Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How the Kpop Industry Actually Works: Part 2

Screencap of INFINITE's music video, 'The Eye'
Two weeks ago, I told you about the Kpop industry and how it really works - but if you're just getting into Kpop and you find yourself scrolling down the front page of Allkpop or Soompi, you may be wondering one thing - what's up with all these band issues?

Kpop artists are no strangers to the hazards of the music industry, and because of the way the Kpop industry is set up, hazards abound. So if you're wondering why your new bias band is suing their label or what on earth a 'sassaeng fan' is, here's a quick guide.

This is a common reason for a band to sue a label, and here's the reason: most Kpop bands have no idea how much money they're making or spending. The label sets up the contracts with the basic premise of 'you will work for us until you pay off the money we spent to get you here.' Obviously there are many ways this could go wrong. Most Kpop singers aren't allowed to know how much they're making. They also have no idea how much they're spending. Think of it as a kind of interest.

The label spends the money they give to the artist in order to clothe the artist, buy the artist's plane tickets, take care of hotel bills, etc. So while the artist is working to pay off their debt to the label, the label keeps adding more to the amount of money that needs to be paid. Not every label works this way, but many of them do. Not long ago, hit boyband BLOCKB sued their label (and, in a rare instance, won) for this very reason. They now operate and thrive under a different label that meets their requirements.

As I mentioned in the first half of this series, Kpop bands are held to the very highest standard and are some of the best in the world. However, this kind of training and dedication is rarely put on hold for anything - even sickness or injury. For example, when B.A.P. filmed their music video for 'One Shot,' vocal Himchan injured his hand on set but was not allowed to take a rest period and let it heal. Often when artists get sick, they're simply given medication or an IV without getting a proper recuperation period. Fortunately, there's a good shift in the tide as labels like Loen are beginning to allow their artists to take breaks when sick.

It's also worth noting that Kpop artists work on extremely packed, busy schedules and rarely get days off - some bands get as few as one or two days free each year.
Screencap of Himchan from the 'One Shot' music video.
For this example, let's take a look at a current scandal taking place, involving several boybands such as SHINee, B1A4, and INFINITE. Behind-the-scenes photos were recently released showing Saturday Night Live cast members making inappropriate contact with the artists, who looked extremely uncomfortable. While it was nothing 'major,' it was also nothing minor, as more artists stepped forward to support the bands and claim that they, too, had undergone some embarrassing harassment while being on the show. This is on the mild spectrum of harassment in the Kpop industry, and it's an open secret that many female artists have been sexually harassed by powerful company higher-ups.

South Korea may be one of the safest places to live, but not if you're a Kpop artist. South Korea is home to the phenomenon called a 'sassaeng fan.' The sassaeng fan is obsessed with a particular artist and aggressively hates a) this artist's competitors and usually b) other people who are also fans of the sassaeng's idol. Sassaeng fans break into artists' homes, place tracking devices on their cars (example: Jang Geun Suk, a singer/actor, discovered a tracking device on his car several years ago and gave an open rant on Twitter), calling at all hours of the night, and generally behaving like the villain of a horror movie. This might sound extreme to westerners, but to anyone in the Kpop industry, this is daily life and probably their least-favorite part of it.
Jang Geun Suk (source)
Imagine a sassaeng fan - but instead of someone who idolizes you, this person loathes you. An anti-fan is someone obsessed with hating a particular artist or band. They will disparage the artist/band on SNS (South Korean social media), they will go to concert or fanmeet venues simply to harass, and sometimes they will actually attack the object of their hatred. Several years ago, Yunho of TVXQ was given a glass of orange juice on set by someone he thought was an intern, only to discover after taking a drink that the beverage contained glue. He was rushed to the hospital unable to breathe, and only recently has been able to speak up about the resulting issues he had with anxiety and trusting those around him.
Yunho (source)
It may look glamorous, but the life of a Kpop artist definitely has its difficulties and downsides. Don't get me wrong - this article may have made their lives sound like hellholes, but these instances, while common, are varied and don't describe the life of every artist in the industry. These artists work hard to pursue their passions and give music and art to their fans. The least we can do is repay them by being respectful and appreciating their hard work and dedication.

Do you have any questions about the Kpop industry? If so, leave them in the comments section and I'll get to them!


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