How to be a kpop backup dancer
I Went to South Korea to Become A K-Pop Idol Backup Dancer
All images courtesy of the author.
It all started with Hoya.
If you’ve ever been involved in K-Pop fandom, you’ll know the saying, “You don’t choose your bias, your bias chooses you.”
In simpler terms, all fans experience attraction to particular members of K-pop bands. For me, Hoya of INFINITE was the one. He had been dancing since he was young, even dropping out of high school in South Korea in order to pursue his dream of becoming a singer. The sacrifice he made to chase his dreams inspired me to do the same, and perhaps this was why he meant so much to me.
This was in 2012. At the time, I was 19 and delusional. I was also confused about what to do after completing my A Levels. My classmates and friends were entering university, many of them with majors that matched their A level results. A common sentiment expressed was that their majors were not super interesting, but they were doing it because it might be “helpful” in the future.
As for me, the only thing I knew for sure was that I loved dancing, K-Pop, and bubble tea. I would do almost anything to just pursue my dream and get closer to those god-like idols. Hence my decision to become a background dancer—because I would be working in a close environment with idols; I would get to know them personally, which is basically every fangirl’s dream.
I was sure only that I did not want to be stuck in a competitive studying environment. I wanted to land a job that would get the majority of K-Pop fans jealous (ie. idol managers, makeup and hair stylists, music producers, background dancers, etc).
All along, I’ve been what we call a ‘guai kia’, and this was probably the only time I went against my parents’ wishes.
Like many other Asian parents, mine would have preferred that I become a lawyer, doctor, businessman, or something along those lines. ‘Entertainer’ or ‘musician’ would never have crossed their minds.
So when I first told them of my plan, they thought I was out of my mind. I did not know the language, and there was literally no one that I knew in Korea.
For a while, there was no peace at home. Yet I believed that I needed to do what I wanted to do. In the K-Pop industry, the younger you step into the industry, the higher the chance of you succeeding. This was also a case where the more my parents didn’t allow it, the more I wanted to do it.
And so I made a choice that many of my friends and family members could not understand. I left the sunny island, Singapore. Every time I recall that moment, I always wonder where my courage came from.
I did not speak of also wanting to become a background dancer; I said only that I wanted to go to South Korea for my university studies.
When I arrived in South Korea in August 2012, I began my basic Korean language studies. During that year and a half, I went for dance classes, and this was when I found out that I literally sucked at it.
In Korea, the education system is completely different. Over there, different schools cater to different needs, and the performing arts is actually a very popular choice of study. Some begin as early as 13, and often, kids start to get serious about dancing at around 16 or so. The students whom I attended the same dance class with were younger yet way more skilful. These kids knew the basics of hip hop (bounce, isolation, wave etc), while I knew nothing.
Having only joined my school’s dance club as a CCA when I first entered secondary school, I never really underwent the ‘training’ system. I was alright but not good.
Every time we finished learning a choreography, the instructors would allow us to take videos of ourselves. Monitoring my own videos, I noticed how I was always the one lacking in power and emotions. Instead of giving me the confidence, it began to drain my morale, and I did not know how to practise to improve my skills.
I knew that I shouldn’t have been comparing myself to the other girls who danced professionally, yet I couldn’t help myself. This was even though I knew that while I was at school, they were also dancing and building up their skills.
By the end of my Korean language studies, I had gone for 3 different background dancer auditions. I failed them all.
For quite a while, my lowered self esteem put me off my dream, making me wonder if I would really ever to make it as a dancer. At the same time, I had started my first year in university, and the only thought I had was to blend into Korean university life and make friends. I joined my school’s street dance club and it opened my eyes to a whole new level of dancing. With my busy schedule, I also lacked the time to chase after K-Pop idols; it forced me to focus more on school and socialising.
Out of the new batch of freshies that joined the street dance club, only a few had previous dance backgrounds, so we just started from the basics. It was tough, but by the end of the year, I could already feel myself improving. We organised freestyle dance battles, and it was during those moments that I truly let myself listen to the music and let my body take over my mind. I was happy and since I lived in the dormitory, I could easily access the student union building where our practice room was.
And then, at the end of year 2, I saw the recruitment notice from one of the dance teams that I had auditioned for years ago.
Maybe because it felt like my last chance, or maybe I wanted to know how much I had improved during the past 2 years. Eventually, I ended up applying for the audition because who knew what could happen?
Surprisingly, I passed.
I was 22 and halfway through my undergraduate studies. If I were to really commit to this, it would mean taking a term break, which I could not afford to do so.
As part of my student visa, there was a lot of restrictions basically stating that if I were to take a semester off, the university would contact the immigration office to revoke my student visa. I would then have to leave and enter Korea using a tourist visa, before applying for the student visa all over again if I wanted to continue my studies. Not to mention, I would also have to explain to my parents what I had been up to.
Still, I did not want to give up this rare opportunity that had been given to me.
Perhaps it was the way I was brought up, or perhaps I was content with where I had finally gotten to in life. I questioned whether I really needed this. Since I wasn’t that into K-Pop anymore, I didn’t see myself ‘needing’ to become a background dancer. I thought that if things didn’t work out, hey, at least I still had a university degree.
It was my winter holidays when I decided to go for practice anyway. When I got there, it was nothing like I expected.
Including me, there were 5 girls who had passed the audition. I still vividly remember being the oldest, with the youngest being only 18. Was I stressed? Definitely.
The first thing we were told to do after entering the dance studio was to clean it up. So we took the broom and vacuum cleaner, and went to work making sure the place was spotless before the remaining ‘sunbaes’ (seniors in Korean) arrived.
I then spent the next 8 to 9 hours learning a choreography over and over again with only water breaks in between. When they finally said we could go, I almost burst into tears on the train home. It was definitely not what I had expected.
All this time, the background dancers that I had followed on Instagram appeared so happy and close to each other. Compared to the repetitive instructions and scoldings I received, the team that I had imagined joining seemed like a lot more fun.
Call me naive, but this was what I thought—that we would be dancing happily and making wonderful memories with one another.
But because of how physically and mentally challenging it was, I felt the urge to just quit. I was hungry and tired, and when my roommates asked me where I had been the entire day, I could not help but let the tears fall.
Since young, I’ve not been someone with the best health. I used to have asthma, and had several fainting episodes in primary and secondary school, and then in JC. It was embarrassing, but with my weak stamina I would not function well if I didn’t have my 7 hours of sleep daily. I felt that at this rate, my love for dancing would literally kill me.
Being alone in this foreign country made this worse. Sure, I had the friends I made there, but nothing compares to the love you feel in a family. Without the support and encouragement, it was hard having to go through this alone.
Korean culture is also very hierarchical, and I felt this clearly in my team of background dancers, unlike back in my university’s dance team where it was a very family-like atmosphere.
It was not easy deciding if I still wanted to do this, but I felt that it would be a waste if I were to just let go of what was basically the reason why I left Singapore. Many idols wannabes would also think that it was a super rare opportunity to make it into the team.
I plucked up my courage and went for practice the next day. It felt even worse since I was not able to rest well the day before, and we were also told to bring our heels; they were going to judge the way we walked in them.
Halfway through a break, one of the ‘unnies’ (older sister in Korean) came over to tell another girl and I that we had to lose 5kg. I was not even surprised. As a K-Pop fangirl, I had heard so many stories of idol trainees being told to lose weight. I was 163cm tall and weighed 51kg. I believed I was ‘decent’ for someone of my height.
It got me thinking: if the people sharing the same stage as idols have to go through something like this, how much worse is it for the idols themselves? Once again, we were not given meal breaks, and I thought to myself that I would lose the 5kg in no time.
At the end of the day, I felt weak and sick of what I had to endure. Instead of feeling the joy and delight I used to feel whenever I danced, I felt abused and disappointed.
Before I finally snuggled under my warm blankets that night, I texted the person in charge and told her that I could not go through the training anymore; I had decided to leave the team on a good note. She agreed.
This experience opened my eyes to the realities of Korean idol culture, and how the industry works. For those who wonder if I regret my decision, I would say both yes and no at the same time. I had tried simply because I thought that the background dance scene would not be as bad as those of the K-Pop idol trainees.
Perhaps if I were younger and did not have the commitment to my studies, there might be a chance that I would just stay to train my ass off, just like how many young Koreans would. In Singapore, the judgment of others and importance of completing my formal education would never allow me to make it happen.
On the other hand, I did not regret leaving the team because I eventually realised that turning my hobby into a career was a mistake. I had tried and it did not suit me.
I also realised: the attention I could receive on stage with K-Pop idols would be only temporary. What would I be left with after that?
I remained in contact with one of the girls on that same dance team. A month later, she told me she had left as well because she couldn’t take the strenuous practice. She also shared that another girl had arrived after I left, only to leave two days later.
Sometimes, I still look up at the team’s group Instagram account, and the only familiar face I spot is that of the youngest girl. She was only a high school graduate at the time, and had mentioned that she did not have plans to further her studies in either dancing or other majors. Maybe that was why she stayed; she too needed to survive in this harsh society.
Earlier this year in February, I completed my Bachelors degree in Media and Communication and International Studies. Just a month ago, I also performed at my university’s annual event as an alumni, where I gave one of my best performances of my 12 years of dancing.
Looking at the weekly K-Pop music shows and seeing the background dancers now and then, I still think about what might have happened had I persevered.
Yet quickly enough, the thoughts of going through the horrible things I had experienced would resurface. After all, the rigid and repetitive system of the team isn’t easy for anyone to accommodate.
Across my years in university, I had also discovered an interest in writing, leading me to pursue a path in other things that are also related to K-Pop. Call me superstitious, but as a Libra, I still feel the need to balance what I like with what I can do. I find peace when I stumble on the right amount on each scale.
And so I now know, sticking with dancing as a hobby was definitely the better choice.
Have your own crazy story to share? Drop us a note at [email protected].
How to be a K-Pop dancer: Your 7-step guide
All K-Pop groups have their own distinct, sleek choreographies that go well with their catchy songs. It’s one of the key features that makes the song memorable to fans.
Gulf News tabloid! wanted to get a taste of the dancing skills that South Korean acts pull off so breathtakingly. Along with more than a dozen other participants, we attended a K-Pop dance class at the fourth annual K-Pop Academy hosted by the Korean Cultural Center in Abu Dhabi, where we were taught the dance routine to now-disbanded K-Pop boy band Wanna One’s song ‘Kangaroo’ by professional trainers KyungJin Roh and GyoengA Lee.Dance Instructor from Left to Right, kyung jin Roh and GyeongA Lee, during The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
If you’re a fan of the global cultural phenomenon and love dancing, here’s a quick guide that might encourage you to take up a K-Pop dance class or even prepare you to become a K-Pop dancer:
1. Join a K-Pop dance classDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
Whether you want to pursue a career as a K-Pop dancer, sharpen your dancing skills or you simply love Korean pop, sign up to a dance class. The hands-on experience will give you an idea of how K-Pop idols train together and what it’s really like to learn from a professional K-Pop dancer. Roh, one of our dance trainers, is exclusive to Korean entertainment agency Starship Entertainment and has shared the stage with groups such as BlackPink, Winner, AOA and iKon as a backup dancer.
Aside from the K-Pop Academy, there aren’t many such dance classes held in the UAE. An alternative would be watching dance tutorials from YouTubers like Brian and Ellen, imlisarhee, and RPM Dance Crew and many more to help break down the moves easily. There are also mirrored dance practice videos of K-Pop groups’ performances and as well as fancams of a specific member performing on stage on YouTube.
2. Learn the song and basic dance movesDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
There’s so much to learn in so little time. So, if you’re a slow learner, try to find out the name of the K-Pop song and watch the live performances or dance practice videos of the stars on their official YouTube channels beforehand.
If you prefer to learn during class, that’s fine too. The instructor will simply teach you the moves step-by-step that even a beginner can follow. Either way, you’re good to go!
3. Stay in syncDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
K-Pop choreographies are often complex, energetic and fast-paced, but, most importantly, it comes with precise synchronisation that K-Pop artists achieve through endless repetition and practice. At the K-Pop Academy, it was, of course, less intense and had a more flexible approach. Though, it really educates you on just how much effort K-Pop acts put into their craft and to be one. So, it’s important to stay in synch with your teammates and to pay attention to every movement.
4. Be a team player
K-Pop members sing in unison while switching dance positions in an orderly fashion. Because K-Pop choreographies come with multiple formation changes and high-speed synchronisation, it can only be done by working as a team, which was seen between breaks when trainees were interacting and helping each other out to get the moves right. It’s all about teamwork!
During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:
During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News Image Credit:
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5. Possess some passionDuring The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
If you want to take on K-Pop dancing as a profession and share the stage with your favourite artists, you have to be determined, passionate and hardworking. The Korean music industry is highly competitive and is known for its tough training system. The dance trainers shared that it may be difficult at the start but it’s important not to give up.
6. Practice your movements and monitor your facial expressions
Monitor your moves and check the parts you fall short in. K-Pop’s signature dances have visual cues and gestures that are characteristic to a song. So, your emotions, aura and facial expressions are just as important. The majority of K-Pop songs are in Korean, so it’s essential to understand the meaning and feeling behind the lyrics to be able to control the power of each movement.
To help perfect your moves, film yourself dancing to see the areas you need to work more on. Overall, practicing is the way to go!
7.Have fun During The Kpop Academy dance classes at the Korean Cultural Center, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News
The sounds and beats of K-Pop songs are just as infectious as the dance moves. You don’t have to have some serious dancing skills on your first day. Whether you’re new to the phenomenon or a dance pro, just enjoy and move your body to the hypnotising rhythm. If you’re really serious about making it to the K-Pop music scene or becoming a backup dancer, try auditioning.
Hongdae district of Seoul is filled with youngsters dancing to K-Pop covers, and there are tonnes of online videos of talented groups around the world dressed in the band’s signature colour-coordinated clothing and wowing the crowd for carrying out perfectly synchronised dance routines.
You can also spice it up by adding your own touch and freestyle moves, like Korean-based group K-Tigers Zero, known for including a few Taekwondo moves to the choreographies here and there. It’s all about enjoying every moment and just having fun.
Watch the video here:
[Exclusive] One of the S.M. Entertainment is doing an interview exclusively for YesAsia!
Team YesAsia had the opportunity to interview one of the dancers of S.M.Entertainment - Pak Den Mi !
Name: Pak Den Mi | Pak DenMi| Pak Alexander
Birthday: December 20, 1993
Place of birth: Russia
Education: Seoul National University (SNU), faculty: Graduate School of Business
Hobbies/hobbies: dancing, playing the guitar, collecting sneakers, organizing various events at the university But for some interesting questions, we still received an answer.
Question: Where were you born and how did you end up in Korea?
Den Mi: “I was born in Russia. Lived in many places. Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Peter. I also lived in an English language program in Vancouver. The final stop was South Korea, Seoul.” nine0026
Question: Why did you decide to connect your life with dancing?
Den Mi: “So far, this is just my hobby, which also brings me income and pleasure. I don't know what's around the corner and I can't say that dancing will take the lead in my life…”
Q: How did you get into SM Entertainment?
Den Mi: “It's a very long story… I want to say a big thank you to my Korean friend who discovered my talent in dancing. He is a dancer himself from CUBE Entertainment. Thanks to his support, I went to the casting in SM. It seems like it was 2013… I didn’t expect that among 250 people, only 20 would pass, of which one was me”
Q: Why did you choose SM Entertainment?
Den Mi: "Because I was in 1MILLION Dance Studio, which you can say is affiliated with SM Entertainment. "
Q: You said you were in Vancouver for an English course. Where else have you been to? And where do you think is better: South Korea or America?
Den Mi: “Initially, my dream was to enter and study in America. Thanks to my parents, I also visited Canada and Boston, and briefly in New York. But due to special circumstances, I could not stay there ... South Korea and America should not be compared, they are completely different countries. They have both pros and cons.”
Question: Was it hard for you to get used to a new country?
Den Mi: “I used to only go to Korea for a visit and not for a long time. The decision to live and study in Seoul came somehow unexpectedly. It's still hard for me to get used to the Korean mentality, even though I'm a Korean myself. And it’s also very hard to live without your favorite cottage cheese ???? nine0026
Question: Which artist is your role model?
Den Mi: Jabbawockeez boys. When I watch them dance, I want to immediately get up and repeat, of course, it doesn’t always work out perfectly like theirs. But I have something to strive for :)”
Question: How do you think you impressed the judges at the casting?
Den Mi: “I don’t understand myself, there were a lot of guys at the audition better and more worthy than me… But many of my friends think that they were conquered, my snow-white hair ahah”
Question: Tell me about a funny experience while working at S.M. Entertainment
Den Mi: “There is something that I can't stop laughing and wondering about even now. The day after the selection, I came to a private dance lesson. Then I bleached and dyed my hair blonde (this was not done on purpose, I just lost the argument to a friend). So, the teacher kicked me out, saying that only trainee dancers gathered here and that my gym, where idols train, is opposite???? Until I dyed my hair, almost all the workers thought that I was an aspiring idol…”
Question: Do you get recognized on the streets, do you like it?
Den Mi: “I'm not a star to be recognized. But many girls ask for an ID on social networks to chat, of course, I'm pleased.”
Question: What is the hardest thing about being a dancer/choreographer for you?
Den Mi: “As a dancer, nothing is difficult. And as a choreographer - endurance and patience ... "
Question: How much time do you spend dancing?
Den Mi: “My day is divided into two main things: Study and Dance. At the moment I am focused on my studies, so I devote little time to my hobby.”
Question: Have you performed on stage with anyone before?
Den Mi: “SM doesn't often have the support of dancers.. Basically, as you can see, idol groups dance by themselves. nine0026
Our task is only to choreograph and teach it.”
Question: How hard is it for you to work?
Den Mi: “At first it was very difficult. This kind of work requires a lot of dedication. Both physically and mentally… I trained from 6 am to 2 am. Now it has become much easier and I am resting more.”
Question: What groups or idols have you worked with? nine0026
Den Mi: “I didn't work with many people. Since I am a junior choreographer, I am not allowed to stage dances and teach the “oldies” to dance. So far, I have little experience… Together with the famous choreographer Shaun Evaristo, we taught some young guys to dance, which now many of you know and listen to. to anything?
Den Mi: “My passion, like many dancers, is shoes”
Question: “Can readers ask you personally about your studies, ask about life in South Korea, or just chat?
Den Mi: “I can answer questions about life abroad, universities and leisure. I don’t come here often, but I periodically come and answer everyone https://vk. com/den_me111 «
Question: What are your plans for the future?
Den Mi: “I'm not planning. But I know for sure that I will continue to dance until I reach a certain goal.” Cover k-pop
and their fans seem to have occupied all social networks. Cultural critics estimate that the Korean entertainment industry has an estimated 100 million Internet users in 2020, twice the population of South Korea. The repertoire of K-pop groups is the quintessence of pop music, which has collected all the trendy Western musical genres; their clips collect billions of views, and live performances - millions of visitors, and this despite the fact that the songs are performed mainly in Korean. According to 2019 studyyear, almost 40 percent of respondents from around the world, including Russia, said that K-pop is very popular in their homeland.How South Korean music has conquered the whole world, how this industry works and what is going on behind the walls of pop idol factories - in the material "Lenta.ru".
This text was included in the selection of the best texts by Lenta.ru for 2020. Read the rest of the texts from it HERE
K-pop originated in the early 1990s, its most notable pioneers were Seo Taiji and Boys - a group that gathered in its repertoire a combined hodgepodge of all western genres fashionable at that time: hip - hop, electronic, rhythm and blues, soul and even rock - coupled, of course, with synchronized dancing. K-pop developed and gained popularity on its own until the age of 1997, when the economic crisis hit South Korea. After him, the Korean authorities paid attention to the musical genre.
Seo Taiji and Boys
President Kim Dae-jung's economic recovery government decided to invest in pop culture to improve the country's image in the world market. The reformed Ministry of Culture received an incredible budget, it has a whole department dedicated to K-pop. Officials' warm love for Korean pop music is perfectly described by a quote from Yuni Hong's book The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Conquers the World with Pop Culture. nine0003
The Korean government treats the K-pop industry in the same way that the US government treats the engineering industry and the banking system. They carefully protect them
Yuni Hong writer
The South Korean authorities have invested in the construction of large concert venues, actively protect the copyright of song labels, and even sponsored the development of holographic technology for more spectacular concerts. K-pop has become a cultural hallmark of the country, and Korean officials are not shy about calling it their main "soft power". This weapon of mass destruction, by the way, was actively used on the North Korean border: from 2016 to 2018, border guards regularly turned on K-pop on giant speakers mixed with “political information” for a neighbor. In North Korea, an official ban on South Korean pop music has been introduced, but the music is still popular among its inhabitants - smugglers bring it into the country on flash drives and disks. nine0003
Members of EXO-K and EXO-M
Photo: Han Myung-Gu / WireImage / Getty Images The industry has been hit hard by Seoul's decision to deploy the American THAAD anti-missile system in the country, which Beijing did not like. China was the most important K-pop export market in the world at the time, with Korea earning a record $5.3 billion in 2014 thanks to its neighbor. One of the largest K-pop labels, SM Entertainment, even created the EXO team in 2012, which was initially divided into two subgroups - EXO-K for the Korean audience and EXO-M, who performed songs exclusively in Mandarin. Due to the political conflict, Beijing imposed sanctions against Seoul, which included the blocking of K-pop videos and TV series, and the tour of many Korean artists in China was canceled. After the closure of the main sales market, the expansion of this music to the West intensified many times over. But, of course, K-pop has made the greatest contribution to the development of tourism. nine0003
Even the smallest concert has a significant positive impact on the country's economy. We create jobs, tourists leave us a lot of money, and the country attracts more attention. Economic benefits from all sides
Kim Gwang-Supreme Director of Gangnam Tourism
K-pop is indebted to the management of Gangnam-gu, because it is to this area of Seoul that Psy dedicated the composition Gangnam Style, glorifying it all over the world. Released in 2012, the video for the song became the first high-profile success of Korean pop music in Russia, Canada, Australia and Europe, got into the Guinness Book of Records with the most likes in YouTube history and for five years remained the most viewed video of the video hosting. However, Psy is not a conventional K-pop artist, the conquest of the West by classic Korean boy bands was yet to come. nine0003
Here they are, from left to right
BTS, the most successful and recognizable K-pop group in the world, was founded seven years ago by a small startup label Big Hit Entertainment. The artists were between 15 and 20 years old, chosen by Big Hit managers during castings - this is the standard history of the creation of a Korean boy or girl band. While the fledgling label had neither the funds nor the connections to launch the new group on a massive scale, within just a few years, BTS was already performing on par with established acts such as Big Bang and SHINee. Representatives of the group will certainly say that the creative freedom in creating songs that is possible only on small labels has contributed to the success of BTS, but this, of course, is not the whole truth. nine0003
Who is BTS
BTS has seven members: 26-year-old RM (Kim Namjoon), the leader of the group, 27-year-old, the oldest member of the group, Chin (Kim Seok-jin), 27-year-old Suga (Min Yoongi), 26-year-old J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), 24-year-old Jimin (Park Jimin), 24-year-old V (Kim Tae-hyun), and the youngest member, 23-year-old Jungkook (Jeon Jongkook).
BTS was one of the first K-Pop groups to start a Twitter account and YouTube vlogs, regularly reminding themselves of a growing fanbase that would become known as the "Army". Through the vlogs, fans learned more about the personalities of the BTS members. Michelle Chow, professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto, believes that it was close interaction with fans on social networks and vlogging that set the band apart from the competition and helped it gain a huge fan base, which, in turn, aroused the interest of Western TV shows and concert organizers. . Subsequently, such methods of communicating with the audience became the norm among K-pop artists
BTS on Jimmy Fallon
Photo: Andrew Lipovsky / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images
In 2015, the group even got their own online reality show, Run, BTS! (“Run, BTS!”). In it, the inseparable members of the group arrange cooking shows and sports, play Mafia and computer games, and go on tourist trips. The half-hour episodes, released several times a month, garner tens of millions of views (and, oddly enough, hundreds of millions of likes). Subtitles are available for the show in English, Russian, Ukrainian and other languages - many of the authors are fans from the "Army". nine0003
I think we were lucky to be born at the right time. Without social media, we wouldn't be as successful
Suga of BTS
In short, when BTS singer Suga from BTS tells the BBC that the group owes everything to social media and their fans, this is not a standard phrase that anyone will say in an interview pop star. While other K-pop groups have been thriving and conquering new markets with massive support from giant labels, BTS has made itself known by its social media following alone. nine0003
followers on BTS's Twitter account
The army of fans willing to translate and distribute BTS releases for free has propelled the group to the global stage. To date, the group's Twitter account has more followers than Western stars such as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Eminem - despite the fact that the group posts posts in South Korean. In addition to the official, the group has multi-million fan accounts in different languages. Big Hit's YouTube channel has 45 million subscribers, while BTS's vlog channel, BANGTANTV, has 38.1 million. nine0003
BTS became the first K-Pop group to hit the top of the US album charts, ranked #1 on iTunes in over 90 countries, garnered over 26 million YouTube subscribers, and performed twice at the UN. The team also set a world record for the number of viewers of a live online concert. In May 2019, BTS made their American television debut on The Stephen Colbert Show with the song Boy With Luv. Having chosen images of The Beatles for the performance, the group announced their desire to capture not only America, but the whole world with their music - like the most famous boy band in the world. nine0003
Of course, such a success would not have been possible with the help of social networks alone - all the musical and dance numbers of Korean stars are strictly verified and carefully rehearsed. Kevin Lee, who worked as a backup dancer for BTS, said that even at the peak of their success, the group exhausted themselves with constant training.
When we practiced dancing for their show, they would come to rehearsals directly from tours from other countries. As soon as they returned, training began for seven hours a day. They do not rest, they work, and that is why they have achieved such success
The members of BTS live together, do not have romantic relationships, and their images on social networks are subject to strict management and control - this is the principle of almost all K-pop groups, which number in the hundreds in South Korea, and every year 10-20 more debutant groups are added to the already existing teams. With the appearance of a successful stellar life, the everyday life of K-pop musicians can be compared more with army service - at least in terms of total control and exhausting training. And, of course, such a large-scale industry cannot do without abuse. nine0003
BTS and coronavirus
BTS's rise in popularity in 2020 has been aided, oddly enough, by the coronavirus pandemic. In June, when the regime of self-isolation continued in many countries, the group gave a virtual concert Bang Bang Con: The Live, which gathered more than 750,000 spectators from 107 countries of the world. By the way, the Korean government has already seen the pandemic as an opportunity to strengthen its “soft power”: in September, the country’s Minister of Culture Park Yang-woo promised that the authorities would develop a new strategy for distributing products of the Korean entertainment industry. Moreover, in addition to the already existing K-pop department in the cultural department, a hallyu department (as the country calls the spread of South Korean culture around the world) has been added, which also supports the export of Korean television series, video games and other cultural products. nine0003
Bad, good, dancer
The main factories of pop idols in South Korea are giant labels SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, who have created a whole system for searching and training new stars. K-pop musicians begin to train from early childhood - labels hold large-scale auditions, through which thousands of schoolchildren and schoolgirls go through, mostly at the age of 10 to 14 years. Teenagers and children who pass the entrance tests become trainees and begin grueling many hours of dancing and singing training. The rehearsal period can stretch for years - RM, the leader of BTS, spent four years in training before debuting, Red Velvet's Seulgi (Kang Seul Gi) rehearsed for seven years, and G-Dragon (Kwon Ji Young) before how to lead the Big Bang boy band, spent 11 years as a trainee - five of them with SM Entertainment and six more with YG Entertainment. nine0003
the average training period for future K-pop idols
Quitting such an internship is often not easy - aspiring artists sign contracts with labels before starting training and, if conditions are not met, can end up in huge debts . However, a debut in a K-pop group is by no means guaranteed, and a trainee could easily end up on the street if the producers decide that he is incapable of becoming a pop idol.
“It's one thing when you choose a person and make a star out of him, another thing is when you need to assemble a group whose members get along with each other and with society. If you're not careful, you can ruin everything. The West cannot understand this,” said Shin Hyun Kwang, chief executive of the Korean entertainment channel Mnet, in 2014. nine0003
Both trainees and established K-pop stars are on the strictest diets. As singer Wei, a former member of the Crayon Pop girl band, admitted, girls were forbidden to eat junk food and snack at night (which, however, only encouraged Wei and her colleagues to do this in secret from the management).
Crayon Pop Girl Band
Photo: Yonhap News / Newscom / Legion-media.ru
Because we were banned, we wanted to eat even more. We secretly bought food and ate in the toilet
Wei former member of Crayon Pop
Among K-Pop artists (as well as on forums and public forums romanticizing anorexia), the Korean "glass of food" diet is widespread - it consists of a daily serving of food that fits in nine cups with a capacity of 200 milliliters. In 2012, members of the Nine Muses girl band told fans about the “glass” diet, but almost all groups have equally severe dietary restrictions. Coupled with grueling workouts and intense tours, this leads artists to faint right on stage. The singer Krystal from the already broken group f (x) became especially famous for her public loss of consciousness - she fell unconscious during performances three times. nine0003
One of BTS's many choreographers, Song Syung-deuk, said that the artists rehearsed for their debut number 12-15 hours a day. For Korean superstars, the work becomes even richer and more difficult than for beginners - the working day stretches for 20 hours, during which the artist must star in a video or commercial, rehearse, participate in the recording of a song and a vlog. There is a measly 4-5 hours of sleep left, so the forums are filled with photos of K-pop celebrities passing out in their van or on the couch in the recording studio. nine0003
We danced for days with 4kg sandbags tied to our feet. Our choreographer wanted us to use bags to make our movements look easier without them
Wei, a former Crayon Pop member
The diligence that trainees show in training and rehearsals is considered normal for ordinary Koreans in other areas of life. For example, schoolchildren put in just as much effort preparing for the Suneung Unified Exam (one of the toughest and most ambitious in the world), and trainees who start their careers have a hard time. “Korean kids are taught from kindergarten to be competitive,” says Seoul-based fashion photographer Justin Shin, who has worked closely with many K-pop stars. “Koreans have to compete all their lives - they are regularly tested and judged on their actions and academic achievements.” nine0003
That's the number of artists in NTC, the biggest K-pop group in history. True, the team rarely performs in full force, and is divided into several subgroups
Each member occupies a special role in the group - critics single out leaders (they are responsible for most of the communication with journalists), singers (they are given the heaviest vocal parts), rappers ( hip-hop has long been an integral part of Korean pop music), dancers (they perform the most difficult dances in the numbers) and handsome men (whose function is already clear from the name). Most often, the group has seven to eight members, all with different backgrounds and characters, bright distinctive features - all in order to please the largest number of potential fans and attract a large fan base. The composition may include artists from other countries - as a rule, this means that the team will be heavily promoted abroad. nine0003
No love, no longing, no pity
Members of K-pop bands appear in public only surrounded by bandmates and almost never in the company of members of the opposite sex. The unwritten rule of the industry is that celebrities shouldn't be romantically involved. This is due to the fact that the presence of a lover or lover directly harms the artist's popularity with fans - therefore, reduces the income of the entire team. For example, South Korean singer Se7en (Choi Dong-wook) told how his fan base was instantly reduced by a hundred thousand members, as soon as he announced that he had a girlfriend. nine0003
Singer Se7en (Choi Dong-wook)
Photo: TPG / Newscom / Legion-media.ru
It is believed that idol singers are already in a relationship - with fans. Otherwise, it will hurt their popularity
Lee Ha-Hwi Marketing Director of the Victon Group
K-pop groups that include both boys and girls can be counted on the fingers, and most of them cannot withstand the competition from "same-sex » teams. Major labels tend to decide what image to give to a group, says Korean DJ Jamie Ilagan - a group, for example, can be presented as a group of schoolchildren, as a gang of "bad boys" and fatal girls. In the case of mixed teams, such concepts get along worse, and therefore they turn out to be uncompetitive. nine0003
Musicians, as a rule, are deprived not only of the opportunity to start new relationships, but also to maintain old ones, including with relatives. Members of the K-pop group live together and constantly train. These rehearsals are so exhausting that the artists barely have time to sleep, to say nothing of visiting relatives or friends. There is no ban on communication outside the "star houses" in the industry, and you can go to meet with loved ones (of course, after the artist has notified the managers about this, Lee Ha-Hwi adds), but most of the group members have no choice. time, no energy. nine0003
Fans are the main capital of the K-Pop industry, being both a source of funding and the most effective free PR service. Fans work tirelessly for the object of their sigh, bringing his name to Twitter trends, to the top of the charts, voting for him in all kinds of online voting. Unfortunately, by targeting the widest possible audience, it is easy to attract the attention of crazy people. In the industry, pop idol-obsessed fans are nicknamed "sasaeng". The appearance of sasaeng fans is the result of an aggressive promotional campaign by K-pop groups who actively maintain a close relationship with their fan base. nine0003
every popular South Korean celebrity has it according to producers. Of these, about a hundred can stalk a star on a regular basis
Some don't just spy: artists from BTS, EXO and GOT7 have had to flee from crowds of fans more than once, as The Beatles once did; boy band 2PM's Taekyeon once received a message from a fan that was written in menstrual blood and covered in pubic hair; JYJ member Jaejoong fell asleep in the sauna and was kissed by a fan. Artists are harassed in cars (accidents involving sasaeng are not uncommon), their homes are broken into, video surveillance is installed on them, underwear is mailed to them... Considering how important loyal fans are to K-pop groups and how useful to their image sasaeng fans, it's hard to tell which of these incidents were staged and which actually happened; however, the fight between labels and obsessed fans, especially when it comes to up-and-coming bands, is more in words than in deeds. nine0003
Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters
Sasaeng is only half the trouble as K-pop stars gather around them and a lot of anti-fans who are engaged in ridiculing and humiliating unloved celebrities online. It is not uncommon for artists to be threatened with violence and even terrorist attacks, there were also full-fledged attempted murders: in 2006, Yunho from the TVXQ group was poisoned with glue in a bottle of orange juice.
Pillars of K-Pop
American and European producers are often involved in writing music - they, in particular, note the love of K-pop labels for more complex sounding tracks, in contrast to the Western pop scene. Musician Claude Kelly, who has contributed to Bruno Mars' songs, told Rolling Stone of the limitations of creating rhythm and blues songs in the US: "The bridge tracks, the slow, complex, and more than two keyboard notes compositions were simply feared."
Major Korean labels import Western composers into the country in packs, and they, in turn, churn out music like on a conveyor belt: in 2013, August Rigaud, who wrote tracks for American pop stars Kehlani and Musiq Soulchild, fell into the “songwriter camp”, organized by S.M. Entertainment, along with ten other stellar composers. Some of them wrote 10-13 demos to the label in a week. Rigo, who has worked on compositions for K-pop bands such as NCT Dream and Boys Republic, says the camp has grown since then. nine0003
The Korean pop scene loves variety and harmonies in songs. A standard American track consists of four melodies, maybe five. A typical K-Pop song contains eight to ten tunes
Rodney Bellator of songs for EXO (Monster track), SHINee and Taeyeon
A single K-Pop song can have dozens of producers working on it. For example, on the track I Got a Boy by the girl band Girls' Generation, released in 2013, 36 songwriters and 15 composers from around the world worked. The main difficulty in writing tracks is to adapt the lyrics - this process can take from several months to several years. "Import" songwriters write tracks in English, after which Koreans translate them - usually leaving a couple of words in the original language for Western audiences. K-pop artists usually don't take part in songwriting. Moreover, the composition is not even always written for any particular group, but is made according to a template with many different harmonies, so that each artist gets his own part to match his or her style. nine0003
Stylish appearance is another obvious and carefully controlled phenomenon in K-pop. The style of Korean stars is similar to their music - it is a mixture of a wide variety of clothing items from different countries. Artists use make-up extensively, and it would be naïve to consider it a coincidence that over the past decade, South Korea has become the main consumer of men's cosmetics in the world market.
The so-called “airport bow” can be distinguished as a separate science (or rather, an entire business model), fashion designer Eugene tells the BBC. Successful K-pop bands regularly travel the world on tour and therefore often show up at airports in South Korea where the paparazzi are waiting for them. The artists go out in front of the cameras in a deliberately sloppy streetwear, which, however, is carefully selected for them. A K-Pop artist will never wear the same item twice, and if a BTS member shows up on the street wearing a certain sweatshirt, they are swept from stores by fans the next day. nine0003
Photo: Jo Yong-Hak / Reuters
But with all the variety of clothing styles, the K-pop industry is extremely strict about the appearance. The “beautiful” face standards used by labels to select future stars are pushing many young Korean women into plastic surgery, from simple nose reshaping to a rather wild operation in which the patient’s jaw is broken to give it a V-shape. Peculiar, in our opinion, plastic surgery in South Korea is as popular as men's cosmetics, and is just as closely associated with the music industry: Seoul, which has a high rate of surgical procedures per capita, is hung with advertisements for cosmetic clinics, which often advertise K-pop -stars. nine0003
Despite being hugely popular and devotedly loved by their fans, few idols can boast of making big money, all because of the slave contracts (that's what the industry called them) that artists are given during their trainee period for a huge period of time sometimes for decades. At the same time, the contract does not begin to operate from the beginning of training, but from the moment of debut. According to JJCC singer Prince Mack, usually the label takes 80-90 percent of the band's income, and the remaining 10-20 percent is divided among the members of the group (of which, as we have already mentioned, there can be a couple of dozen). Often, one of the conditions of the contract is the obligation of the artist to return the costs of his training to the label, so aspiring K-Pop artists work for a long time without any income. nine0003
Even if the band manages to reach a global audience, their profits are nothing compared to the money received by the top label. At the end of September, it was revealed that all BTS members became multi-millionaires by receiving shares in Big Hit Entertainment; at the same time, CEO Pan Si-hyuk became a billionaire after the IPO
The abundance of bands that are easily replaced by trainees languishing in factories means that K-pop groups with an average and unsatisfactory level of success do not last long. The industry has its own superstitions, one of which is the “seven-year curse”: similar to the belief that after seven years of married life, marriage undergoes a difficult test, many K-pop groups break up after this period. The superstition has a logical explanation: after seven years of touring, many bands expire contracts, and the label may refuse to develop the group, considering that it is more profitable to invest in younger artists. Otherwise, the most famous members decide to throw off the burden of contracts and pursue solo careers, which in the competitive world of K-pop is not such an easy task. A “seven-year curse” falls, as a rule, on girl bands: after seven years of concert activity, such bands as 2NE1, 4Minute, SISTAR, miss A broke up.0003
Photo: ilgan Sports / Multi-Bits via Getty Images
Girl bands are at greater risk of disbanding due to their cute, youthful and innocent image being popularized. With age, such an image becomes more and more difficult to maintain, so they are replaced by young ones
Lee Taek-gwang culture critic, professor of global communications at Kyunghee University
Despite the high degree of control and the ban on romantic relationships for K-Pop artists of sex scandals enough in the industry. November 2019th two 30-year-old K-pop artists, Jung Joon-young of the K-rock band Drug Restaurant and Choi Jong-hoon of the boy band F. T. Island, were sentenced to six and five years in prison, respectively, for the rape of a woman who had passed out due to alcohol intoxication. Joon-young was also accused of distributing a video of the crime and of making videos of sex with other women public.
Another high-profile scandal involved Seungri, a member of the big K-pop group Big Bang, a PR director and one of the owners of the Burning Sun nightclub, who was accused of mediating prostitution in the club. The artist left the group due to the scandal, the lawsuit in his case is ongoing - law enforcement agencies said that illegal voyeuristic filming was also conducted in Burning Sun (this phenomenon, called “milk” in South Korea, unfolded in the country to the extent of a national epidemic) and selling drugs, and the club's management bribed the police and evaded taxes. nine0003
In May 2019, Yang Hyun Suk, a former member of the first famous K-pop group Seo Taiji & Boys and later the founder of YG Entertainment, which includes Psy, Blackpink and Big Bang, was accused of pimping. He allegedly offered sex workers to investors in 2014 during a business meeting that also included an unnamed artist from the label. The accusations were brought against Hyun Suk in an investigation by journalists from the Korean channel MBC, the details of the incident were revealed by a sex worker. nine0003
There have also been cases of trainees training to become pop stars forced into prostitution. “Sponsorship” is a common occurrence in the industry, and young girls who find themselves away from family and friends in the “K-pop star factory” are often sexually harassed.
Memorial altar for Kara Goo Hara
Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Reuters
Slave working conditions, fixed contracts, constant threat of losing a job and being replaced by a younger artist, a beggarly existence and pressure from fans and anti-fans, all of which lead to one of the most scandalous phenomena in K-pop: the high suicide rate. Last year, South Korea was rocked by a series of celebrity suicides. On October 14, 25-year-old singer Sulli (Choi Jin Ri), a former member of the f(x) girl group, killed herself after suffering from depression. The following month, 28-year-old singer and actress Goo Hara, formerly of Kara, passed away. Both women were subjected to harassment on the network - the first was ridiculed because of the "too rough" facial features for a K-pop artist, the second - because of the scandal with an ex-boyfriend who blackmailed her sex tape, filmed without the consent of the singer. Two weeks after Hara's death, 27-year-old Surprise U boy band member Cha Inhee died (an investigation into the cause of his death is still ongoing). Two years earlier, in December 2017, singer Jonghyun of SHINee committed suicide. He was 27 years old. nine0003
K-pop is arranged in the manner of a factory, this is its advantage over the pop industry of the West. In the US and Europe, labels are scouting for young talent and vying to be the first to sign them, while in South Korea, stars are created through streaming, and in the event of an artist's "marriage" there is always someone to replace them.