This translation of part of this Korean article follows directly from Parts One, Two, Three, and Four. If you haven’t already, please read those first, as the author didn’t intend for any section to be a stand-alone post:
려한 조명과 환호 속의 착취 / Exploitation inside the bright lights and cheering
아이돌 시스템을 ‘착취’로 보는 데 모든 이가 동의하지는 않을 것이다. 이렇게 물을 사람도 있을 것이다. 고되고 불확실한 과정이라지만, 누가 강요한 것도 아니고 스스로 원해서 하는 일 아니냐고.
That the idol system is exploitative might not be a view that not everyone shares. There might also be people who ask this kind of question: though it is a difficult and uncertain process, isn’t it something they’re not forced to do and that they’re doing because they want to?
그렇다면 가혹한 입시제도도, 살인적 등록금도, 젊은이의 미래를 절망스럽게 만드는 비정규직도 별 문제가 아니다. 누가 대학 가라고, 누가 비정규직으로 일하라고 강요하던가. 선택이 제한된 사회에서 ‘자발적 선택’이란 얼마나 허망한 말인가. <한겨레신문>에 실린 한 아이돌 지망생의 말을 들어보자. 이 고등학생은 어렵사리 쌍꺼풀 수술을 한 후, 이제 코 성형을 목표로 편의점, 패스트푸드점, 주유소에서 아르바이트를 하고 있었다.
If so, then the rigorous university entrance exam system, murderous tuition fee, and the irregular work that fills a young person with despair aren’t really problems. Who forces them to go to university or do irregular work? In a society that has limited choices, how unreliable the expression ‘voluntary choice’ is! Let’s hear what one idol hopeful said, as reported in the Hankyoreh [newspaper]. After getting a double-eyelid surgery with [financial] difficulty, this high school student is now working part time at a convenience store, a fast food restaurant, and a gas station with the goal of getting nose surgery.
“어린 나이에 그토록 힘든 일을 감내해가며 연예인이 되고 싶은 이유가 뭐냐고, 이른바 ‘불공정 계약서’를 쓰고 젊음과 재능을 착취당하는 아이돌 얘기 못 들어봤느냐고 겁주는 소리를 했더니 그 친구가 말했다. ‘기자 언니, 솔직히 말해보세요. 나처럼 돈 없고 ‘빽’ 없고 성적도 그저 그런 애가 그럭저럭 대학 가면 그다음엔 뭐 있어요? 지금은 좀 힘들어도, 기획사에만 들어가면 나한테는 진짜 ‘기회’가 오는 거잖아요.” (<한겨레신문> “빽 없는 연예지망생 ‘성공시대’ 저무나” 2011. 6. 17)
“After I asked her scary things like what’s her reason for wanting to become a celebrity while enduring such difficulties at a young age, and hasn’t she heard of idols whose youth and talent were exploited after they signed so-called ‘unfair contracts,’ she answered me. ‘Reporter Onni, be honest. If a person like me, without money or connections, and whose grades are so-so, somehow goes to university, what is there after that? Even though it’s a little difficult now, you know that if I just get an agency, that is a real opportunity to me.'” (Hankyoreh, “End of the ‘Era of Success’ for would-be celebrities with no connections” June 17, 2011)
James – See “Teen Angst and the K-pop Machine” at SeoulBeats for more on the appeal of joining a talent agency
지난해 여성가족부는 청소년 연예인(지망생 포함)을 대상으로 설문조사를 했다. 그 결과를 보면, 미성년자 연예인들의 ‘자발적 선택’이 어떤 것인지 알 수 있다. 응답자의 36%가 하루 8시간 이상 초과근무를 하고, 41%가 야간과 휴일에도 일하고 있었다. 미성년자인 이들 중 10%가 신체 노출을 경험했다고 말했고, 그중 60%가 강요에 의해서라고 답했다.
Last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family surveyed adolescent celebrities (including hopefuls). By looking at the results, we can see what kind of thing underage celebrities’ “voluntary choice” is. 36% of respondents worked more than 8 hours a day and 41% even worked on nights and weekends. Of these minors, 10% said they had experienced wearing revealing clothing, and of that group 60% answered that they did so under coercion.
앞의 <한겨레신문> 기사를 더 읽어 보면 이런 기회조차 평등하게 주어지지 않음을 알게 된다. “돈 없고 빽 없는” 아이들에게도 기회를 주는 듯했던 연예기획사들이 이제 돈과 배경을 갖춘 지망생을 선호하는 것이다.
If you read more of the Hankoryeh article mentioned above, you’ll learn that even this kind of opportunity is not given equally. Entertainment management agencies, which had seemed to give chances to children “without money or connections,” now choose hopefuls that combine money and background.
“‘형편이 어려운 아이들은 헝그리 정신 덕분에 빨리 성장하긴 하는데, 성공한 뒤에는 집안의 실질적 가장 노릇을 하기 때문에 계약서 관련 소송을 일으킬 확률이 높다’는 논리라고 한다. ‘반면 있는 집 아이들은 돈 문제에 민감하지 않고 ‘강남 키드’, ‘엄친아’ 이미지에 힘입어 광고계에서도 각광받는다’고 했다.”
“‘Though children in difficult circumstances develop quickly thanks to their hungry mentality, after succeeding, the chances of contract-related court cases arising is high, because they are effectively the heads of their household,’ is the reason a broadcast PD [Marilyn – I checked] gave. ‘On the other hand, children from homes that have money don’t care about money problems, and with their image as a “Kangnam kid” or “Mom’s friend’s son” [a perfect kid, to whom your mother is always unfavorably comparing you] they are in the spotlight in advertising too.’”
일부 아이돌 지망생이 일반인들은 상상하기 어려운 부를 얻는 것은 사실이다. 그렇다고 해서 아이돌 시스템이 정당화되는 것은 아니다. 이 체계는 피라미드 하층부 다수의 희생에 기초를 두고 있기 때문이다. 한국의 입시교육이 소수에게 혜택을 준다고 해서 절대 다수를 ‘들러리’로 희생시키는 행위가 정당화될 수 없듯 말이다.
It’s true that some idol-hopefuls make money that average people have difficulty imagining. That doesn’t mean that the idol system is justified. This is because it based on the sacrifices of the majority at the bottom of the pyramid. It is like how even though the Korean university entrance exam education benefits a minority, sacrificing the majority in supporting roles can never be justified.
당신이 아이돌의 팬이든 아니든 상관없다. 그들이 좇는 꿈이 칭찬할 만하다고 생각하면, 그 꿈이 행복한 결실을 맺도록 보살필 일이다. 만일 그 꿈이 철부지들의 몽상이라고 생각한다면, 입시와 오디션을 거치지 않아도 기쁘게 살 길을 마련해 주자. 그게 진정 ‘오빠’와 ‘누나’가 할 일이다.
It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of idols or not. If you think the dream that they are pursuing is worthy of praise, it is a matter of taking care of them so their dream has happy results. If you think that dream is a just a children’s fantasy, lets provide a way for them live joyfully even if they don’t pass the university entrance exam or audition. That is the duty of real “oppas” and “noonas.”
Image Caption 7: 아이돌 기획사는 창의적 재능을 갖춘 지망생을 원하지 않는다. 이상적인 후보는 정해 준 동작을 그대로 익혀 따르는 기계적 완벽성이다. 사진은 소녀시대의 ‘오!’ 뮤직비디오의 한 장면.
Image caption 7: Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent. The ideal candidate is mechanical perfection at learning and copying the moves as they are given. In the picture, a scene from Girls Generation’s music video “Oh!”
(Thanks very much to Marilyn for translating Parts 4 and 5)
Update – See The Korea Herald for more on exploitation of minors in the Korean music industry.
Update 2 – The Marmot’s Hole reports that “apparently there are hundreds of students from elementary to high school who are skipping class in favor of auditions in hopes of becoming a celebrity. National Assembly members are calling for measures that would ensure that these students receive the mandatory education like other students.”
10 thoughts on “What did Depraved Oppas Do to Girls’ Generation? Part 5 (Final)”
“That the idol system is exploitative might not be a view that not everyone shares.”
I think most everyone _would_ agree that it’s exploitative in certain cases, that there are lots of people who struggle for nothing in the system, and that like in the music biz in general most hopefuls don’t end up as stars, and are dumped by the people with money. I’ve also agreed with much of what he’s written in the last few chapters – and of course no one could disagree with his conclusion.
The things people (me) might not agree with is his generalized attacks, like “Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent.” Many labels certainly do know the value of creative talent when they see it – G-Dragon has had a hand in most Big Bang music the past few years, IU has been given a freer reign (her latest hit “Hold My Hand” was written&composed by her), and these are basically the biggest idol stars you’ve got. Lessons in composing music and music theory is part of the trainee program in SM Ent, and I’m sure many other studios.
Certainly there’s an irony in that the much-derided “Pop Idol”- like talent shows, only recently hugely popular in Korea, have brought more singer-songwriters to the top of the charts in the country- both young ones, through “Superstar K” and established ones through “I Am a Singer”. Credit for this doesn’t really go to the idol labels, but they do often end up signing the contestants.
Thanks for translation and posting to everyone involved, very valuable to get perspectives from sources we wouldn’t stumble across otherwise.
“Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent.”
You argue against this citing G-Dragon and IU as prime examples. I would argue that these artists were not scouted for their creativity. I believe that it is only after they achieved a certain level of celebrity that the chain around their neck was loosened. Just another means of the management agency controlling their product and keeping them generating profits.
Korean music has lots of creativity (with justified praise) – the idol genre is not where it’s found though.
I disagree with your last point, I think the best k-pop producers and composers are more unique in the world of music than the local indie bands and singer/songwriters, who mostly tread very predictable paths, with a few exceptions. Compare the cheeky playfulness of a “High High” or the mad scientist pop of “Gee”, the creativity-inducing spirit of “anything goees” to the mostly placid easy-listening pop-rock of the indie scene and this should be obvious.
Firstly, I’ll clarify that I never meant that there was no creativity in idol music at all – just not that much; especially when comparing to the Korean music industry as a whole.
Regarding your counterpoint, if you are going to compare, then compare like for like. The best k-pop producers are no different than the best k-indie producers. They don’t exclusively produce for a single specific genre either. Cherry-picking three songs does not make a solid argument even if you throw in a bunch of adjectives.
If you think easy-listening pop/rock is all there is to k-indie then you haven’t listened to what k-indie has to offer. Google k-indie, dig around and have a listen – I think you’ll see that it is obvious that it is not “mostly tread[ing] very predictable paths, with a few exceptions”.
Indie is a very big and diverse genre. If you understand Korean then it’ll be easier for you to find some quality stuff. If you’re just an international k-pop fan then I can understand why you would have the impression of k-indie that you do. To hold on to that position though would mean that you’d be missing out on a lot of good Korean music.
I wouldn’t call Korean music entirely unique. My general impression is most Korean popular music produced in the past four or so years is heavily influenced by western RnB and euro-pop music. You can look at f(x)’s most recent album where several of the songs are licensed from western artists with the composition relatively unchanged. However, most people would view it as being distinctly Korean when in fact it is not – the lyrics being in Korean is really the only Korean aspect to those songs.
This is not an isolated case either as in the Korean music industry there is debate about Korean music losing it’s “Korean-ness”. Korean music labels are moving toward more westernised sounds so that Korean music will have a broader appeal internationally in order to help sustain the current Hallyu wave. Look at the credits to a lot of current Korean idol music and you’ll see a lot of non-Korean names.
“Idol agencies don’t want hopefuls who possess creative talent. The ideal candidate is mechanical perfection at learning and copying the moves as they are given.”
except when you’re under YGE.
2NE1 are the little sisters of YG Family, yet they have a say in everything. Even Jay Park, a guy who had nothing but harsh words on the idol world since he left 2PM (his “they don’t like me ‘cuz i ain’t like all them other puppets” tweet…) admires the girls. So do some guys in the underground like the Mate band members… they may have been put together by Yang Hyun Suk, but they surely aren’t as puppeteed as SNSD or KARA…
That’s what i love about YG artists, because when they perform and stuff they have this passion for music that not many idols have :)
While I definitely agree that YGE artists have somewhat more freedom musically compared to those in other companies, what I dislike is this “elitism” that develops in some of the fans. Those fans would snub others and tell them they’re not listening to “real” music.
Just because you learned how to compose/write a song won’t automatically make it good. In the end though I hope that ALL companies will encourage what creative talents their idols have. But will they be able fit this into their 20-hour schedule per day? It was very worrying to hear some group say that their only down time was when they go to sleep.
“but they surely aren’t as puppeteed as SNSD or KARA…”
Being less of a puppet still makes them a puppet and you think that makes a significant difference?
The fact is they’re all puppets – that’s what the idol music industry is about. You should just learn to accept that.
The only thing worse than puppets are puppets that pretend that they’re not. Actually what’s worse is their fans.
I like idol groups, but, I hold no delusions about how manufactured they are and I appreciate the entertainment value they provide.
Interesting conversation above. Good points raised and tough questions being asked. As somebody who has been following K-pop (for a couple of years) and Kpunk/indie (for a decade plus) pretty closely, I think there is merit in the arguments raised by both abcfsk and boxguru–the issue is finding the right level of middle ground. I agree with abcfsk that a lot of Korean indie is surprisingly bland/homogenous, but of course there is plenty of talent to be found. K-indie is a huge playing field. Taking punk as an example, I think both RUX and the Ghetto Bombs are/were *outstanding* bands, esp. live, but it’d be hard to argue for great originality. But is originality the most important thing in 2011 in music or just doing your own genre really well? The Ghetto Bombs couldn’t have sounded more like “…And Out Come the Wolves”-period Rancid if they wanted to, but hey–at least they were paying homage to what I still regard as one of the best records ever made.
And to draw from K-pop idol bands, how do we understand 2NE1’s “Ugly”? Is this a “puppet group” pretending not to be and coming up with a clever marketing ploy, or should we celebrate it as a, to me at least, (semi-semi-) convincingly resistant reaction to K-pop idol groups’ emphasis on appearance? And, strip me of my punk credentials, but hey, I think “Bubble Pop”, “Bad Girl, Good Girl” and “So Hot”are all seriously catchy songs and not without their own amounts of cleverness within their own genres—and I’m not going to complain about the visuals in their music videos either (even if they confuse me at times, esp. the latter…)…….