Gloom behind the glam

Sexual Exploitation in the K-Pop Industry


Sofia Murillo

Throughout the years K-pop has rapidly grown fame, but there are some things that are ignored in the K-pop industry. These aspects have affected K-pop stars mentally and physically.

Around the globe, a rapid wave of the Korean Pop (K-Pop) industry has taken hold of the 21st century. Despite its language barrier, the K-Pop industry has become an emerging phenomenon, allowing fans to indulge in a wider scale of musical genres and form a new perspective on Korean culture.

Although the K-Pop industry may seem like a fairly normal concept, underneath the music, luxury and culture, it hides a dark history of just how far the industry will go to exploit its employees for economic revenue.  

As time passes, the K-Pop industry only continues to grow larger, leaving the South Korean economy to benefit. As estimates from the Asia Fund Managers show, “The K-Pop industry generates about $10 bn [billion] for the country each year,” causing the industry to be a major contributor to South Korea’s economy, entertainment and culture.  

Employees or K-Pop celebrities are referred to as “idols”. Ultimately, this term refers to any celebrity that works in the K-Pop industry. These idols primarily sing and dance, and some even model and act. Idols usually maintain a “perfect” reputation to show their fans that they are flawless. 

And while this lavish lifestyle might sound easy towards some people, becoming an idol is the difficult part. Idols start off as “trainees.” These trainees have to be accepted into an agency. They audition to prove that they are worthy enough to be instructed by the company. After this, they go through an extensive period of training that determines if they’re ready to become an Idol. 

Through this training, both male and female trainees can experience forms of sexual exploitation from their companies. In a society that highly values idols, trainees will either have to adapt in a manner that they did not explicitly comply with or risk losing the opportunity of becoming an idol.

Behind the scenes of the Industry, many management groups lure people in, to become idols. Though this might seem like a normal process, Seoul Beats, a non-profit editorial, explains that sexual relations between entertainment executives and aspiring celebrities is a common process that is regularly accepted within the industry.  

Unfortunately for trainees, sexual exploitation can come in all different forms. While this may be deemed a norm in the industry, this does not excuse the outrageous behavior of exploiting idols. Many trainees have shed light on their experiences and what type of mistreatment they had to handle from people in power. 

In a forum from Kbizoom, a website that focuses on Korean entertainment, a model named Kwon Hyuk Jung was invited to become a member of a K-Pop group. However, she declined the offer when she met the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company. 

As the industry only grows bigger, sexual exploitation will continue to pass down through the younger generations. ”

— Eliza Noblejas

In her own words, ​​“I met the CEO in a small room. For most of the first meetings, we sat across from each other. However, after that, he sat on the piano bench and made me sit next to him. Then he asked me to lift my skirt and show him my body.”

These experiences of many trainees are only the surface of all the horrible acts that happen inside the industry. As the industry only grows bigger, sexual exploitation will continue to pass down through the younger generations. 

As the Korean JoongAng Daily explains it, Teenagers debuting as idols is not a new phenomenon. As the years pass on, fans start to recognize that K-Pop groups only become younger. This becomes an issue as idols who are in the midst of growing, lose the opportunity to socialize with younger peers and have a normal childhood experience.

With teenagers barely having any time to socialize and experience a normal childhood, they slave away their days and train in the industry for years but still are not guaranteed a spot in a K-Pop group. The unfortunate reality is, the South Korean government will not reform an industry that creates such billions of dollars. If anything, the K-Pop industry gives them a ton of recognition which is why they allow for sexual exploitation to still happen. 

The Center for a New American Security states, “Seoul often relies on non-coercive diplomatic tools to strengthen its political position in the world, rather than using military or coercive economic power. Korean entertainment, in particular K-Pop, has provided a unique opportunity for Seoul to improve its global standing through appeal and attraction, known as ‘soft power.’”

As K-Pop grows, revenues only continue to increase, leaving South Korea with one of its biggest money-makers. While this benefits South Korea, the many trainees that want to make it big in the industry will only continue to struggle. Sadly, only a select few can reap all the benefits. Essentially, as South Korea becomes more reliant on the K-Pop industry, more teenagers will be incentivized to join an industry in hopes that it’ll be their time to be one of those lucky trainees who make it big in the industry.  

Overall, sexual exploitation isn’t deemed by gender, rather, it’s a problem that stems from management companies exploiting young people who compete in a cutthroat industry, in hopes of becoming an idol.