In June last year, the BBC News website reported on what the author termed as “the dark side of South Korean Pop music”.

The article gave details on how the South Korean music industry has gained a great amount of strength in the last few years and how it has had its eyes set on gaining recognition and success in countries all over the world.
However, the subject matter that took the most prevalence in the piece was not the K-pop artists themselves, but rather the controversies that have arisen regarding their agency contracts and intensive training regimes.

One of the most unique factors of K-pop is that artists can deliver slick and complicated dance routines, belt out some amazing notes and carry off eccentric styles and concepts all in the space of one four minute music video.
While these artists are unquestionably talented, to be able to get to this level of ability takes training…and a lot blood, sweat and tears.

In the increasingly competitive and ruthless arena that is the K-pop industry, it is usually not enough to be a good singer. If one wants success, one must be an “all-round entertainer”. Ideally, you need to be above average at singing and dancing, it also helps if you are able to speak well in front of the cameras (and be funny enough to get a good amount of screen time). Of course, being handsome/pretty is almost a must, and on top of all that – you need to be able to endure being poked fun at and being slightly embarrassed on variety shows.

It is not shocking that the BBC News article chose to focus on the training of K-pop artists; after all, it is a very unique process that is practiced within the South Korean (and also Japanese) music industry. The idea that an artist “belongs” to an agency that trains them a sees over every single part of their career is indeed an unusual concept to many Westerners- throw a contract into that mix and alarm bells may start to ring.

The article briefly covered the JYJ vs. SME controversy and mentioned that many of the idols will work long and strenuous hours and see little payment in return.
I’ll admit, when I learnt of the DBSK/JYJ situation and see articles of artists collapsing from exhaustion and recall the whole Hangeng (SuJu) vs. SME lawsuit – I become angry at the high level of injustice that has been suffered by these artists.
I am incredulous that JYJ are still unable to promote on South Korean television (allegedly due to “backdoor pressure” from SME). I begin to feel powerless for these individuals that have to suffer so much due to their “slave contracts”.

Then I stop and think.
Doesn’t a contract have to be signed by an individual/group in order for it to come into effect and be legally binding?
Exactly how much do these artists know before they enter into such agreements?
If there was such widespread suffering at the hands of these entertainment agencies, wouldn’t there be a lot more idols calling for their contracts to be ripped up and destroyed?

I realise that I have formulated a very strong opinion on a subject that, not only am I not at all personally involved in, I know almost nothing about.

I am not for a second suggesting that every K-pop artist is living in the lap of luxury and is treated like royalty all the time, nor am I saying that they are forced to work like dogs until they fall apart. I am just saying that one should not jump to conclusions about a situation when they are not fully in the know about it.

It annoyed me quite a bit that the author of that BBC article chose to focus on the controversies and problems that the K-pop industry has been associated with when the music has been barely established within the UK.
It seems like this sort of news coverage will only build more barriers against the Hallyu wave in the UK even before it has had a real chance of success here.

Again, this is not to say that there is no truth to “slave contracts” etc.
This is a very important issue that will need further addressing by South Korean authorities, especially Human Rights. I can see the situation from both sides now and sincerely hope that any mistreatment of artists is quickly tackled.

It is also something that is open to debate for everyone and it would be quite interesting to see what you think on such issues!


About Author

Freya is the founder of UnitedKpop, steering the ship since 2011. She is a full time graphic designer with lots of love for her two cats. You can see Freya's portfolio at