The K-Pop industry only shows the beautiful and perfect side of itself; from artists going on tours, talking to their fans live while eating, variety content and more. However, it does not mean that they are humans with no emotions nor feelings.
CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.
Life is All Rainbows and Unicorns
As a fan myself of mainly three K-Pop groups (NCT, Seventeen and Stray Kids), I can tell just how much the idols are having so much fun. This is because they chased their dreams of becoming idols since younger and they are finally living it. They made sure they pursued careers in music as vocalists, dancers and rappers in a group or as a solo.
They build a fanbase and a unique connection with them by providing general services as an artist such as music and concerts. However, what makes a K-Pop idol so different and unique from American pop stars is that they also deliver contents such as variety shows which is a popular culture in South Korea. This means they also act as comedians or MCs. The idols have their own shows. For example, Seventeen have 'GOING SEVENTEEN' where each week they perform themed activities. Going Seventeen is quite popular even outside their fanbase because of the creativity it brings. In addition to their own content, there are other shows such as Knowing Bros which invite guests every week, hence idols usually participate in those.
Then comes weekly music shows where once groups make a comeback, during that month period, they attend shows such as Music Core or Show Champion, to win an award for best comeback.
If mentioning comebacks, you have to talk about albums. K-Pop album packages are premium. They come with a photoshoot booklet and other goodies and one of the most important one is the photocard which is pulled at random, making the whole album unboxing more entertaining. Even idols themselves join the fans in doing so.
That's it. I am going to stop here for now because I will just go on and on if I wanted. But seriously, we can just tell how much fun they are having... Let's move on to the prices they have to pay for their happiness.
What Goes on Behind The Scenes...
Before debuting, a trainee goes through rigorous training. The whole journey can be read here, narrated by British trainee Euodias. Body image is a huge topic in the industry. Just like mentioned in Euodias' story, they have standards. The standards interlink with the 'Korean Beauty' where you should be thin and pale. This heavily recalls effects of negative body images and practices which lead to extremely poor mental health. On top of that, there are other rules to be followed such as the dating ban which applies as both a trainee and an idol and this is because of the image they have to give to the fans as 'girlfriends' and 'boyfriends'. However, just to let them off the hook for now, I'll say that this dating ban is easing up these days as few idols have already built a little family such as Bobby from IKON and Chen from EXO!
An example of mental disorder would be anxiety due to demands from companies, experienced by Mina and Jeongyeon from Twice as they had to take regular breaks during 2019-2020. It is also known that Kang Daniel had taken a break in 2019 which was revealed that the reason behind it was due to panic disorder. Overall, this occurs due to an image they have to upkeep as a public figure, as South Korea can be very judgemental, as the country does not openly talk about Mental Health, leading to the idols bottling everything in themselves.
In 2017, sadly, Jonghyun, member of popular group of SM Ent. passes away. It was revealed that the cause of his death was depression, hence he had decided to take his life away by himself as he left a note mentioning how the life of fame was not meant for him. He also added:
" What else can I say more. Just tell me I've done well. That this is enough. That I've worked hard. Even if you can't smile don't fault me on my way. "
Coincidently, from the same company, Sulli from f(x), passes away at age 25. She had been suffering from panic disorder and social phobia. So, it was speculated that it was through suicide mainly because she was one idol who was going against the norm which led to cyber-bullying. She was one to openly discuss mental health, dating bans, social issues and such. To add to that, apparently her attire was not 'appropriate', and this all built up over the years and she could not take it anymore.
It is said that South Korea holds the highest rate in suicide (whether attempted or not) and this mainly occurs due to the overly high and even unachievable standards the environment the Koreans live in. Government figures show that suicide is amongst the top cause of death for those under 40, age range where life demands a lot from on living there.
I will stop here for today, I think I have given you an idea of how it is like for those idols we always see smiling. Of course, not ALL of them must be extremely suffering, but it does not mean that not ALL of them are 100% happy either. Let's fight for the country to be more open about these topics and strengthen the upcoming generation. They must know they are doing well and that they are perfect as they are. Let's create a sustainable way of life.