People often like to get lost in music. We like the way it makes us feel. We like the creators and the talent. Not even language barriers can come between sounds that catch our ear. Korean may be a foreign language to many here in Canada and globally, but K-pop still manages to enchant such a wide audience no matter where they are. Though K-pop is not the only foreign genre out there, it has made a fast rise to the top in recent times.
K-Pop culture differs from American music in different aspects, one of the more notable ones being their music videos. The budget for these videos can even go up to over a million dollars for some of the more expensive ones. As a result, most music videos gain millions of views—like Psy’s “Gangnam Style” with 3.5 billion views or Blackpink’s “Ddu-Du Ddu-du” with one billion. This massive spread and impact of K-pop has created many dedicated fans worldwide.
But what goes on behind the scenes of these videos? What did it take to create everything that we see? How do K-pop idols seem so perfect?
Behind the curtain, K-pop is a grueling industry, and the path to get there is just as rough. After going through arduous audition processes and finally getting signed with a company as a trainee, it is still a long road to debut. Even then, life only gets tougher. Diet control, overworking, hate comments, manipulation, mental illnesses, and a no-dating rule are only some of the problems that exist after debut. Though many idols still enjoy the fame and chase it, the common occurrence of hardships within the industry keep getting exposed.
Body image is a big concern, not just in K-pop, but everywhere. In the music industry, companies will often have strict limitations on an idol’s diet in order to keep a certain image. A former member of the girl-group Crayon Pop told Insider that they were not allowed to eat midnight snacks, or other things like candy and chips, so they would have to sneak it. Other idols, like BTS, were also known to have some extreme diets. BTS’ Jin was malnourished as he only ate a total of four chicken breasts a day for a year, with no vitamins. BTS’ Jimin also revealed that he had a diet of eating only one meal a day for ten days, because he wanted to look more handsome. On these small amounts of food, idols and trainees also have to constantly go through rigorous training in a tight schedule, with some even practicing more than ten hours a day.
These diets and training regimens seem to be extreme or dangerous, so why do idols follow them? In some cases, they are limited by their companies on what they can eat or do. However, a big cause of idols’ body insecurities come from comments worldwide. While many fans support and protect idols, there are still others that can be toxic and attack them with hateful comments. Former Pristin member Kyla received many comments that shamed her body weight, even at fifteen years old. Twice’s Jihyo was told that she looked fat by a photographer while filming a reality girl group survival show. Girls’ Generation’s Yoona has also been criticized for being too skinny and weak-looking.
While some idols have learned to love themselves, and have spoken up against this, seeing negative comments can always hurt. People may internalize these for years, and sometimes it builds up to become too much. Three big suicides in the K-pop industry have happened just within the last three years, causing the media to shine a light on the difficulties of idols and the lack of mental health awareness in Korea. The suicide of SHINee’s Jonghyun came suddenly in 2017, which was followed by f(x)’s former member Sulli in 2019, and former Kara member Goo Hara just one month after. Each suffered from depression among dealing with other tragedies in their life. With the pressure of fame and mass of malicious comments, K-pop may not be as upbeat as it presents itself to be.