An expert recently described Kpop companies’ training regime as “a military-like system”, which quickly burns out Kpop artists.
“The Kpop industry itself doesn’t give me much room for growth. I’m always working or recording something, making it hard to improve myself,” said BTS leader RM, in the 2022 BTS Festa Dinner video, which was released on June 14th on the YouTube channel BANGTANTV.
In the same video, BTS member Suga also revealed that BTS will focus on their solo careers, rather than group activities for the time being.
These shocking revelations, alongside other comments on the Kpop idol industry from BTS, is a glaring evidence to prevalent long-term problems that have always existed within the realm of Kpop.
A military-like management system
There’s no discrediting the importance of management regimes in the Kpop industry, which constantly produced successful and hardworking idol groups. As training and production have all been standardized, Kpop agencies can easily produce huge amounts of content within a short frame of time.
With such a robust foundation, the Kpop industry managed to surpass Jpop, which once tried to conquer the world. Kpop has now even breached into America – which is notorious for its highly competitive entertainment industry.
Still, there remains a glaring issue: the management system of Kpop is robbing its artists of their autonomy and creativity. In addition, the average age of Kpop idols has been getting younger, leading to minors being a common thing within the realm.
According to Hankyreh, the Kpop management regime resembles the military: with Kpop idols living together in dorms alongside their managers, and training under “a military-like system”.
Under close supervision from their agencies, Kpop idols have to complete countless schedules a day, ranging from variety shows, music performances, event attendances, to fan meetings.
There’s just no such thing as taking a break, leading to Kpop idols having no chance to focus on their personal pursuits.
“I feel guilty. I was scared that people would hate me if I said I wanted a break,” BTS RM confessed.
At the same time, Jin also felt like he’s losing himself, saying: “Like what the others said, I felt as if I have turned into a machine during promotions. But I have my personal hobbies and plans that I want to do.”
In fact, BTS had to start recording at 1 a.m during their promotions for the new song “Yet To Come”. According to Yonhap News, if counted time for styling and makeup, the group had to arrive at broadcasting stations at night and not get a wink of sleep.
“If this is the reality of BTS, who’s often said to be on “a different league”, then other Kpop idols may have it even worse”, the news site commented.
In addition, Kpop idols never have any privacy, and don’t even have time to eat or sleep properly, leading to physical and mental issues.
In July 2019, JYP Entertainment announced TWICE Mina’s absence from the 2019 world tour TWICELIGHTS, citing anxiety disorder and intense stage fright as the cause. At the time, Mina dreaded standing on the stage, and a year later, her groupmate, Jeongyeon, also suffered from the same issue.
Weekly member Shin Ji Yoon, who debuted back in 2020, also had it bad, and needed to take two hiatus to focus on mental treatment. In the end, she decided to leave Weeekly this June due to worsening health.
Pressure to be successful
The process of industrialization of Kpop also has a great influence on the creative activities, freedom, and autonomy of idols. Especially, when large entertainment companies are gradually listed on the stock market, the pressure to be successful falls on Kpop idols.
HYBE is the first Korean entertainment company listed on KOSPI. 3 other Kpop companies SM, YG and JYP are all listed on KOSDAQ. KOSPI requires stricter listing standards than KOSDAQ in terms of size and sales volume, and HYBE easily surpasses those standards.
At the time HYBE was listed, Kim Hyun Yong, an analyst at Hyundai Motor Securities, commented, “The stock situation of the entertainment industry has improved a lot thanks to Big Hit (former name of HYBE) listing on KOSPI.“
On the morning of June 15, after it was reported that BTS was temporarily suspending group activities, HYBE’s stock price dropped by more than 25%. In just one day, the company lost about 2.12 trillion won (about 1.644 billion USD) in market capitalization.
It can be seen that the success of the idol directly affects the company’s stock price. The Hankyoreh site points out the coincidence between the time when HYBE was listed on the stock exchange and the change in BTS’ music.
BTS often expresses their voices and opinions by participating in writing lyrics and producing songs for the group. However, since HYBE was listed on the stock exchange, the group switched to singing songs written and composed by foreign composers, starting by Dynamite.
English songs like Butter and Permission To Dance don’t seem to match BTS’ style. Hankyoreh says that the focus of this change is to hit the US market with “bubblegum pop” (pop genre with upbeat tunes, popular with teenagers).
Leader RM confided, “I felt like our team was still on top of my hand until Dynamite, but after that, we did ‘Butter’ and ‘Permission to Dance’, and I don’t know what kind of team we are anymore. “
SeoJeongMinGap, a well-known music critic, said, “The songs that BTS recently released lack vitality and uniqueness. The members are required to actively and fully promote themselves, yet it sometimes looks as though they are smothered by the company’s structure because it restricts them to a certain role“.
Recently, as K-pop has become a national industry, K-pop idols are under pressure that they must succeed in overseas markets. Given the huge capital poured into K-pop, the stars are being pushed into a global competition.
According to pop culture critic Jeong Deok Hyun, the case of BTS proves that the idol industry system that has been in place for more than 20 years needs to change. However, finding alternative solutions to solve the problem is not easy.
Lim Jin Mo, a well-known music critic, said, “The agency should give idols more freedom. They need to pave the way for idols to be able to compose music in the style they want, or collaborate with other singers“.