Becoming a K-pop star is not easy.
When you seeing K-pop idols perform on stage with smiles on their faces, what you are seeing is just a mask covering up the truth underneath. The path you need to take to become an idol is brutal. The world of K-pop is a real-life Hunger Games.
In South Korea, young talent sign up with an entertainment company. Then the company puts them through boot camp. The trainees live together in a small compact dorm where they would be practicing dances, songwriting, eating, and sleeping.
Stella Kim, an ex-Girl’s Generation idol trainee has described what it is like behind the scenes. The expectations are very high, and the producers want flawlessness in every idol, in every respect. “They would make us stand in line and go on the scale. They would call out what your weight is in front of everyone. If your weight had not gone down from the week prior, you would get bashed on,” said Stella. She describes how she was under pressure to stay thin not by getting exercise but simply through calorie restriction.
Trainees are also given diets and tightly packed schedules. Soyou from Sistar mentioned that before their debut, the group was restricted to eating fruits and vegetables, potatoes, chicken breast, and boiled eggs. She also talked about her own diet. A boiled potato for breakfast, three boiled eggs for lunch and for dinner only three pieces of kimbap. 15 kilograms gone in three months. Hyosung from Secret says she used to eat just a single banana each morning, two boiled eggs for lunch, and a cup of soy milk for dinner.
The trainee period can last anywhere from a few days to a decade.
After you debut, the hardships have just begun. The pressure of always creating a song that will be a hit is tough, and always having a breathtaking performance every single time. Each performance will feature about 24 songs at every concert, adding up to 2.5 – 3 hours of performance time. Don’t forget that every song has its own complex choreography. Compare that to a Taylor Swift concert in which she performed for 2 hours, including her break time of 20 minutes.
Kpop groups such as BTS and Twice created around 20 songs each this year and performed in 20 concerts. “In North America, we are more used to seeing a single or two or three [released] in a year,” says music critic Jeff Benjamin. “Then a full album comes and then maybe [the artist] takes a year, two or three years off.”
Kpop idols are employees of the entertainment agency and only get a few months off for vacations, and for most of it, they will be probably doing something like Bon Voyage, a summer show that features how BTS spends their summer together. The company will give them a country to travel to, a place to stay and activities to do. But there’s a catch, the manager and the production staff follow them around and film their every move. A lot of other Kpop groups also do something similar, and after their little trip is over, it will be made into a summer package book where fans can purchase the package and see pictures of their idols enjoying their summer together and all the activities they did. A DVD will also be included featuring behind the scenes of their photoshoots and the activities they attended. Videos of the idols enjoying their vacation will also be uploaded to V Live.
On top of all that, Kpop idols are also obligated to have fan interactions which usually happen in autograph lines. K-pop idols also go live on the V Live app to interact with fans all around the world. They will read and reply to the comments talking about their day.
“They can be asked to work for as much as 20 hours a day,” said Prince Mark. In a Front Row Live Ent interview with BTS, Jung Hoseok stated that at least practices 12 hours a day. Krystal for F(x) has passed out many times on camera, it’s almost become a normal thing for her. Once she even passed out doing a gig and was still holding the mic in her hand. There was another case where Minho from SHINee got some time off from work and went over to a friend’s house and slept for 48 hours.
When performing on stage, injuries are not going to stop a K-pop idol. They are obligated to perform. During the DMC 2016 festival, Gayoung from Stellar performed with a neck brace and told fans that she was ok.
In 2017, G-dragon was doing a performance in Seoul. He was so into his performance that he didn’t notice a hole that opened up in the ground or the stage. Once he noticed, it was already too late. He fell through. This was caused by some covering on the floor that was knocked loose.
He got back up and continued his performance.
Image credit: Ranunculus