Why being a Korean Idol isn’t easy

It all starts with a favorable thought. We all want to be rich and famous, no matter what race, age or sex we are. There’s no denying that burried deep inside us (if denial persists), the deep desire for the richest pleasures there is in the world: money, fame and to be incredibly liked. In Korea, the best possible way to be all three is to be an Idol. No doubt, the age of idols has come again. After the success of the first generation of K-Idols such as G.O.D, SES, H.O.T, and Shinhwa, more and more companies sprung to join the bandwagon of idol-dom and rush to launch the idols that brought about the real fame that is KPOP. Even today, companies know that money comes from investing the best of the best. Rookie groups are launched practically every week now, and more people are starting to wonder: Is being an idol even worth it these days?

The word ‘idol’ first meant an inanimate object of worship, but it has evolved to include modern celebrities. On the Korean pop music scene, ‘idol groups’ are bands consisting of boys or girls in their teenage years or early 20s. And in recent years they’ve dominated the industry. But stars aren’t built in a day. To become a member of one of these bands, young children go through years of grueling training – all without any guarantee of success in the end.

In Korea, entertainment agencies looking to create idols – which they then also manage – maintain well-ordered training programs. Prospective talents in music or acting register with an agency, then, if accepted, undergo four to five years, on average, of training before their debuts. During that process, the company may require the aspiring star to live in a boarding house with colleagues (or rivals), go on a strict diet with regular weight checks and put in more than 10 hours of practice a day.

But the trainees don’t know how long it will take for them to make their debuts – if that day ever arrives – and are often allegedly given little idea of the draining life they’re signing up for when they enter a training program.(Asianbite)

Trainees from various companies are willing to endure years of rigourous training in order to fulfill their dreams, though only an eight of the portion is given the true promise to debut and less than half of the rookies that DO debut these days get the fame that they worked hard for. There are false promises everywhere. Even if you do debut in a good company such as SM, YG or JYP, you aren’t ensured that you’ll be able to debut even if it takes you 10 years.

In some cases however, perseverance pays off. Take for example Jo Kwon of 2AM. He debuted after almost 10 years of training under JYP, which gave him the title of the longest trained idol in history. The average years of training of the most famous idols these days such as Super Junior, SNSD, 2PM and Big Bang are 6 years and in 6 years you can do so much more for yourself unlike if you persist to training without any promises. But for these people, they wouldn’t give up just because it gets more difficult every year as you watch you fellow trainess debut one by one– they wouldn’t give up because their dreams, as they see it, will come eventually.

Park, the manager of Beast at Cube Entertainment, explained, ‘When registering as a trainee with our company, the trainee makes an agreement with us that they will comply with a set of rules along with an acknowledgement that we cannot guarantee when they will be able to make their debut as a full-fledged singer. No one knows how long it will take for one to end his or her traineeship – it actually depends on themselves.’

‘You cannot get out of it either because you are so much in love and addicted to it, or because you know there can be no turning back once you’ve crossed the line,’ Junhyung, from BEAST said. ‘The cost is too high [if you give up halfway] because there would be so many things you’ve given up to do this, for example, your normal school life and quality time that could be spent with your beloved family and friends.’

After debuting, it isn’t always smooth sailing after the boat leaves the dock. Rookie idols are forced to take on schedules that lead them to the brink of exhaustion and lack of sleep. Why? Companies know that in order to make the group more famous, they need to appear in almost every variety show, sing in all three famous music shows and guest on the radio shows to promote their songs. It isn’t a rarity anymore to hear in the news that an idol has been sent to the hospital for excessive fatigue. Even after you establish your name in the industry, you never really get any rest. And the number of days that you do finally have the freedom a r & r are so terribly limited that sometimes the only way you can reach your family is through a quick phone call. In fact, the most common complaint that an idol would give as a con is that they rarely get to see their family, and thus miss them so much it hurts.

But in the end, for them all the hardwork and pain is worth it because they worked hard for it. These days, the chances of being an idol ain’t one in a million anymore. Anyone can be an idol (use your common sense though. If you can’t sing, dance, or even project self confidence, do you think you can be an idol?), as long as you are prepared for the challenges that will come your way. Being an idol isn’t as easy at it looks. Behind every weekly debut is buckets of shed tears and sweat. Behind every idol is a human being. Human beings are people with needs too.

‘There is no such thing as a daily routine for us. We get up at daybreak when our schedule begins early in the morning, but sometimes we start the day after the sun goes down if we had an all-night schedule the night before,’ Jun-hyung said. ‘What makes us keep going despite the killer schedule is all the time and effort we have put in to get here,’ Gikwang said. ‘Considering what we have been through, we cannot simply give it away.’

Another sensitive issue about being an idol (for most of them, and even for us fans) is that they cannot be in relationships. Why? Because it is already a known fact (come on, don’t deny it) that if they do get public with their relationships, the amount of fans that they have/ had will decrease and anti-fans will increase. It is an issue how obsessed fans can get to the point where they’ll resort to horrible methods in order to ruin the significant other of their favorite idol.

Take for example, last year’s explosive revelation of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun and Shin Sekyung. Jonghyun is in the prime of his teenage years, so it’s understandable that he’d want to be in a relationship (especially if that girl is his ideal type), but the saesang fans just couldn’t get over themselves and decided to flood Sekyung’s mini-homepage and fansites with hate messages. Tons of Shawols (SHINee’s fanclub) converted to antis and thus, thousands of fans were lost. Is this the fault of Jonghyun and Sekyung? No it isn’t. So why must they have to suffer for their relationship? The answer lies in the simple fact that Jonghyun is an idol.

In my earlier definition of an idol, it states that it is an “inanimate object” of worship. Are idols inanimate objects? We do not own any of them, and thus we present no right to treat them as objects. They are not our things that we have to mark as ours. Of course, being a celebrity already means that you are open to the public 24/7, but don’t we at least want to respect their privacy and allow them to happy?

Though I feel extremely sorry that idols these days have to keep their relationship a secret in order to protect themselves and the one they love and care for, I have come to understand that this is already part of their (Korea’s) culture and we (International fans) have to accept that as well. What we have to do then is to promise ourselves that we should always support them, no matter what explosive bomb or threat to our heartfelt confessions of eternal love they will reveal to us. Because we love them as well. And if we love them, we want them to be happy right?

So maybe the more we know about how hard it is behind the glitz and glamour that is being a Korean Idol, the more we’ll learn to appreciate the art that is KPOP and learn to love and support our favorite idols even more. :)

[Disclaimer: some text taken from Asian Bite’s article A Korean Idol’s Life: Sweat and Sleepless Nights
Main source: Joongangdaily]

14 thoughts on “Why being a Korean Idol isn’t easy

  1. Thank you for this article. It breaks my heart knowing that so many trainees and idols go through so much crap on their journey to success for their dreams, only to be ignored, bashed, hated on, etc. etc.

  2. I think it’s terrible that they have worked so hard to get to where they are and that because of the obsession of their fans they cannot share the person they love with the world. Surely a true fan should love them no matter what and want them to be happy, instead of wanting to keep them single and unhappy.

  3. The article was great, I wish more people would write articles similar to. The obsession of some fans in London is starting to show to be honest. I believe the amount of trainees are also wanting to become idols because of the lack of work in Korea.

    Have you ever thought about more what goes on behind the scenes of making an idol? If so, I wrote a small post that I wonder if you could read and comment on about certain aspects that K-Pop idols are being made into these days: http://nynyonlinex.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/workaholic-society-of-an-idol/

    If you read my article, I wrote a small part about how the economy may be leading people to choose an idol life because of it.

  4. This is such a great article… Think about how hard they’ve been working, sometimes makes me admired. It push me to work as hard as they do.. Evenyhough we’re in different case. Hehe. Seems like positive thing that we can learn from Korean Idol.

  5. i wish i could do something like this
    my parents wont even think about allowing me
    ive been buying books and learning different things to prepare myself without their knowing
    i just wish one of them could be e…ya know?

  6. I also want to be a Kpop Idol, I always pray for it.. xD But my singing skills are bad I don’t know if it will be better if I enter a class for vocal lessons, but my dancing skills are not that bad for me (some compliments my dance). I want to learn to rap in korean if in case my voice is not compatible for singing. xD I’m thinking of studying in South Korea (don’t know what course) and try auditioning, but I’m scared of the fact that I might get in but don’t debut, and also I’m not Korean, I’m a Filipino. The reason why I want to be an Idol is I don’t know what job/work I can get that will make me happy, but dancing or performing makes me happy. It’s like I want a career that will make me happy.

    So Is there any advices? Should I do it? What course should I get? What company suits me best? (But I want to audition in SM, because I first knew about Kpop is through EXO, my bias is Chanyeol… He is not that talented because he is not good at dancing but can rap, has good looks, knows how to play lots of instrument, simply saying If he can’t dance but can rap, I have a chance, I’m good at dancing but bad at singing but can learn to rap). Please reply xD you can email me though. :) (I don’t want my dreams to be crushed)

    • Hello darling, sorry I just got around to replying. I actually haven’t checked my email in months so I just saw this comment just now.

      Anyway. I’m happy for you! Really. It’s nice to see people working towards a goal in their life. Dreams were made for living :) But with all dreams and aspirations, comes certain limits. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure you can do it if you try your very hardest. And by “very hardest” I would mean, you would resort to even the most drastic measures.

      Being a KPOP idol does not only involve being talented. The fact that you know you’re a good dancer is fantastic!! But being an idol, I’m sure you know, is not only about dancing. You say your singing isn’t that good (and again, good for you cause you know your weaknesses) and that could be your Achilles heel when it comes to being an idol. Believe it or not, gone are the days when idols just needed to be pretty to be an idol (SM chooses mostly on looks). These days, rookies are HIGHLY competitive and talented. Have you seen the SM and YG trainees? They worked hard to get there, and not only that… they are DEATHLY talented.

      I don’t know you and I’ve never seen you perform. You have to be a good judge of yourself and see where you should place yourself. Ask yourself if you can: 1. handle the stress, pressure and possibly rejection, 2. see yourself improving in a way that can reach THEIR standards, and 3. have the talent that the companies want.

      Looks, as I have said, aren’t as important as before. And yet, it’s still one of the biggest factors for choosing trainees. Most of the time, what companies want are your typical “ulzzang-y” girls and boys. If not, those with unique yet appealing looks. Please don’t do anything just to please others. All your decisions when it comes to your looks should come from yourself. In fact, if you think you’re beautiful, just strut it!

      I don’t know what course you should get. By course, you mean college? Or lessons? Maybe you should polish your dancing and get voice lessons first. Then maybe focus on developing yourself as a person. Character and confidence shines through :)

      And lastly, which company you should go to? Well, here’s the thing:

      YG loves (and I mean, LOVES) talent. You have to be extremely talented (not even good looking tbh) to get in. You have to have something that he doesn’t see everyday. In other words, you have to be uniquely talented. And also, he likes charisma.

      JYP goes for a mix of both good looks and talent. Mostly, you could do a ballad on auditions. He doesn’t really care much about dancing (because he knows that dancing can be improved with tons of practice). So if you want to get in, you have to be a good singer with varying octaves.

      SM is the most famous out of the three. They produce the most famous stars in the industry today. In other words, SM is very, very choosy. They’re known for scouting the streets for future trainees, so you can bet that they focus a LOT on looks. Talent comes second, but certainly is as important as anything. Since SM has the most trainees out of the big 3, they do a lot of cutting every 3 months. You have to be able to persevere through that all and be willing to change a lot about yourself.

      Other companies have varying interests too. Starship focuses on vocal talent and body image. LOEN focuses on singing (hence their artists who are almost 80% balladeers). FNC goes for rock and musicality (aka, the use of instruments). TS Entertainment varies, but when they produce artists, they like keeping with one theme.

      In any case, whatever I say doesn’t really matter that much. It’s all in your hands what you plan on becoming. Just remember, even if you’re excellent in all aspects, you still have to know how to SPEAK KOREAN above all. You’ll have to learn it, not matter how hard it is.

      So yeah. That’s all. I hope I helped you somehow. Good luck!

  7. Pingback: Objects | Baekunn

  8. I’m curious about being a Kpop idol. I want to be a Kpop idol someday even if it’s impossible for me to get scouted and caught the attention of top 3 agencies. I stand 175 cm tall and weighs 63 kgs. I know how to sing and dance but I don’t have much eexperiences exposing those talents. I badly want to try their auditions but I’m from Philippines and it’s hard for me to caught their attention because I’m Filipino, but I have wide set eyes with double eyelids, high nose bridge and round nose tip, square face (but my jaws are weak), and fair skin, except for my lips that is full and pout. My singing skills is good but I don’t think that I can hit high notes and I don’t know if they will like my light voice, and for dancing, jazz is my personal style but I’m not good at hip hop or folk dance. Is there any chance for me to pass the auditions??

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