Any follower of the KPOP scene would know why I chose to write this article at this specific time. We are all going through a hard time trying to deal with the news of Jonghyun’s death and even worse because it was a suicide and he had penned a suicide note 2 weeks prior. Jonghyun’s deep pain that we, as outsiders, could only guess at, makes me want to scream to the world that the life K-Idols live cannot but drive them to extreme measures. Be it alcohol, drugs, or worse, suicide.
I was just coming out of my class when my K-fan workmate broke the news of Jonghyun’s death to me. My legs failed me and I crumbled down on the floor. Our other non-KPOP friend asked, ‘’if he was as young and talented and popular as you guys say, why would he kill himself?’’ This article is a reply to that friend and to everyone who’s wondering why a young, talented and successful person would commit suicide. Being an idol sounds fascinating. ‘’They have a great career that provides them with the best lifestyle. They’re super popular and loved. They must be rich and worry-free. WE ENVY THEM.’’ Let’s see if their lives are something to envy.
So a person who dreams of becoming a singer, an idol in this case, mostly at a very young age, sometimes even pre-teen, auditions in different companies. If that person is talented and has potential, a record company signs with them. And here it all starts. When that person signs the contract, he/she basically gives up on their lives from that moment on. Because the moment they sign the contract, their lives aren’t theirs anymore but the company’s. The company sets the daily schedule. The company decides the ‘’real’’ talent of that person and chooses their ‘’calling’’. The company sets the number of classes they should take. The number of plastic surgeries they should undergo to look like an ‘’idol’’. The diet they should follow to have the ‘’perfect’’ body. The kind of people they should and shouldn’t meet. Where they live and where and when they go out. And most importantly, if and when they debut. Interestingly, the terms of the contract start at the moment of training but counting the years starts at debut. So if someone like 2AM’s Kwon trains for 8 years before debut, his contract starts counting after 8 years. Wow!
Now since all the classes, the training, the surgeries and the diet cost money, the idol is to pay the company back after debut. In other words, the idol is in debt to the company from the moment he/she signs the contract. And since most idols are parts of groups/ bands, the profits the group makes is to be divided between the group members and the company, the company taking the lion’s share. And if you’re unlucky enough to be in a group with many members, say Super Junior or Seventeen, with 13 members each, and you have to pay the company back for the trainee years and you have mostly come from the countryside and you need to help your parents out, man, you’re left with nothing. So you work your entire life and are left with no money. Ah! If you’re a foreigner, you have it worse. Just ask Super Junior’s Hangeng or EXO’s Kai, they would have a lot to tell you regarding that.
So you have no money left for yourself but you’re still under a contract. You cannot breach or break the contract because the penalty is something you can never come up with. So you keep working. You have to participate in any activity the company sends you too: music shows, variety shows, signing sessions, photo shoots, advertisements, films, TV-series, etc… And if you’re in a company like SM Entertainment, and you participate in that event and do your best, your profit is still shared between the company and the members. SuJu members say this has changed lately but who knows.
Your schedule is hectic you can barely sleep. You have no personal life since you have no time and you’re not allowed to date. The company mostly bans dating to protect its image but you wouldn’t even date if you could. Why? Because you’d be putting yourself in a situation that jeopardises your career and your loved one’s life. Super Junior’s Sungmin got married in 2014 and three years afterwards he still cannot participate in the group activities because Korean ELFs (everlasting friends – Super Junior’s fans) are angry and feel betrayed that he didn’t get their permission to get married! So you cannot date. You have no personal life. You have no money. And you’re still working. But you cannot do it roughly. You have to maintain a great body. A great body means being underweight but at the same time exercising rigorously. So you cannot eat and you have to exercise. The company wouldn’t let you gain weight and even if it does, the public won’t leave you alone. Netizens’ malicious comments would chase you to the other world.
So you have your fans to cheer you on and make your life bearable. In your wildest dreams! For each loyal fan, you get ten sasaengs, obsessive fans who’d make sure your life is even more miserable. They’d stake out in front of your company or house all day, maybe even break in and install CCTV cameras, like what happened with TVXQ. They’d chase your car and it’s okay if it causes accidents, Super Junior’s Leeteuk and Heechul’s and Big Bang’s SeungRi being living proofs. They’d send you bloody letters like they sent 2PM’s Taecyeon and break into a family event, ask EXO’s Baekyun. They would hack your social media, like they did Siwon’s or even poison you, like Yunho. Nothing stops them. ‘’THEY LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’’
So you’re physically exhausted due to malnourishment, exercising, dance routines and hectic schedules. You’re lonely and you cannot date or walk freely down the streets for fear of fans. You cannot eat what you want either. You talk to the company and they remind you of the contract. You go see a doctor and he tells you that others have it harder. So what do you do?
You take drugs and get caught: Big Bang’s T.O.P.
You drink and drive: Super Junior’s Kangin.
You go to a nightclub and end up entangled in a scandal: Shinee’s Onew.
Or you simply kill yourself: Jonghyun.
You can think of breaking the contract. You can think of taking it to the court. But you got to be prepared to say farewell to your career in South Korea, especially if your opponent is a hit company. JYJ’s songs were banned from being broadcasted on main channels and EXO’s members are still stuck in lawsuits.
If you’re a female idol, expect to be sexually used and manipulated by your company. It happens quite often. After 5-7 years, your hard work just might go down the drain if your company decides that you’re not profitable enough and doesn’t renew your contract and disbands the group. Fainting on stage or during an activity would become a trademark. Slipping or getting into accidents is also part of the job.
Say goodbye to your private life. You won’t live it again.
Do you still think being an Idol is awesome?
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