How YG scout and train generations of talented K-pop idols 

To launch top idols like Big Bang and Black Pink, YG has established a strict recruiting and training system.

K-pop giant YG Entertainment has made a great contribution to the strong growth of Korean popular culture as well as the spread of the Hallyu wave across countries around the world over the years. 

Founded in 1996 by Yang Hyun Suk, after going through more than 26 years of many ups and downs, YG still proves its leading position as the company that houses talented idol groups like Big Bang, 2NE1, WINNER, iKON, BlackPink…

Methods and criteria for selecting talents

YG is always on the lookout for new talents, so there are no restrictions on trainees’ gender, nationality, or age. However, with an average training period of 6 years, the appropriate age to join the company is 14-16.

Most of YG’s trainees are selected through in-person auditions. However, in recent years, due to the pandemic, the company has been conducting online auditions in the preliminary round. After applicants submit their entries via email, the selected ones will have a live audition at the YG headquarters in Seoul.

YG accepts applicants from everywhere. However, for foreigners, they need to be fluent in Korean or at least one other common language, to ensure that there are no obstacles in the training process.

Lisa is YG’s first-ever foreign idol.

According to a former YG trainee, at the audition, trainees have to sing or rap a song in Korean or English, while also showing off some dancing. Trainees are encouraged to pick songs that highlight their own strengths and colors.

If they don’t speak Korean fluently, trainees often choose a song in English. Those who have attempted at YG’s auditions revealed that upbeat songs with positive energy, without sensitive lyrics, are often the better options.

In terms of selection criteria, unlike SM, JYP or most other entertainment companies, talent is a factor that YG prioritizes over the rest. The trainees’ visuals are not a big deal for the company. Even their backgrounds can be ignored.

YG’s former CEO Yang Hyun Suk believes that idols only shine the brightest when they have talent. Therefore, to become YG trainees, trainees are required to be good at at least one of the three skills of singing, dancing, or rapping.

Trainees who are selected to debut will be well invested in and well-prepared. Kang Yoon Jung – a member of YG Entertainment’s talent selection and development team said, “Trainees often live in dorms rented by the company. If small expenses are included, the company is willing to spend about 81,000 USD per trainee for a year.”

This number includes the cost of basic meals, transportation, as well as training in necessary skills such as vocals, choreography, foreign languages, acting, and more.

Trainee life at YG 

YG’s artists have quickly achieved success in the domestic and international markets after their debut thanks to the company’s effective training system. However, due to pressure, there are not many trainees who can stay at YG long enough to secure a debut. 

In an interview with E-Daily Star, WINNER compared YG to the “jungle”, where the survival rules of the strongest are applied. Song Minho and Nam Tae Hyun, who once trained at other companies, pointed out the difference when they moved to YG. 

“Looking from the outside, YG is a company that everyone dreams of. It has a professional working system with the best equipment. This place is really heaven unless you are a trainee. When we entered YG, we were completely isolated from the outside world. The company can meet all material needs, but whether the trainees can survive or not completely depends on each person’s capability,” Song Minho shared.

Nam Tae Hyun added, “The company listens and responds to our every need. But they never show how to do it. We had to develop ourselves and tackle every challenge the company presented to us in order to survive.”

According to Naver, trainees at YG have more difficulty than at other companies as they have to go through many tests to assess their abilities. Not only do they need to prepare for the individual test, the trainees also have to perform a song and a choreography as a group. They had to come up with ideas, choreographed choreography, and also the recording.

The site also said that entering YG does not guarantee a debut. The training process of trainees is very harsh. The curriculum is similar to a school and tests are conducted monthly. The head of YG – Yang Hyun Suk will directly monitor and evaluate each person’s duties.

This makes many trainees feel more stressed and pressured than making a debut. According to Jennie (BlackPink), during the trainee period, she had to practice continuously until 2 am. Besides, she also has to learn everything from singing and dancing to foreign languages, etc.

Rosé added that they have to practice 14 hours a day, each session lasts 13 consecutive days. After that, they will be given a day off, and then continue the process for the next 13 days.

Talking about how to create a group, the BlackPink member said that the company rotates trainees into different teams. After that, they will have time to practice together to perform a joint performance. After that, YG will evaluate each person’s ability, prominence, teamwork, and personality.

Besides, the number of members of the groups is also not fixed. The training process raised many problems such as division of positions or disagreements. However, the company relies on those issues to find a team that works best together. Worst of all, if they fail the monthly assessment, the trainees are forced to leave without another chance.

This strategy of YG has helped them create groups with strengths in teamwork. Up to now, groups that have debuted for a long time, even no longer working together, have always maintained a harmonious relationship in real life. According to Koreaboo, going through fierce competition together helps BlackPink members appreciate the present moment even more. Over the years, they have always worked well together even without a leader.

In addition to the harsh training time, YG’s trainees are also subject to 6 bans set by the company. Appearing on Radio Star, the 4 BlackPink girls shared, “Drinking, smoking, clubs, driving, plastic surgery and dating are prohibited things in YG.” However, they further explained that these principles could change if they could convince the company.

There is an opinion that it is the inadequacies in YG’s trainee selection system that have caused the company many times to get into trouble because of the artist’s scandal. Others expressed their agreement with YG’s direction. They believe that the scandal of the company’s artists broke out after they went through a difficult time and achieved certain successes.

Therefore, it is not wrong to condemn immoral acts. But their talent and effort in developing K-pop culture cannot be denied, and the company cannot be blamed because it is YG that has created generations of artists that have become legends.

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