This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, and Three. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:
아이돌: 꿈의 비정규직? Idols: the irregularity [instability] of the dream?
오디션은 누구에게나 열린 평등한 기회가 아니다. 가장 중요한 것은 육체다. 기획된 노출 용도에 적합한, ‘규격’에 맞는 몸을 가져야 한다. 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 사람을 원하지 않는다. 가장 이상적인 자질은 기획사가 정한 동작을 완벽히, 기계적으로 따라하는 ‘길들이기 쉬운’ 신체다.
Auditions are not an equal opportunity open to everyone. The most important thing is [one’s] body. One must have a body that is suitable for the planned purpose of exposure and meets “the standard.” Agencies don’t want people who have creative abilities. The most ideal qualification is an “easy to tame” body that perfectly, mechanically copies the moves that the agency determines.
아이돌 지망생들은 1000대 1 가까운 경쟁을 뚫고 오디션을 통과해야 겨우 연습생 자격을 얻는다. 물론 다수가 교습소에서 춤과 동작을 배우고, 다이어트와 성형을 거치는 등 ‘선행 훈련’을 쌓는다. 그리고 이렇게 선발된 연습생 가운데 2~3%만이 그룹으로 활동할 기회를 얻는다.
Idol hopefuls have to beat nearly 1000-to-1 odds to pass the audition and just qualify as trainees. Of course, the majority study dance and movement at a [training] school, and pile up “prior training” like going through diets and surgery. Also, among trainees selected in this way, only 2-3% get the chance to be part of a [girl or boy] group.
연습생들이 고된 훈련과 불투명한 미래를 견디는 이유는 하나다. ‘내게도 기회가 올 수 있다’는 막연한 희망이 있기 때문이다. 그러나 이 ‘희망’은 대단히 잔인한 훈육 체계다. 연습생들에게 보상이 불확실한 노동을 지속하게 하고, 데뷔한 그룹에게는 ‘너를 대신할 사람은 널렸다’는 위협이 되기 때문이다. 아래 글은 이 점을 잘 지적하고 있다.
There is one reason that trainees endure intense training and an uncertain future. It is the vague hope that “I too can get an opportunity.” However, this “hope” brings with it a very cruel system of discipline. This is because trainees are made to continue to do work for which reward is uncertain, and they become a threat to groups that have made their debut, [who are told] “There are many people who can do this instead of you.” The excerpt below illustrates this.
“그룹을 꾸려 데뷔를 준비하는 것도 마음과 취향이 맞는 연습생끼리 어울려 이루는 것이 아니다. 소속사가 기획하는 그림에 따라 멤버가 추려지고, 그룹 안에서 맡아야 할 역할에 따라 지시된 이미지대로 움직여야 한다. 여기서 밉보이거나 엇나가면 이들을 자산으로 관리하는 기획사는 본보기로 멤버 가운데 하나를 탈락시킨다. 이런 으름장은 신인 연예인을 다스리는 효과적인 전략이다.” (이안, ‘원더걸스 선미 탈퇴로 비춰본 아이돌에 대한 허상’, <미디어오늘> 2010. 1. 26)
“The making and debut preparation of a group is also not something formed between like-minded trainees of similar tastes. Members are selected according to the image that the record company is planning. They must behave according to the image assigned to them as the role each must play in the group. If they anger [the agency] or go astray here, the agency that manages them like they are property can make an example of one of the members by eliminating him or her. This kind of threat is an effective strategy for controlling new celebrities.” (Lee Ahn, “Illusions about idols revealed by [Marilyn- in light of?] Wondergirls’ Sun-mi’s departure”, <Media Ohneul> 2010. 1. 26)
과거의 아이돌 그룹은 각 구성원이 뚜렷한 개성을 지니고 있었고, 서로 구분되는 역할을 했다. 그로 인해 한 명이라도 빠지게 되면 그룹 전체가 타격을 받곤 했다. 한 멤버의 탈퇴로 그룹이 해체되는 경우도 흔했다. 그러나 2000년대 후반에 나타난 아이돌 그룹은 비슷한 키에 비슷한 몸매를 갖고 있고, 그룹 내의 역할도 차별성을 갖지 않는다. 이제 구성원은 언제라도 대체될 수 있는 ‘규격부품’이 된 것이다.
In idol groups of the past, each member had a marked individuality and played a distinct role. As a result, if even one member left, the whole group was damaged. Groups often also broke up because of the withdrawal of one member. However, idol groups that appeared in the latter half of the 2000s have similar heights and figures, and their roles in the group are not distinct. Now, a member is a “standard part” that can be replaced at any time.
원더걸스의 경우, 현아와 선미가 탈퇴한 자리는 곧 다른 멤버로 채워졌고 아무 문제 없이 그룹이 운영되고 있다. 걸스데이 기획사 역시 지선과 지인의 탈퇴 발표 후 나흘 만에 새 멤버를 영입했다. 남성 아이돌 그룹 유키스 또한 기범과 알렉산더가 남긴 빈자리를 신인으로 보충해서 활동을 계속하고 있다. 결국 아이돌 시스템은 노동을 손쉽게 대체하기 위한 ‘연예계의 노동유연화’ 또는 ‘비정규직화’인 셈이다.
In the Wondergirls’ case, the openings left by HyunA’s and Sunmi’s departures were soon filled by other [new] members, and the group is operating with no problems. Girl’s Day’s agency also recruited new members within four days of the announcement of Ji Sun and Ji In’s departure. Male idol group U-KISS also filled open seats left by Kibum and Alexander with new faces and is continuing to work. Ultimately, the idol system is about “the flexibilization* of entertainment labor” or “irregularization” for the sake of easily replacing labor.
Caption: 아이돌 그룹의 특성은 몰개성과 획일화다. 표준화된 이미지와 역할분산은 멤버들을 ‘부품화’함으로써 언제라도 대체할 수 있게 만들어 준다. 원더걸스의 경우 다섯 명 가운데 두 명이 교체되었지만, 큰 타격 없이 활동을 계속하고 있다.
Caption: The standardization and lack of individuality of idol groups’ characteristics. Through componentization [making each member into a “part” that is responsible for a small aspect of the whole], a standardized image and the division of roles make members replaceable at anytime. In the Wondergirls’ case, two out of five members have been replaced, but the group is continuing to work without much damage. (end)
*Apologies for the long delay since Part Three, and thanks very much to Marilyn for helping me to catch up by translating this one. About some of the odd words in it, she adds that she:
…found a definition of “flexibilization” as leading to “a core group with unlimited full employment, and an increasingly larger group of short-term limited and or part-time employees who face severe employment risks, ultimately resulting in stress” and “componentization” is “not limited to software; through the use of subcontracting and outsourcing, it can also apply to business organizations and processes.”, but “irregularization” seems to not be a real word.
(See here for Part 5)
12 thoughts on “What Did Depraved Oppas do to Girls’ Generation? Part 4”
It’s ironic that SNSD is mentioned because they’re one of the few big groups who have not undergone a member change
I feel like it’s so unnerving to know that you could easily be replaced in a group, especially after all the hard work you put in and then be forced to act your “role” instead of just being yourself. Then netizen accusations of being too “fake” comes along. If you acted like yourself people would hate you for being too “bitchy”. It’s a lose-lose situation.
What do you think of the After School graduation process? The members have been: (5 +1, -1, +2, +1, +1, -1)
Their popularity was at it’s peak? during “Because of You” with 7 members.
KARA, Wonder Girls, Girl’s Day have had member changes. They became MORE popular after the member change. (KARA’s Sunghee had such potential as a vocalist but then she left and now she’s married. Oh well. Girl’s Day Jiin and Jisun were stable vocalists = 4/5 of the group could sing! The two new members haven’t been impressive so they’re down to 2/5.)
Well, just in the title. Off the top of my head, I think they barely get mentioned in the entire article too, so probably “What Did Depraved Oppas do to This Generation of Girls?” or something would have been more accurate. I agree with him (and you) about the interchangeability etc. of members in many groups, but think he exaggerates that (like I explain in Part 2).
I haven’t given much thought to the After School graduation process sorry, as I really liked them for being so different to most girl-groups, and so got really put off when they suddenly did a complete 180 by forming the cutesy subunit Orange Caramel. Truth be told, I don’t even know most of their names, but I do at least know Kahi well…and would lose all interest in the group were she to leave.
At least they won’t beat british Sugababes anytime soon: the group is still going, but none of the original members are left!
Sounds like Jewelry.
This is what I think makes bands like big bang and 2ne1 so successful, they focus on each member’s strength and can market them to the public like solo artists. I admit to being a hardcore YG family fan and it is because their artists even though they are styled and trained, are irreplaceable and valued.
Fans seem genuinely upset when individual members leave as opposed to members that are easily replaceable. Take Park Jae Beom’s (2pm) example. It is more significant of a loss when a leader leaves, in his case he was very unique to the group so it did affect 2pms popularity. However, there are still very distinct characters amongst the members to get over the scandal plus the amount of members. It’s easier to go from 7 to 6 than 4 members to 3. In the end they couldn’t add a new member because he is irreplaceable.
Yeah, it’s more difficult to apply Kang’s point about interchangeability to small groups. And while he may have a point about Sunmi of the Wondergirls (I think her leaving was more of a big deal to fans than he thinks), the relative impact of HyunA leaving probably had more to do with how early she left it (before she could leave much of an imprint on fans), and because of how at that early stage – and only at that early stage – JYP was experimenting with their image so much that it was difficult for fans to get a handle on them.
Very true, sadly. There are only a few groups left in which individuality is a plus. Most groups that we see right now have debuted over the last year or two, three and members all seem to fit into the same mold, even vocally. With some of the girlgroups that I listen to, I have been able to separate faces at this point, but their voices still sound like they’re coming from one of and the same person to me.
I was also going to comment on how the writer of the article should have taking the reaction of the public into account when it comes to member replacement – but then I tought about it some more and realized it doesn’t really matter. There might have been huge shitstorms when Jaebum left 2PM, when Sunmi left the Wonder Girls and when Alexander and Kibum were kicked out of U-Kiss, but (like the writer says) the groups are still alive (not sure for the WG tough) and doing well. You might lose some fans if a member of a popular group leaves, and some people might always hold a grudge against the company, people are always going to support their group; and companies know that.
Out of curiosity, do you know about Japanese girl groups such as Morning Musume or AKB48?
Morning Musume changes members every so often, and AKB48 has such a vast amount of girls that I doubt there can be any individuality at all.
Anyway, thanks for the translation. I feel a lot of kpop fans have dreams of one day being an idol, but they don’t know how hard it is to make it.
The rules the trainees have to follow are strict, but if they don’t follow them, everything they worked for is taken away.
Reading that article was so depressing. There were so many rules as a k-pop star and then they still have to deal with the netizens “critiques” of being fake and whatnot. It’s not like the stars are allowed to act any other way. Although, guys USUALLY, but not always have it easier than girls when it comes to “good” behavior but that is another issue entirely.
I hope that there are plenty of psychologists involved, as the whole ‘training’ process sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I guess that the thousands of ‘trainees’ are paid very poorly? If at all?
This is probably the best article of the series but the relationship to ‘depraved oppas’ has become pretty well impossible to see anymore. I still think that ajeoshis have only a fraction of the influence that fellow teens and young people do over these groups.