Behind The Idol Life: The Dark Side Of Music In South Korea

Korean idol group SHINee, debuted in 2008. When they debuted, in only a matter of months they already had 60 award wins and 86 nominations, plus 57 music show wins. They have managed to stay relevant for many years. Some of the members of the group have even been hired to act in TV dramas, or have released their own singles. Kim Jong-hyun, one of the members, managed to get an important award, honoring his talent for writing lyrics, described as poetic, in their song “Juliette”. SHINee, has fame, they have fans and every day they are swarmed with tweets and comments from fans, expressing their love and admiration.

They live the idol life. Yet, in December 18th 2017, idol Kim Jong-hyun was found dead in his apartment. The cause of his death, was suicide. Kim Jong-hyun wrote in his heartbreaking suicide note, that he felt broken and maybe that he wasn't supposed to be “known in the world”. He hinted at the pressure that comes with being a celebrity, and expressed how he wished he had never chosen the path of an idol. The celebrity lifestyle never gave him the chance to feel like a human being, a chance to see him, not an illusion. Jong-hyun is not the first, and sadly wonєt be the last to take his own life due to pressure from the industry in South Korea. Korean-American singer Charles Park, known as Seo Ji-won, took his own life in January 1,1996. In his fare-well note, he mentioned the success of his first album, and that even after his death, even if he was gone, would be equally successful. This boy was 19 years old.The music industry in South Korea, is a very big deal and is nothing compared to the music industry in America. Korean boys and girls from ages 12-20+ audition for big companies, hoping to be hired and become an idol. Let´s walk through the stages of becoming an idol. After passing the audition, you sign a contract with the company, and officially become a trainee. Sounds easy, right? Only for you to find out there is over 100 other trainees competing for the chance to debut. This training is overwhelming, usually starting from 5am and ending around 1am the next day. The debut process can take up to 5 to 10 years. So, you have managed to debut. The company now owns you. Some K-Pop's biggest groups and stars have a dark side, being backed up on so-called slave contracts. Trainees no longer control their own lives, and to make things worse, get a small financial reward. These companies can go as far as, making female idols go on incredibly restrictive diets (suppressing cravings, eating one meal a day, etc.) to forcing young boys (15+) to get nose and eyelid removal surgeries. (Appearances are very important in South Korea, and apparently its acceptable to force someone who is still a child, into cosmetic surgery.)You may be asking, “Well if being an idol is so terrible, then why do people keep doing it?” Simple, people crave fame and popularity, and being a celebrity (or idol) implies that. Plus, these idols are passionate about singing, and dancing, they're simply following their dreams, and who can blame them.

Obviously not all companies are so controlling and manipulative, but when someone signs an idol contract they don't really know if this company is gonna treat them like a human, or a product. We look at celebrities and idols, and crave their fame and popularity. We believe that if we had that, our life would be 10x better. People want to have a legacy, to be seen. Yet, we see celebrities take their own lives, and fall into drugs and depression. So at the end of the day, is the idol life, really the dream we all crave?

13 January 2020
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