Disclaimer: The following is my 16year old daughter’s thoughts on Jaden Smith’s tweet announcement on his intention to release a K-Pop single later this year. All thoughts and opinions are the writer’s own and is in no way intended to belittle Jaden’s talents but instead intends to detail what a K-Idol goes through to reach where they are at now.
For what it’s worth, I hope Jaden Smith knows what he’s doing.
The K-Pop industry, as many of us K-Pop fans know, is not all bed of roses. To be a K-Pop idol takes time and a whole lot of sweat, tears and ‘blood’. This is even admitted by the idols themselves, especially the more successful ones when advising their entertainment industry juniors. How do you think the South Korean encouragement term “fighting!” came about?
Many young idols start off in their early teens, and it is not uncommon to find an idol who trained for years before the agency they are signed up to deem them suitable to debut. In fact, being contracted to an entertainment agency is much more difficult compared to an independent K-idol.
K-idols contracted to an agency undergo vocal, dance and language classes while living away from their families. Those of school-going age are even required to attend school. This trainee training system adopted by the South Korean music industry is part of what is commonly known as ‘cultural technology’.
The K-Pop industry is tough. Behind the glamourous and lucrative industry, the K-idols are managed with an iron fist. Idols are bound by very strict hands-on approaches adopted by their agencies, specifically on how an idol should (perceived) be behaving. This story would attest to the hardship a young person undergoes during training before debuting, or worst, when they never make it through that rigorous raining.
And what happens once an idol finally debut?
The pressure remains. In fact, the pressure to be a success multiplies. And understandably too. As claimed by this article, it takes a whole lot of dough to train an idol. Even then, there is no guarantee that a debuted idol be a success.
If the songs are not that great, or the fanbase is not that strong, the idol is bound to be forgotten very quickly. And mind you, in K-Pop, the strength (or in plain speak, how many worldwide fans a K-Pop group garnered since debuting), can make or break the group. This is because K-Pop fans have a totally different taste in music, its performances, the person who vocalize the songs etc, compared to a western group. And let’s say, the fanbase is strong albeit small, the idol group would remain under-rated until a majore turnaround in their career happens. A scandal perhaps…?
Without a doubt, it is K-idols like S.E.S, G.O.D, TVXQ, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, SHINee, Bigbang and 2NE1, just to name a few – are the ones who brought K-Pop to the its height of worldwide recognition. In fact, they are also the reason why K-Pop is at its height now.
So what happens when the likes of Girls’ Generation or SHINee or even Bigbang retires from the industry or diversify into another segment like producing or songwriting? No more K-Pop?
That’s where introduction of trainees pre-debut comes in. Take SeventeenTV which shows 17 young mem jostling for a place in the group that is aptly named Seventeen; Real Got7 a pre-debut reality show featuring JYP Entertainment’s multi-nationality group Got7, and No.Mercy, the survival show that led to the formation of Starship Entertainment’s Monsta X.
It is in this pre-debut times that fanbases are created, which further add to the pressure on these individuals and groups to meet agency AND fans’ expectations. Questions of “When are you going to debut?’ or “how much longer before you debut?” are pressure enough on a person.
Then there is the potential scandal that can explode in an idol’s face, pre- or after debut. These scandals can either be the idol’s own, or his relative’s, such as 2NE1’s Park Bom drug-related scandal or even Jay Park’s departure from JYP Entertainment.
So when it comes to what Asians call ‘keeping face’, K-Pop idols have it harder. The idol, the entertainment company they are contracted to, even the good name of the country, is on their shoulder. This pressure is the same like the pressure one feels as an Olympian, albeit on a very personal scale.
End of the day, K-Pop is just not K-Pop if it is not produced by a Korean entertainment company and the idol is not groomed in the same rigorous manner like what a K-Pop trainee goes through. What makes K-Pop and the idol that represents it special is the hard work, the separation from families, the isolation and the society’s, especially the South Korean society’s, expectations.
And in Asia, having famous parents just don’t cut it.
In all good will, I look forward to Jaden’s venture into K-Pop. Although I must say the reactions to his announcements makes a much more entertaining read than his actual (eventual) K-appearance.
*”Boom shakalaka” is a line off Bigbang’s ‘anarchistic’ song Fantastic Baby. The line is sung by T.O.P.