Multiple forms of “slave contracts” and the negative effect of star formula

“Slave contracts” not only push stars to a dead-end but also restrain their development.

 Before, the “7-year curse” was thought to be a dread any artist would want to avoid. Now, it seems that “slave contract” is the true nightmare for not only rookies but also veteran artists.


 Looking at the album sales, appearance feed, or CF gains, artists are assumed to easily bag unimaginable figures. However, reality has shown that these incomes do not wholly belong to an artist’s pocket, they have to divide a fixed percentage with the management company. And one’s contract is the ultimate binding.

The term “slave contract” first came out when 3 members of TVXQ sued their management company, SM Entertainment. The case revealed a dark side of the entertainment industry. Subsequently, other cases also surfaced and were exposed.


A slave contract is usually built upon a so-called star formula. Big companies such as SM, JYP, YG, and later Big Hit Entertainment sought young talents from around the world to train their abilities and personalities. They put the trainees through strenuous training and bind them to the company with a contract filled with strict clauses and articles.

To be able to debut, trainees themselves have to pay all the costs without any financial help from the company. Therefore, it took some groups several years to be able to pay back the debt from debut before they could get their hands on the first paycheck. JYP estimated the cost for an average 3 years of training to be around 700 – 900 million won while it usually takes about 1.5 billion won for a group’s first comeback.

It even took groups with one big hit such as GOT7, EXID, or GFRIEND 2 years to pay back those fees. The situation is way worse for groups with low popularity. The debt only grows and there are no sources of income to pay them back.


Therefore, either an idol is overworked to fainting onstage or working double jobs to pay the debt on their shoulders.

Moreover, idols also have to face other social restrictions such as dating bans, which largely stems from fans’ reactions to it.

The exploitative nature of a contract is mostly seen through the length needed in order to complete a contract. One contract usually lasts around 6 to 7 years. When the length lasts around 17 to 18 years, there is a problem.

As the form of exploitation continues, it has taken up multiple forms, from dividing income to taking financial advantage to abuse and harassment toward an artist. CHENBAEKXIU recently sued SM Entertainment for being forced to sign a near-20 years contract. Hook Entertainment owed Lee Seung Gi a whopping amount of music royalty through 18 years of working. Former LOONA member Chuu was forced to pay 50% of the activity cost and only gained 30% of her income.


More disturbingly, the “Boys Over Flowers” Jang Ja Yeon took her own life after being forced to entertain a list of high-profile figures, even sexually.

A lot of cases show that companies or people in authority are using the name of talent development to exploit and harass their artists.

Nonetheless, the situation is changing. More cases have shown that the more restriction there is on an artist, the more problems to they have. Moreover, Bang Si Hyuk and a Gaon chart specialist have noticed a downward trend in K-pop and the lowered influence of the Hallyu wave outside the borders of Korea.


This calls for a change in the general “star formula” and a more artist-centred model. Instead of a focus on marketing and PR, artists have more control over the production of music and the stories they tell their fans with their music.

At the same time, companies are reducing the bans and restrictions on their artists to allow them more freedom in relationship-building and personal life.  

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) also issue new regulations to ensure the benefit and protect artists from being exploited. Moreover, the artists themselves have the platform and the voice to speak up for themselves, making “slave contracts” lose their effects on them.

Source: K14 

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