Korean idol

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An idol (Korean아이돌; RRAidol) refers to a type of celebrity working in the field of K-pop in fandom culture in South Korea, either as a member of a group or as a solo act. K-pop idols are characterized by the highly manufactured star system that they are produced by and debuted under, as well as their tendency to represent a hybridized convergence of visuals, music, fashion, and dance.[1] They usually work for a mainstream entertainment agency and have undergone extensive training in dance, vocals, and foreign language. Idols maintain a carefully curated public image and social media presence, and dedicate significant time and resources to building relationships with fans through concerts and meetups.[2][3][4]

Trainee system[edit]

Part of idol group Girls' Generation, signed under SM Entertainment

Inspired by the heyday of MTV in the United States, Lee Soo-man set his sights on laying the foundation for the modern Korean pop music industry. He witnessed New Kids on the Block became very popular in Korea in the 1990s.[5]The K-pop trainee system was popularized by Lee Soo-man, the founder of SM Entertainment. Hundreds of candidates each day attend the global auditions held by Korean entertainment agencies to perform for the chance of becoming a trainee. This was part of a concept labeled cultural technology.[6][7][8]

The trainee process lasts for an indefinite period of time, ranging from months to years, and usually involves vocal, dance, and language[9][10] classes taken while living together with other trainees, who sometimes attend school at the same time. However, some trainees drop out of school to focus on their careers.[11][12]

Once a trainee enters the system, they are regulated in multiple aspects, including personal life, physical condition, and visual appearance. The survival, training, and regulation take precedence over natural talent in the production of Korean idols.[1] The system requires trainees to maintain a "wholesome image" while remaining "private about their lives and thoughts".[13]

Big Bang member, solo singer-songwriter, rapper and producer G-Dragon is one of the highest-earning Korean idols in the South Korean entertainment industry.

Former trainees have reported that they were required to go through plastic surgeries, such as a Blepharoplasty or a Rhinoplasty, in order to adhere to the acceptable Korean beauty standards. Further criticism towards the trainee system arose regarding the companies' harsh weight restrictions, which often caused trainees to pass out from exhaustion or dehydration in an attempt to reach the required weight for their desired program. [14][15]

The investment on a potential trainee could be expensive. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of training one member of Girls' Generation under SM Entertainment was US$3 million.[16]

Personal image[edit]

When trainees are finally chosen to debut in new groups, they will face a new sett of personalities created by the company to cater to the entertainment market. Each member of an idol group has his or her own character to play, and therefore an important part of their job duties is to maintain that temperament in any kind of exposure they may get. One way to build the personal image of idol groups is through social media services with content managed by the company to ensure the consistency of these personal characteristics.[17]

Relationship with fans[edit]

The relationship between Korean idols and their fans can be characterized as "parasocial kin," which means for fans to create a familial connection with their idols rather than just being a "look-from-afar" fan. In some cases, within and outside of fandoms, fans also create familial connections with other fans through similar interests or just to make friends. These interactions can be initiated by the fans, the company, or the idols themselves, where they would most likely still have to go through their company to be approved. Some projects or activities created by fans for the idols must also be approved by the venue or the idols’ company to minimize any harm to the idols and fan participants. Interactions and fan connections can be seen through events like fan meetings, also known as artist engagements, concerts or fan-sites, and artist cafés. An annual event known as KCon is also a place for fans and artists to interact. The nature of this "parasocial kin" relationship can also be seen in the proactive participation of Korean idol fans in the production of idol groups. Even before debut, some trainees would already have their own fans. This leads to the "kinship" starting out early, and building that up is very important for the idol as an artist and the fan as a supporter. Once debuted, fans grow alongside their idols and idol-fan relationships become deeper. If anything happens, fans have their own unique ways to show their attitude and opinion on issues concerning "unfair" actions of management companies. Under this situation, fans often appear to be protecting idols from company mistreatment due to the familial connection built between both sides.[17]

Korean Pop-culture has made a significant impact on the world, creating numerous opportunities for fans to unite and celebrate diversity. Fans have demonstrated their commitment to K-pop idols by taking the initiative to learn the Korean language, often with the help of romanization, to comprehend the profound meaning behind K-pop songs and establish a connection with the artists on a personal level. This growing interest in the Korean language has facilitated the breaking down of cultural and linguistic barriers, ultimately promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of Korean culture. [18]

Working conditions[edit]

Several Korean idol groups and solo artists have resented the contracts issued to them by their management companies, claiming that the decade-long contracts are "too long, too restrictive, and gave them almost none of the profits from their success." A director of South Korean entertainment agency DSP Media stated that the company does share profit with the performers, but often little is left over after paying costs.[19] Korean entertainment companies such as S.M Entertainment have been called "factories"[20] for their unique method of mass-producing stars. Members of groups are frequently retired and replaced with fresh trainees when their age or musical inclinations begin to pose a problem.[21] TVXQ charged S.M. Entertainment for unreasonable terms in their contracts with the company in 2009.[22]


In the Korean entertainment industry, there is a prevailing notion that idols are loyal to their fans. Due to this, many companies have implemented policies that prohibit any sort of dating. The reason for this is that reputation is crucial for idols, and any type of scandal could tarnish and ruin their image and negatively impact their careers. Fans also believe dating may be a hindrance to an idol’s success.[23]

By the constitution, military service is mandatory for all males aged between 18 to 35, requiring them to enlist for 18 months. Despite the significant contributions of Korean idols to the country's economy, there are no exceptions made for them. In the past, a former K-pop star, Yoo Seung-jun, attempted to evade military service by obtaining American citizenship. As a result, he was subsequently banned from entering South Korea.[24]

South Korea is still a very conservative country and has a closed-minded culture. So with, recent artists that are members of the LGBT community, they are in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Go Tae-Seob, also known as the artist Holland, debuted with his first song in 2018, “Neverland,” as a gay man. However, many citizens weren’t happy that he was openly expressing his sexuality. Although it is unfortunate that he received such hate from the public, he brought attention to important issues surrounding the representation of LGBTQ+ rights. Holland continues to advocate for greater acceptance and inclusion.[25]


Entertainment companies in Korea use a boot-camp system in grooming their idols. In the case of S.M. Entertainment, the company receives 300,000 applicants in nine countries every year.[26] They possess training facilities in the Gangnam district of Seoul, where recruits then train for years in anticipation of their debut. SM was called the first company to market "bands as brands" and commodify not just the artists' product, but the artists themselves. Such techniques have resulted in mass recognition abroad and helped to spark the Korean Wave, which benefits entertainment companies by broadening their audience.[26] As domestic fandom is not generally enough to produce the profits that these corporations and their players require, branding and marketing of the artist/group has become central to industry profits and ,thus, a defining feature of the genre today.[19]

Reported earnings[edit]

According to the South Korean National Tax Service, the average annual earnings for a Korean idol in 2013 were KR₩46.74 million (US$42,000). This was almost double the 2010 figure of KR₩26.97 million (US$25,275), a rise attributable to the global spread of Hallyu in recent years.[27]


The Korean Wave has led to a global rise in interest in Korean idols, along with other aspects of Korean culture including Korean films and K-dramas being exported to other parts of the globe.[28] Along with the Korean Wave, Korean beauty has become popular due to the wave and has been rising in popularity worldwide. Korean Idols have influenced the rise in popularity due to their seemingly perfect skin. [29]

Nonetheless, some fanatical behaviors of K-pop idol fans have led to negative stereotypes of K-pop idols in public, as well as caused criticism in society.[30]


Over the years, Korean idols have gained fans from all over the world, and many entertainment companies have started to promote their artists and groups internationally. Celebrities like PSY hit the top music video viewed on youtube within 24 hours,[31] and groups like BTS became the first foreign group to perform at the annual Grammys Award show.[32] In 2018, Red Velvet performed in Pyongyang, North Korea, and was the first group to do so in 16 years. [33]The girl group BlackPink released their album BORN PINK, and all eight songs hit Billboard’s Global 200.[34]


There have been criticisms of the sexual objectification of female and male idols across the industry. The problem is exacerbated due to the higher rigidity of gender norms in contemporary Korean society.[35] Korean censorship practices regarding nudity and obscenity may have further reinforced this objectification.

Korean idols also frequently wear revealing clothes and dance provocatively in music videos as part of the companies' effort to market idols in multiple ways.[36] In some cases, these efforts have resulted in censorship; for example, "Miniskirt" by AOA was deemed sexually inappropriate to public TV shows and programs and was unable to be aired until the group modified their outfits and choreography.[37]

This sexualization has also led to a notion of conformity in idol acceptance. Idols that do not perform in a sexually appealing way to their targeted demographic have been harassed; for example, Amber Liu has received criticism for her androgynous appearance and disregard for gender norms.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Elfving-Hwang, Joanna (2018-03-05), "K-pop idols, artificial beauty and affective fan relationships in South Korea", Routledge Handbook of Celebrity Studies, Routledge, pp. 190–201, doi:10.4324/9781315776774-12, ISBN 978-1-315-77677-4
  2. ^ Caramanica, Jon (2011-10-24). "Korean Pop Machine, Running on Innocence and Hair Gel". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 February 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  3. ^ Seabrook, John. "Cultural technology and the making of K-pop". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  4. ^ Sun, Jung (2010). K-Pop Idol Boy Bands and Manufactured Versatile Masculinity: Making Chogukjeok Boys. Hong Kong University Press. doi:10.5790/hongkong/9789888028672.001.0001. ISBN 9789888028672.
  5. ^ "케이팝을 움직이는 손, '대형 기획사'" [The big player that moves K-pop, a Big entertainment company]. pressian Professor Lee Dong-yeon. 2012-02-01. Archived from the original on 2021-08-16. Retrieved 2021-08-16. [Like the producer of "New Kids on the Block," Lee Soo-man auditioned for teenagers in Korea and the United States and then recruited members of the group. The group that was created in that way is H.O.T]
  6. ^ "K-Pop Boot Camp". ABC News. Archived from the original on 29 October 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  7. ^ Seabrook, John (2012-10-08). "Factory Girls". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Archived from the original on 2019-07-24. Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  8. ^ "한국 최초 연습생 출신 가수 김완선 보아가 벤치마킹.(in korean)". chosunilbo. 2016-04-05. Archived from the original on 2021-11-26. Retrieved 2021-08-16. [Lee Soo-man training system benchmarked Korean trainee singer Kim Wan-sun in the 1980s, and then the trainee system was introduced.]
  9. ^ "In any language, JYP spells success on the global stage". Joong Ang Daily. Archived from the original on 17 September 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
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  11. ^ Woo, Jaeyeon. "Journey to K-Pop Star, 'I Am.'". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 23 June 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  12. ^ "The Price of Fame in South Korea". Toonari Post. Archived from the original on 3 September 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  13. ^ "The woman who defied the world of K-pop". BBC News. 2019-10-18. Archived from the original on 2019-10-19. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
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  15. ^ Marx, Patricia. "The World Capital of Plastic Surgery". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2015-03-17. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  16. ^ Yang, Jeff. "Can Girls' Generation Break Through in America?". WSJ. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  17. ^ a b Elfving-Hwang, Joanna. "K-pop Idols, Artificial Beauty and Affective Fan Relationships in South Korea." in Routledge Handbook of Celebrity Studies, edited by Anthony Elliott. London: Routledge, 2018.
  18. ^ Lee, Ann (2018-07-30). "K-Pop Is Causing a Surge in Korean Language Lessons Around the World". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  19. ^ a b Williamson, Lucy (2011-06-15). "The dark side of South Korean pop". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2018-05-30. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  20. ^ Seabrook, John (2012-10-01). "Factory Girls". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Archived from the original on 2018-05-09. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  21. ^ "Seoul Trained: Inside Korea's Pop Factory". Spin. 2012-03-26. Archived from the original on 2018-05-13. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  22. ^ Lee, Dong-Yeun. "Who's Afraid of Korean Idols?" In Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music, edited by Hyunjoon Shin, Seung-Ah Lee. London: Routledge, 2016.
  23. ^ Hegde, Vibha. "5 reasons K-Pop idols are forbidden from dating". www.sportskeeda.com. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  24. ^ "K-Pop Legend Who Dodged Military Service Still Banned From South Korea". NextShark. 2020-10-28. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  25. ^ "Meet Holland, K-pop's first openly gay idol – 10 things to know". South China Morning Post. 2020-10-16. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  26. ^ a b Staff, Forbes. "Korea's S.M. Entertainment: The Company That Created K-Pop". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2016-04-21. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
  27. ^ Jeff Benjamin (January 19, 2015). "K-Pop Star Earnings Swell in Recent Years". Billboard. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  28. ^ "South Korea's K-pop takes off in the west". Financial Times. Archived from the original on June 4, 2017. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  29. ^ "Why Korean Skincare Has Taken the World by Storm". 22 February 2023.
  30. ^ Kim, Ju Oak (2015-03-01). "Reshaped, reconnected and redefined: Media portrayals of Korean pop idol fandom in Korea". The Journal of Fandom Studies. 3 (1): 79–93. doi:10.1386/jfs.3.1.79_1.
  31. ^ Afzal (2023-02-09). "15 Most Viewed Youtube Videos In First 24 Hours". New Vision Theatres. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  32. ^ Yonhap (2020-01-27). "BTS becomes first K-pop act to perform at Grammys". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  33. ^ "K-pop's Red Velvet celebrate 6 years in the music industry". South China Morning Post. 2020-08-01. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  34. ^ Frankenberg, Eric (2022-09-29). "Here's Where Every Song on BLACKPINK's 'BORN PINK' Debuts on the Global Charts". Billboard. Retrieved 2023-03-19.
  35. ^ Alvare, H. M. (2009). Communion or Suspicion: Which Way for Woman and Man? Ave Maria Law Review, 8(1), Fall 2009, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 10-47.
  36. ^ Lie, John (2015). K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. pp. 10–12. ISBN 978-0-520-28311-4.
  37. ^ Lee, Azalea. "Unfit for Broadcast: The Censorship of K-pop Girl Groups". The University of British Columbia. Asia Pacific Memo. Archived from the original on April 20, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  38. ^ Whipple, Kelsey (7 November 2013). "Amber Liu: An Androgynous K-pop Star". LA Weekly. LA Weekly. Archived from the original on August 8, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2020.