Will BTS go out with one of their fans

That's behind the dazzling facade of K-Pop

Suicides and pressure to perform in the K-Pop scene overshadow the dazzling facade of the Korean bands. But what exactly is K-Pop and how does this scene differ from Western pop culture?

The K-Pop scene has increasingly come into focus in the last few months with negative headlines. Three young performers, mostly known in Korea, committed suicide, others withdrew due to mental health problems and two others were convicted of rape.

The K-pop music scene is known for its ostensibly entertaining songs, shrill videos and cheerful band members. Millions of fans follow bands like EXO, f (x) or BTS via their numerous online platforms in live streams and their own shows. But there are many downsides lurking in this music business, which has its origins in Korea. Suicide and pressure to perform are two of these problems.

What is K-Pop?

K-Pop stands for Korean Popular Music and is a collective term for Korean-language pop music. The music always consists of pop music elements, but combines as many other directions as possible in order to appeal to the broadest possible audience. These include elements from hip hop, rap, electronic dance music or techno. The topics are based on those of western pop culture: love, grief, family and friendship should ensure that as many people as possible identify with them.

"Gagnam Style" by the South Korean rapper Psy is a well-known example of K-pop. In December 2012, the music video was named the most-clicked YouTube music video. Psy sings about the beauty craze in Korea in the seemingly funny video.

K-Pop now has much more to offer than just music. Like many other music groups, K-Pops bands have tons of fan merchandise on offer in addition to their albums, which are called comebacks. Each album comes with a photo book in which fans can stick in collector's pictures and exchange them with one another.

Music videos and songs are recorded in different languages ​​if the band members come from different countries. A video or song can appear in Chinese, Korean and English at the same time. For example, Exo-K's album "The War - The 4th Album" was released in a Korean and a Chinese edition.

What distinguishes K-Pop bands?

K-Pop bands all have their origins in pop music, but still try to develop a unique concept and appearance. The style of the bands is always conspicuous, but kept in its own and recognizable style. The individual members are called "idols", and most of the music groups are pure boy or girl bands. There are seldom groups with both genders so that rumors of relationships, especially through the media, do not have a base.

The success of the bands often begins when the members are 16 years old. In these cases, the bands appear in the school girl or school boy style in order to reach the target group of the same age between 14 and 16 years. As the stars get older, the concept also changes significantly in a more provocative direction.

How do you become a K-Pop star?

In order to become a famous K-Pop performer, the potential stars have a long and difficult road ahead of them. Often the career begins with the castings in which the next stars are sought. Children and young adults between the ages of five and 18 compete here. If they are selected, a training program follows in which the chosen ones train hard and have to prove themselves. This preparatory training up to the first public appearance can last up to ten years.

Only after this training period can the first song and the first performance of the band be shown. From now on, life will take place in public - whether via online platforms or on stage. The interaction with the fans is very important.

The downside of the K-Pop scene

The pressure to perform, which starts early in school, is a major problem, especially in South Korea, and is anchored in the culture. There has been a lot of competition since the end of the Korean War. The better the grades and the flawless the appearance, the more successful and respected a person is in the country.

And that also carries over to the music industry: you are successful if you deliver your performance perfectly and are better than the competition. The ultimate goal is to make money. However, the ways and means are much harder than in the western music world. The possible future stars enter into casting contracts after their selection, which they often commit for more than ten years. The managers get the right to exercise privacy and the pay for the stars is low.

After the contract is signed, the long training begins. Singing and dancing are practiced every day, including foreign language training. The results are checked and the body is measured on a weekly basis. Because if a certain ideal weight is exceeded or if no measurable improvements and successes are achieved, the contract expires and the career is over.

The girl group Fromis 9: Girls and boys from the K-Pop scene have a strict diet plan to keep their slim figures. (Source: ZUMA Press / imago images)

Bans are the order of the day

Alcohol and cigarettes are strictly forbidden. The contract also forbids a partner in most cases. Some time ago, cosmetic surgery was often an obligation - today this point is not always included in the contract. The background to this is the fear of rumors and negative headlines that can come from the media. Reputation and a positive image is of the utmost importance in South Korea. Only those who are flawless are highly regarded in society. The stars are also considered role models, which is why their appearance has to be perfect again.

Mistakes leave people behind for a long time and easily ruin their careers. That puts the stars under even more pressure. It cannot be compared to, for example, American stars who continue to celebrate their successes despite excessive drug and alcohol consumption.

The management usually forbids a partner because the stars sell better as single. Interviewers are also not allowed to ask questions about the love life of the stars. The question "What does your dream man or woman look like?" but is allowed, as some fans could feel addressed again.

Perfection plays the most important role, everything is geared towards it and the rules are therefore strict. If a rule is broken, punishment can result. There are also incidents that shake the K-pop scene: 19-year-old Lee Seok-cheol, star of the South Korean band Eastlight, accused his agency at a press conference in October 2017 of beating and threatening band members with baseball bats and metal scrubbers.

Mental breakdowns shake the fans

The management of the singer S.Coups of the Seventeen group made the statement in November that S.Coups was taking a break to relax mentally. He suffers from anxiety and panic attacks.

Various documentaries also report on the dark side of the outwardly happy and cheerful music scene. There is no longer a private life for the stars. Every posting, all public appearances, interviews and live broadcasts on the Internet are regulated and specified by management. Topics such as the mental health of the stars, the deaths of colleagues, cosmetic surgeries and private life are taboo.

Some songs sing about the pressure to perform and Psy, the rapper from Gangnam Style, also managed to popularize his song on the subject of beauty madness.

Note: If you think a lot about your own death or worry about someone else, you will find help here immediately and anonymously.

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  • Subjects:
  • Entertainment,
  • Music,
  • Music news,
  • Deaths,
  • Suicide,
  • Cosmetic surgery,
  • Abuse,
  • Pop stars,
  • Rap,
  • Korea,
  • Casting,
  • K-pop