Do Kpop idols always receive a huge amount of money?
Kpop fans often focus on the glamor of celebrities on the outside without keeping in mind the reality behind the spotlight that idols have to experience. There is a huge difference in income between rising idols and those that have not achieved a certain level of popularity. Top artists like BIGBANG’s G-Dragon or SNSD’s Yoona are estimated to have a net worth of millions of dollars. In contrast, idols with a low level of public recognition only make a modest amount of money.
There have been many people in the entertainment industry, former staff or former idols sharing real stories about the actual amount of money they made as K-pop artists. Grazy Grace used to be a famous rapper in Kpop. After a hiatus, she decided to become a YouTuber and quickly gained attention with the videos revealing the behind-the-scenes stories of the entertainment industry.
She once had a video sharing about how much money she made during 3 years working in the industry. The truth is, she earned zero dollars from music and only about 500 dollars for all the activities that she participated in. In order to make a living, her colleagues who are also K-pop idols had to find part-time jobs after years of working in the entertainment industry.
Grace calculated that for each variety show appearance, she got paid around $100, and this amount decreased to around $70 for a radio show. However, the cost of makeup, outfits… for these appearances is not a small number. Not only did she not earn money, the amount of debt was also getting more significant. She stated that the biggest problem about money is the lack of transparency. According to Grace, most idols are not informed in advance about how much they are paid for the activities they participate in.
This transparency issue was also mentioned in a video of former MBLAQ member Mir. He revealed that his payment process is extremely complicated. He can only know how much he gets when he checks his bank account every three months.
Mir shared that his salary was around 12,400 USD in the first three months, but for the next three months, he did not receive any because the group’s commission on variety shows was transferred directly to the management agency.
Mir earned about 42,000 USD with MBLAQ’s album Y. It sounds like a decent amount of money, especially compared to many other unknown idols, but it is still undeniably lower than what fans imagine. MBLAQ had a certain level of popularity and perhaps with the tight schedules the group had at that time, the number that the group received is expected to be higher.
The most recent example is the story shared by members of Brave Girls. Within 10 years of working in the industry, Brave Girls couldn’t successfully rise to fame and was hopelessly preparing to disband. But unexpectedly, their song Rollin’ climbed on the charts and quickly became a hit. Thanks to the success of Rollin’, the girls got their first payment after many years since their debut. Before that, the group had to work part-time at a cafe or as back-up dancers to earn a living.
However, what happened to Brave Girls is probably just a rare miracle in the harsh K-pop market. For idols, their incomes depend on many factors including the entertainment company and the signed contract. Before officially debuting, Kpop idols always have to undergo many years of tough training. Most trainees have to bear a debt before debut, which is the cost of training as well as living during the period that they practice at the company.
Major entertainment companies like SM, YG or JYP often bear the full cost of the training and consider it an investment, and even provide additional allowances for the individual needs of the trainees. However, most small and medium-sized companies recognize them as a debt that artists must repay after debut.
This means that in the first few years after debut, artists will not receive any money, even more debt due to costs incurred such as outfits, styling, album recording, music video production… If these idols fail to succeed as expected, it will take years for them to be able to pay off their debts. The journey to becoming a well-known idol is definitely not easy!