Does marriage and childbirth put an end to the idol career of female singers in Korea? 

The show “Mama The Idol” offers the chance to return to the stage for 6 female stars who have left the K-pop industry to become mothers.

In 2021, After School had a reunion performance at the variety show MMTG after more than 6 years of hiatus.  Kahi – one of the original members of the group – thought this reunion stage was her last performance in Korea’s entertainment industry.

However, recently, Mama The Idol – a reality show centering on 6 female stars who are also mothers – has changed Kahi’s thought. These female stars took a break from entertainment activities to give birth and take care of their children. Through the show, they returned to the limelight as idols one more time. Kahi joined the show as one of the main cast. 

Reflecting the burden of mothers 

Besides Kahi, the remaining 5 cast members of Mama The Idol are Sunye (Wonder Girls), Park Jung Ah (Jewelry), Yang Eun Ji (Baby V.O.X Re.V), soloists Byul and Hyun Jyuni. Some of them have been taking time off the stage for more than a decade. 

Mama The Idol started airing in December 2021. Through the program, 6 female singers formed the project group M.M.D, also known as Mamadol – a combination of the two words “mama” and “idol”. On January 28, the group released the song “WooAh HIP”.

In the past, some Mamadol members came under criticism from the Korean public when they decided to get married amid their idol activities. Wonder Girls’ former leader Sunye is an example. Many netizens believe that her sudden announcement of marriage in 2012 caused Wonder Girls‘ popularity to drop in the midst of its peak.

“Female idols shouldn’t stop working just because they turn 30, get married or have children unless it’s their own choice. The experience and talent these women hold make them one of the best idols right now. This will be this year’s most excellent girl group, and it feels great to see them continue their journey as mamadols,” SCMP quoted the comment that received the most likes under the MV for WooAh HIP.

Talking to SCMP, Min Chul Gi – PD of Mama The Idol – revealed that in addition to the audience’s nostalgia for K-pop artists active in the late 2000s, the desire to reflect the burden of mothers, especially during this time, is also the key reason leading to the launch of the program.

“Everyone is going through a tough time in the midst of the pandemic, but shouldn’t we all agree that mothers are those who have been put in an even more difficult situation? They are forced to spend much more time taking care of children at home,” PD Min said.

He added, “When ‘mother’ was brought up in the production meeting, I thought this was definitely something worth doing. I hope the show can bring energy and encouragement to every mother”.

The struggles of female idols who are mothers 

For female idols who are mothers, coming back to the stage is not an easy decision. The first episode of Mama The Idol shows the staff trying to contact people they thought wanted to join the show, only to receive answers like they don’t have the time, or they simply can’t join.

Producer Min shared about the obstacles for female idols who have become mothers, “They stopped performing 5, 10 years ago to focus on taking care of their children, and as their bodies have changed due to pregnancy, they lack confidence. ‘Can I do well?’, they ask themselves. In addition, this also risks damaging their past careers, doing them more harm than good.”

Although there are still many harsh stereotypes surrounding the dating of Kpop idols, in fact, many male K-pop stars can maintain their careers after they get married and become fathers, although some of them are still subjected to intense criticism. Some typical examples include Taeyang (Big Bang), Bobby (iKON), Chen (EXO)

In contrast, most female idols can’t last as long as boy groups, and marriage often becomes the end of their musical career.

The reality of gender inequality

According to SCMP, Mama The Idol has reflected the reality of women in the Korean entertainment industry in particular and women in this country in general. South Korea is known for its gender inequality, especially in the working environment, when women often have to give up their jobs and careers to focus on raising children.

On February 14th, Rolling Stone India published an article titled “why Mamadol is essential to the K-pop industry”. Rolling Stone wrote, “This 6-member group has proven that idols don’t have to choose between getting married and having a successful career.”

Rolling Stone India editor Riddhi Chakraborty analyzed: “Marriage and children are part of an artist’s life, like most people, not everything that makes them who they are. The opportunity to continue performing won’t be lost if they have families. Why should they have to choose between the two?”.

Min Chul Gi said he was surprised at the reaction of the singers when he contacted them.

“When I called Kahi to tell her about the show, she cried and confessed that she missed the stage. I said the show might not be a success, but she insisted that she wouldn’t mind, and just standing on the stage was enough,” producer Min revealed.

Answering the question of whether Mama The Idol can change the current status quo for the next generation of K-pop idols, Min admits that this is very difficult to predict as this is closely related to social issues. 

“I think it would be very difficult without a social system that supports women in making their own careers. I’ve seen some famous mothers, and it’s really hard to handle both. This applies to mothers in every other field,” Min shared.

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