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[11/365] K-pop, Where Not Everything Is As It Seems Pt. I

Thought it’s a shame to leave this topic hanging when I’ve specially made an intro for it a few days back, so here I am with today’s topic: K-pop, and the machinations that make up your favourite idol groups.

The thing with K-pop fans is that they’re most often too focused on their idols, they don’t stop to consider how the industry works. And the Korean entertainment scene is an industry – a huge one, at that. Like all industries there are marketing strategies and economics involved; it’s where money changes hands and image becomes a hot sellable commodity. There’s no denying there’s talent and hard work put in by the idols themselves, but for the most part we can’t deny there’s plain old economics involved too.

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God bless xkcd, honestly

If anything, the management part of the industry is what’s worth paying attention to. oniontaker, for all the drama that surround him courtesy of salty fans and crazy folk, is a surprisingly accurate source of information. He’s not an informer, just someone who’s well intimated with the industry, and folks like him are worth paying attention to because he knows what’s what. He’s worked with some of the bigger names in the industry; hell if I’m not reading it wrong he’s also a key part of it. Who would you rather believe, an anonymous nobody or an anonymous somebody who’s consistently proven that he’s got the connections to back up his claims? Yeah, I’d go for oniontaker too.

I mentioned oniontaker because if you were to go through his posts that aren’t about dating gossip or rumours, he actually tackles them with the business part of the industry taken into consideration. What would profit the company? How would the company cover their losses? Is it really true Minzy leaving 2NE1 changes nothing for YG Entertainment? He looks at it from the business point of view, and that’s fascinating to be honest. He’s prime proof that the Korean entertainment industry is, above all, a goddamn industry – it’s ultimate purpose is to generate a huge-ass income and I think fans would do well to remember that.

There’s a fine line between, say, supporting your idols and being blind to the industry machinations. Did you know, for example, that most entertainment companies pay variety shows to have their idols featuring on it? It’s not your favourite idols giving up their precious rest time to help struggling variety shows become more popular – it’s your idols doing their job, putting themselves out there to promote themselves. It’s part of the reason why fans hate TS Entertainment so much, because they won’t let B.A.P take part in variety shows; it does seem to be getting better lately, with One Fine Day and the members have since been appearing in variety shows over the past year, but with the whole lawsuit issue and hiatus, it’s hard to say if a few measly variety shows are going to be helping B.A.P get back their spotlight.

That’s another thing fans don’t consider – not all companies treat their artists fairly. B.A.P put up a fight and went on a hiatus, severely hurting their popularity in the mean time – don’t try to lie to yourself, the hiatus helped no one. They went on hiatus in 2014 and during that time EXO and Bangtan surged up the popularity ranks in their absence. The hiatus hurt them a lot, and it was all because TS Entertainment wouldn’t pay them fairly. We don’t hear about these cases a lot, mostly because the artists don’t usually try to fight back – B.A.P did and they eventually went back to TS Entertainment, didn’t they? The few successful groups to have fought back against their unfair contracts are Shinhwa and JYJ who left SM Entertainment (not to mention ongoing lawsuits by Wu Yifan, Huang Zitao, and Luhan, and complaints from f(x)’s Amber and Super Junior M’s Henry – just how shitty is this company really?), and Block B filed a suit against their old agency Stardom Entertainment because the company didn’t pay their wages for an entire goddamn year. Minzy didn’t renew her contract with YG Entertainment because Yang Hyun Suk focused so much on new groups he’d basically left 2NE1 to stagnate for years – the members each made roughly $50k in 2015 without any new material or promotions, and that’s about what a normal dude makes in America from his white collar job. If I were Minzy, I’d be pissed the fuck off too. Right now BEAST is fighting against Cube Entertainment to have the rights to their group name, much like what Shinhwa did, and cases like those take decades to settle. And these are the more high-profile cases where the artists basically went, “You know what? Fuck it,” and put up a fight. What about SEVENTEEN, who had some of their songwriting copyrights taken away by Pledis Entertainment? The oldest among them is born in 1995 – that’d make S.Coups 22 years old this year – so how would you expect them to deal with a lawsuit? Unfair work environments and dodgy deals surround these idols on a daily basis, and it’s all the more unfair when you think about how most of these new generation idols are just kids.

Let’s not even get into the nitty gritty mess that is the trainee years. You can’t help but think there’s something wrong when you hear idols reminisce about their trainee days where they slept in a pile in packed rooms and spent hours upon hours practising, all with no wage or no allowance. They’re trainees – they’re an investment made the company. If they make it, they make it. If they’re lucky, they make it big after years of training and only after debut can they hope to think about getting paid. If they’re not particularly lucky, they end up in some nugu group that take years to gain recognition and aren’t even very well known outside their fandom. If they’re super unlucky, their group falls down by the wayside mere months after debut – and this is just the groups that do debut. What about the hundreds of groups that don’t even make it past their debut? Groups that don’t debut at all? What about trainees that spend years training since they were teenagers only to have no career at all? For every successful rookie group on the market right now, there are at least fifty that have fallen by the wayside. It’s a fact worth bearing in mind.

Next part: albums, chart rankings, and how the Korean entertainment industry milks the idol fandom of all their money.

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