Are minor idols being commercialized in Kpop?

The Korea Times reported that underaged idols, who are easily exploited by entertainment companies to make profits or sexually abuse, are becoming more common in K-pop.

Top Star News reported on September 23 that PNation’s new group has a 12-year-old member, Tanaka Koki, who has sparked great controversy. The public thinks Koki is too young to become an idol. Not to mention there is a significant age gap between Koki and other members of the group.

The public questions whether the PNation’s boy group will sing songs about love or pursue a mature and sexy image when there is such a young member in the lineup. 

What the public is most worried about is the pressure of the entertainment industry that can have a negative impact on Koki’s mental and physical health.

Children are being commercialized? 

According to The Korea Times, K-pop is growing rapidly and new groups are debuting every few months. Idols start their trainee days since they were in high school, even elementary school. This is normal in Kpop. However, debuting at such a young age is worrisome.

Earlier, the company Retune Music launched several groups with members from 7 to 13 years old. The groups under this company have relatively similar names such as Re:Kids Angel, Re:Kids Bloom, Re:Kids Treasure, Re:Kids Glory, Re:Kids Hero and Re: Kids Crystal.

In particular, Re:Kids Glory debuted on July 30 with the song “Don’t Forget”. The group consists of 5 members: Noah, Taehyeong, Jiwoo, Yeonje and Jinwoo.  According to the official profiles posted by the company, member Kwak Jinwoo is only 7 years old.

In the comment section of the group’s MV, most of the viewers’ comments focus on the fact that the group members are too young. They argue that it is unacceptable how children have to work at such an early age to make money for their guardians.

“They sing well for their age and there is no doubt they are very talented. But aren’t they too young to debut?”,

“They’ll have to go through all the hardships to become a K-pop idol at the expense of their childhood”, “They’re so adorable but the K-pop industry is very tough. Let them live like actual children,” The Korea Times quoted some viewers’ comments.

In 2020, the debuts of minor idol groups (ages 9-14) such as Little Cheer Girl or Vitamin also caused controversy. They wear elaborate outfits and makeup, and perform choreographies that do not require too much strength but are still quite complex. The lyrics of their songs mainly talk about childhood difficulties and the stress of studying.

About 300-500 children in South Korea have applied in auditions to become the new member of Little Cheer Girl,” Kim Tai Bum, the executive director of the agency Rainbow, told The Korea Times. The purpose of forming the group is to help young people overcome challenges and achieve their dreams.

According to The Korea Times, being a K-pop idol requires great responsibility and is one of the most sought-after jobs globally. This means that the public sets even higher standards for idols as they now become the face of Kpop in the international market.

In addition to the issue of pressure to live up to the public’s expectations, The Korea Times also posed another issue in exploiting young idols: sexual harassment and pedophilia in the entertainment industry. According to The Korea Times, the fact that young trainees were forced and taken advantage of by their bosses to carry out sexual harassment acts is not new in the Korean entertainment industry.

In response to the above issue, Kim told The Korea Times: “Compared to other countries, South Korea tends to pay less attention to issues related to the commercialization of children. Some take advantage of this to justify their immoral sexual behavior towards minors”.

An appropriate education system is required 

The Korea Times pointed out that the need for mental counseling and education of young celebrities is also a matter that gains much attention. The agency Rainbow holds regular counseling sessions for members and their parents to maintain a balance between school, family, and idol life.

Counseling sessions focus on mental health, future career paths, and more. Rainbow’s CEO also stated that the company only requires minor idols to attend dance and vocal classes twice a week.

They make sure to schedule performances for groups mainly on weekends so as not to interrupt their life and time at school. However, this has not yet allayed the worry of the public.

Kwon Mi Yeon, an expert at a marketing agency, said, “Minor idols are training and performing at a crucial time of their life to develop social skills and personal identity. They have to suffer from relatively tight schedules and malicious comments online. They will be prone to stress at such a young age.

Kwak Keum Joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University agrees. He pointed out that even older K-pop idols often deal with stress and other mental health problems. They lack the time and opportunity to receive the education to grow up because they have to practice and perform when they are too young.

Regardless of the drawbacks, the demand for minor idols is expected to grow as the number of people who aspire to become a celebrity from an early age is increasing, especially after K-pop is famous all over the world.

However, if they start their careers too early, children can be easily taken advantage of by adults, who often prioritize profits over the welfare of children.  Therefore, experts advise young people not to give up their studies to enter the entertainment industry too soon.

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