A Korean idol, or K-pop idol, is a South Korean musical artist signed under a mainstream entertainment agency or performs as an indie artist under his/her own label. In South Korea, potential idols are commonly cast by agencies via auditions or street casting in order to become trainees.
Hundreds of candidates each day attend the global auditions held by Korean entertainment agencies to perform for the chance of becoming a trainee. Auditions include public auditions and closed auditions. Others are street-casted or scouted without auditioning, based on looks or potential talent. Those who successfully pass this audition stage are offered long-term contracts with the entertainment company. There are no age limits to becoming a trainee; thus is not uncommon for trainees, and even debuted idols, to be very young.
The trainee process lasts for an indefinite period of time, ranging from months to years, and usually involves vocal, dance, and language classes while living together with other trainees, sometimes attending school at the same time, although some trainees drop out of school to focus on a career as an idol. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of training one member of Girls' Generation under S.M. Entertainment was US$3 million.
The K-pop trainee system was popularised by Lee Soo-man, the founder of S.M. Entertainment, as part of a concept labelled cultural technology. As a unique process, the Korean idol trainee system has been criticised by Western media outlets. There are also negative connotations of idols within independent and underground Korean music scenes.
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. Korean entertainment companies such as S.M Entertainment have been called "factories" 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.
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. 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 artist(s) themselves. Such techniques have resulted in mass recognition abroad and helped to spark the Korean Wave, which benefits entertainment companies by broadening their audience. 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.
According to the South Korean National Tax Service, the average annual earnings for a Korean idol in 2013 were KR₩46.74 million (USD$42,000). This was more than double the 2010 figure of KR₩26.97 million (USD$25,275), a rise attributable to the global spread of Hallyu in recent years.
Some of the highest-earning Korean idols, for example G-Dragon, receive multimillion-dollar annual incomes in album and concert sales. On June 25, 2015, SBS's "Midnight TV Entertainment" revealed that G-Dragon earned an annual KR₩790 million (USD$710,000) from songwriting royalties alone. Idols can also earn revenues from endorsements, merchandise, corporate sponsorship deals and commercials. According to The Korea Herald, once a K-pop music video attracts more than a million views, it will "generate a meaningful revenue big enough to dole out profits to members of a K-pop group."
Some idols have experienced extreme invasions of privacy from obsessive fans as a result of their career in the public eye. Alleged invasions of idols' private lives include stalking, hidden cameras in idols' dorms, fans attending personal events such as relatives' weddings, and physical assault.
There have been criticisms on 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. For example, according to an MIT thesis entitled 'How K-pop Mirrors Gender Roles', "the image of a passive and submissive woman is celebrated in the Korean society like no other, when actual Korean women are not so passive nor so submissive by nature". Korean idols are frequently depicted in music videos wearing revealing clothes and dancing provocatively, as part of the companies' effort to market idols in multiple ways.
Race and Korean Identity
It is especially common in K-pop music videos to have women of non-Korean ethnicity more overtly sexualized than Korean women, on the part of the company so as not to offend the traditional thought of Korean women as being 'pure'. Research on Korean straight male pornography viewing habits shows that on average, porn with women of non-Korean descent is watched more often than porn containing Korean women. This is because pornography is viewed as degrading, and to associate Korean women with that would pollute their carefully constructed image.
K-pop artists and groups
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