Restrictions on Underage Idols like NewJeans and BABYMONSTER: Will the Lee Seung Gi Act be a remedy or a poison for K-pop?
Will the Lee Seung Gi Act provide a safety net for K-pop idols or become a restriction on their activities?
On April 21st, the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Sports, and Tourism passed a revised law known as the Lee Seung Gi Act. The main purpose of the revision was to obligate the disclosure of profit settlement details to prevent conflicts between entertainers and their agencies due to opaque accounting practices.
The revised law also included provisions related to the labor rights of underage entertainers. However, a problem arose here. The revised law lowered the maximum working hours for underage entertainers and prohibited excessive appearance management, acts that pose health and safety risks, assault, verbal abuse and sexual harassment, and violations of educational rights such as school absenteeism and dropout.
However, with the disclosure of the revised working hours, there has been a backlash. On May 16th, five organizations, including the Korea Entertainment Producers Association, the Korea Management Federation, the Korea Record Industry Association, the Korea Music Label Industry Association, and the Korea Music Content Association, issued a joint statement demanding the deletion of some provisions, stating that the revised law that limits the working hours of underage entertainers is nothing more than a “law hindering the development of the pop culture industry” that disregards reality.
They expressed concerns that the strengthened provision limiting the working hours of underage entertainers could potentially hinder the normal activities of underage entertainers.
While they had no objections to the newly added provision that requires agencies to regularly disclose accounting and remuneration details at least once a year, they feared that the provision could restrict the normal activities of underage entertainers.
In particular, they believe that the provision that limits the working hours of underage public figures in the pop culture arts sector will cause various problems.
The revised law reduced the previous maximum working hours regulation from 35 hours per week for those under 15 years old and 40 hours per week for those over 15 years old to 25 hours per week and 6 hours per day for those under 12 years old, 30 hours per week and 7 hours per day for those aged 12 to 15, and 35 hours per week and 7 hours per day for those over 15.
According to these standards, the majority of members of 4th gen idol groups that are currently creating a K-pop craze would face restrictions in their activities.
NewJeans, including the youngest member Hyein (15) born in 2008, all members fall into the age range of 15 to 19, which corresponds to underage. LE SSERAFIM, including Kazuha (19) born in 2003 and Hong Eunchae (16) born in 2006. IVE, including the youngest member Leeseo (16) born in 2007, as well as An Yujin, Rei (both 19), Jang Wonyoung, and Liz (both 18), can only work for 35 hours per week and 7 hours per day, excluding Gaeul.
YG’s rookie girl group BABYMONSTER, consisting of Chiquita (born in 2009, 14 years old) and Rora (born in 2008, 14 years old), along with Jang Hyun Joon (born in 2008, 14 years old) from the recently debuted boy group The Wind, known as the “youngest boy group with an average age of 16.8,” will now be limited to working only 30 hours per week and 7 hours per day, as they are under the age of 15.
In response, the five organizations argued, “The industry has been complying with the current Act regarding labor hour restrictions for minors under 15, and as a result, the average activity time of underage entertainers is even shorter than the service hours limited by the current revised bill in 2020. Unlike students who stay up late studying and wrestling with books, underage individuals who aspire to become stars in pop culture and the arts are deprived of the activities they desire, which is unfair in terms of equality.“
In particular, regarding the regulations on limited working hours, they emphasized discrimination and inequality, stating that the new act could impose significant constraints on broadcasting companies or production companies, leading to the avoidance of performers in that age group.
“It is evident that we will no longer be able to see the next BoA or the next Jung Dong Won”, they said, demanding the deletion of the relevant clause and a reconsideration of the bill through discussions with the industry.
Those currently working in the K-pop industry believe that this amendment lacks understanding of the industry. In the case of idol groups leading the music industry, a majority of them include underage members. If the amendment is enforced, these individuals will immediately face difficulties in their activities.
An official from an idol management agency lamented, “The definition of ‘working hours’ itself is unclear. Entertainment activities have uncertain commuting hours, and it is confusing whether practice time, overseas schedules, and even the time spent on makeup should be included in working hours.”
In particular, idol group members often engage in activities as a group, such as living together, so there are concerns that this amendment will have a significant impact.
This amendment was proposed to address long-standing issues in the industry, such as unfair contracts and conflicts over profit distribution between celebrities and entertainment agencies.
Last year, Lee Seung Gi exposed that he had not received the records of his earnings from music sales for about 20 years under his former agency, Hook Entertainment. This month, former LOONA member Chuu also faced controversy over unfair contracts where the ratio of profit and expenses changed.
Efforts to establish and improve relevant laws and systems for artists who transcend Korea and perform on the global stage are necessary. However, if regulations targeting agencies that have engaged in unfair contracts ultimately harm the artists, it becomes a problem.
A manager of an idol group with adolescent members expressed, “Seven hours a day is an absurd standard. If you separate the adult and adolescent members by the time they can be active and put restrictions on their activities during the peak of their careers, this can lead to a sense of alienation and deprivation, especially with group activities.”
Ensuring sleeping rights and learning rights to allow underage entertainers to grow up healthy in an entertainment industry where overnight shoots are frequent is a just cause. According to a survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea last year, among 78 child and adolescent pop culture artists, 57.5% responded that their average sleep time during the filming period was “4-6 hours” per day.
The industry is aware of these issues and has established its own safety net to protect underage entertainers. In fact, the popular culture industry has made efforts by creating guidelines for “youth artists” and seeking prior consent for nighttime activities to protect their rights.
There is growing concern that this amendment may further exacerbate the disconnect between the law and reality, without adequately reflecting the voices of the industry. It is now necessary to establish a consultative body involving the National Assembly, the government, and the industry to seek effective solutions and engage in substantive discussions.