodations, food and production.
It was also revealed that back in 2016, AOA didn’t get paid. Despite their success and fame, they didn’t receive any income for their work until after 3 years since their debut.
Besides, only those who are famous enough can get well-paid advertisement deals, while the less popular ones can only rely on album and ticket sales or appearance fees, which do not even pay a lot.
5. Lack of Sleep Due to Extremely Busy Schedules
Apparently, you must be willing to give up the need of self-care and wellbeing to be successful in the K-Pop industry.
Given to the competitive nature of the K-Pop industry, it’s no surprise that K-Pop idols often blacked out during events.
Without sleep and proper diet, many of them have collapsed on stage during performances and even during fan sign events, and it has sadly become very common.
They practically work and train like robots, often overexerting themselves to fulfil their extremely busy schedules, especially during promotional period.
6. K-Pop Idols are Often Exploited by Their Companies
Being a K-Pop star doesn’t only mean entrusting your fate and future to entertainment companies, but it also means you might have to sell more than your soul in order to be successful.
Sponsorship, which can be seen as a form of prostitution is a common culture that is practised in the entertainment industry. It involves transactional sex between prominent executives (sponsors) and artists.
Basically, these sponsors will receive an idol to have their way with, which is negotiated through a contract planned by the company (idol’s employer).
K-Pop idols are often subjected to sexual abuse, and the fact that underage trainees and idols are involved made it even more disturbing. This does not only happen to female idols, but male idols as well!
One of the notable cases that happen in 2012 involves CEO Jang Seok-woo from Open World Entertainment.
He was charged for sexually abusing female trainees and even forced male idols from his own agency to be compliances in the act. A former trainee who auditioned for his company also revealed that she was asked to get naked by the CEO himself.
Another case of sexual abuse, also known as the “Burning Sun” scandal was exposed as recent as last year and it became a major scandal. Many were shocked, especially the fans of the popular idols who were involved in the scandal and came from big companies.
They were accused of rape, arranging illegal sexual services for wealthy investors, filming sexual videos of women without their consent, and sharing those videos with each other in a KakaoTalk chat room.
Other than sexual exploitations, entertainment agencies also unfairly take advantage of their artists by making them sign ‘slave contracts’, which usually last up to more than 10 years. The worst part is that the idols have to pay a huge amount if they want to terminate the contract.
7. K-Pop Idols are Banned from Dating
Since K-Pop idols mainly represents their company’s image, their lives are practically controlled by their company, including their love lives.
They are not allowed to date, especially other idols mainly because being single makes them appear more accessible to their fans.
In terms of marketing, the idols and their company can gain more income through their devoted fans.
For K-Pop idols, the consequences of dating can be as harsh as being dismissed from their company, such as in the case of Hyuna and e’Dawn.
Back in 2014, EXO’s Baekhyun and Girl’s Generation Taeyeon had to break up and apologise to their fans for ‘hurting’ them when their relationship became public.
8. Suffering from Depression is Common Among K-Pop Idols
After SHINEE’s Jonghyun passed away by commiting suicide in 2017, subjects on mental health and well-being of K-Pop idols and Korean celebrities became popular, encouraging several celebrities to open up about their struggles with depression.
K-Pop idols are known to suffer from intense stress due to their job and constantly receiving hate or criticisms from the public.
2019 was said to be the worst year for K-Pop when Sulli, who was said to suffer from depression committed suicide after continuously being the target of cyberbullying. It shocked many fans because she was always so bright.
Just six weeks after Sulli’s death, Goo Hara, who was also a close friend of Sulli commited suicide as well. Prior to this, she had also attempted suicide six months ago and was battling a sex tape scandal that involved her ex-boyfriend.
After witnessing all the mental and physical abuse idols have suffered through their careers, it's clear that what's going on in the K-pop industry isn't completely hidden after all.
What are your thoughts on the K-Pop industry? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!
Also read, 5 Steps on How to be a Successful K-Pop trainee 연습생 in 2019