The sugary-sweet sounds of Korean pop music seem pretty harmless. Simple songs like Psy’s “Gangnam Style” or the music of Girls’ Generation don’t exactly seem like hotbeds of corruption, but behind every hit song out of the K-pop machine are years of torment and exploitation.
Aspiring stars are pushed through the grinder of one of the most vicious entertainment industries in the world, starting when they’re kids. Children as young as ten years old get locked into unbreakable decade-long contracts, spending their better part of their lives owned by agencies that take advantage of them creatively and sexually.
Some come out celebrities, but most are just chewed up and spit out. They’re exploited and pimped out for years and then kicked to the curb, with nothing to show for going through the strangely dark and twisted world of Korean bubblegum pop.
10. Stars Sign ‘Slave Contracts’ When They’re Children
Korean pop stars don’t just sign a contract and record an album. They sign their contracts a good decade before they ever get to enter a studio and sing a single note. They have to spend about ten years training in K-pop “boot camps” before they’re allowed to record anything—and it usually starts when they’re ten to 13 years old.
Agencies make them sign their contracts when they’re still kids, and they hold them to the agreements for the rest of their lives. For a long time, these contracts would last for as long as 13 years. Performers would still be under contract until well after their bubble of fame had popped.
The contracts usually give next to nothing to the aspiring stars. Sometimes, they even have to pay the agency for the first ten years in boot camp. And there’s no way out of these things. If a pop star tries to cancel out, they often have to pay the agency three times as much as the company has invested in them—in other words, well over three times as much as they’ve earned in their entire lives.
That’s how it was at its worst, anyway. Lawsuits have lightened some of this now, but adults are still held to contracts they signed as kids, and the system is still set up to make sure every messed up thing you’re about to read happens.