Labor Abuse in the K-Pop Industry
K-pop music has evolved so much over the past few years that it has crossed over into the American mainstream with BTS being the first K-pop artists nominated for an American Music Award. However, the K-pop industry has a dark side. It has become common for K-pop music idols to experience labor abuse from their companies. Labor abuse takes the idols capability of living their own life and takes a toll on their mental health.
There are instances where K-pop music companies have taken over the idols’ personal lives to the point that they are not allowed to date or even have political opinions so that the companies don’t get into scandals or lawsuits. Idols don’t know that the contracts that they sign include a permanent commitment with the company. Many idols start in the industry in their adolescence and go into training for 10 to 15 years before they become public. If they want to quit, the industry would demand an expensive fee or blackmail them by using footage of the idols’ sexual activities or other means and basically making them their slaves.
Most K-pop idols must get plastic surgery to make themselves look perfect. The physical changes are mostly done around their eyes, lips, and noses which is less noticeable for the public, but plastic surgeons can spot them easily. The reason for this is because Korea thrives for sexual appeal which music industries use to make them known. Not only that, but K-pop idols must go on a strict diet to have a perfect, thin body. For example, OneKet from Global Icon would only consume one bottle of soy milk per day that made him lose 20 pounds per month. Worse of all, some idols use the “Paper Cut Diet” which means eating a banana and watermelon only diet. Some would have these cups of fruits with grains nine times a day just to keep their slender body. This would make idols have not enough nutrients to perform in concerts, which increases the chances of them fainting onstage.
K-pop industries not only overwork their idols but they sexually abuse them as well. Managers or executives of the K-pop industry try to sexually assault them, especially the female K-pop idols. For example, Jang Suk-woo, an Open World Entertainment’s CEO and talent coach, took advantage of young artists by drugging and sexually assaulting them between November 2010 to March 2012. Sponsors have been known to do that as well if K-pop idols want more financial support. Either way, most K-pop idols don’t earn much because companies take away 90% from every show and not even selling records help them gain more earnings. They are not the only ones that K-pop idols get abuses but from the fans themselves. In Korean culture, there are “saseang fans” that obsessively invade the personal lives of K-pop idols, just like the companies, and they stalk every single step they take. The worse is the anti-fans that threaten to kill the K-pop idols out of pure jealousy. In 2015, BTS cancelled their New York Concert for their nationwide, “The Red Bullet,” tour because of the amount of death threats to each of the members on Twitter.
All these issues can drive K-pop idols to struggle with mental health problems that can lead to suicide. Kim Jong-Hyun better known as Jonghyun, was a beloved lead singer of the boy band SHINee. He committed suicide on December 18, 2017. He left a suicide note talking about he felt broken and how the depression started eating him away, never being able to feel joy ever again but just pain.
The K-pop industry is a very dark place, but it has improved over the years with the idols having more freedom to end contracts and the decreasing labor abuse, but in some cases, it continues. Kpop Idols are still overworked with only getting two weeks to a month break during the year. As fans of Kpop, we need to understand that K-pop groups work extremely hard to please the fans.The industry can be cruel and we need to appreciate the artist’s hard work and dedication more often.