[NEWS] 110614 The dark side of South Korean pop music

The dark side of South Korean pop music

By Lucy Williamson BBC News, Seoul

14 June 2011

South Korean pop group Girls' Generation perform in Seoul, South Korea, on 14 May, 2011
K-Pop sensations Girls’ Generation on stage in Seoul

South Korea’s pop industry is big business in Asia. As K-Pop sets its sights on Europe and the US, will this force a change in the way it treats its artists?

Selling singles is no way for a pop star to make money these days. Most artists find that touring and merchandise sales are more lucrative. So when it comes to concerts, size matters.

This is why the biggest date in the Korean pop calendar – the Dream Concert, at which up to 20 bands perform – is held in Seoul’s 66,800-seat World Cup Stadium.

Teenage crushes come here for a once-a-year date in a national love story, where commitment is measured in coloured balloons, and devotion is knowing all the words.

Most of the bands, like Super Junior and Wonder Girls, are household names; highly produced, sugary boy- and girl-bands with slick dance routines and catchy tunes.

But the industry also has a less glamorous side: a history of controversy and legal disputes over the way it treats its young artists, which it is still struggling to shake.

South Korean singer Rain performs during the closing ceremony for the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou on 27 November, 2010
Fans of K-Pop star Rain helped him nab top spot in Time’s list of influential people

K-Pop is a massive industry: global sales were worth over $30m (£18m) in 2009, and that figure is likely to have doubled last year, according to a government website.

Industry leaders are also ambitious – Korean stars are beating a path to Japan, America and Europe. This month, South Korea’s biggest production company, SM Entertainment, held its first European concert in Paris, part of a year-long world tour.

In April, Korea’s king of pop, Rain, was voted the most influential person of the year by readers of Time magazine. And earlier this year, boy band Big Bang reached the top 10 album chart on US iTunes.

Follow the money

Korea is excited by what this new musical export could do for its image – and its economy.

But some of K-Pop’s biggest success stories were built on the back of so-called slave contracts, which tied its trainee-stars into long exclusive deals, with little control or financial reward.

Dong Bang Shin Ki at Japan's MTV award
Dong Bang Shin Ki took their contract fight to court

Two years ago, one of its most successful groups, Dong Bang Shin Ki, took its management company to court, on the grounds that their 13-year-contract was too long, too restrictive, and gave them almost none of the profits from their success.

The court came down on their side, and the ruling prompted the Fair Trade Commission to issue a “model contract” to try to improve the deal artists got from their management companies.

Industry insiders say the rising success of K-Pop abroad, and experience with foreign music companies, has also helped push for change.

“Until now, there hasn’t been much of a culture of hard negotiation in Asia, especially if you’re new to the industry,” says Sang-hyuk Im, an entertainment lawyer who represents both music companies and artists.

Attitudes are changing, he says, but there are some things that even new contracts and new attitudes cannot fix.

South Korean girl band Rainbow rehearse at a studio in Seoul
Rainbow’s singers put in the hours

Rainbow is a seven-member girl-band, each singer named after a different colour. If any group could lead to a pot of gold, you would think they would.

But Rainbow – currently in a seven-year contract with their management company, DSP – say that, despite working long hours for almost two years, their parents were “heartbroken” at how little they were getting paid.

A director for DSP says they do share profits with the group, but admits that after the company recoups its costs, there is sometimes little left for the performers.

K-Pop is expensive to produce. The groups are highly manufactured, and can require a team of managers, choreographers and wardrobe assistants, as well as years of singing lessons, dance training, accommodation and living expenses.

The bill can add up to several hundred thousand dollars. Depending on the group, some estimates say it is more like a million.

Musical exports

But music sales in South Korea alone do not recoup that investment. For all their passion, home-grown fans are not paying enough for K-Pop.

The CD industry is stagnant, and digital music sites are seen as vastly underpriced, with some charging just a few cents a song.

South Korean girl band 4minute perform a concert in a mall in Manila, in the Philippines
Girl band 4minute on tour in the Philippines

Bernie Cho, head of music distribution label DFSB Kollective, says online music sellers have dropped their prices too low in a bid to compete with pirated music sites.

“But how do you slice a fraction of a penny, and give that to the artist? You can’t do it,” he says.

With downward pressure on music prices at home, “many top artists make more money from one week in Japan than they do in one year in Korea”, Mr Cho says.

Company representatives say concerts and advertising bring in far more than music sales. “Overseas markets have been good to us,” says one spokesman. South Korean musicians need to perform on home turf, but “Japan is where all the money is”.

As acts start to make money overseas, he says this “broken business model” – underpricing – is creeping into their activities abroad.

A former policy director at South Korea’s main artists’ union, Moon Jae-gap, believes the industry will go through a major upheaval. “Because at the moment, it’s not sustainable,” he says.

Until that happens, he says, artists will continue to have difficulty making a living.

South Korea’s government is keen to promote its new international identity, one many hope could rival Japan’s cool cultural image.

The only question is whether the industry ends up more famous for its music, or for its problems.

Source: BBC News
Shared by: TheJYJFiles

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The darker side of K-pop

Source: BBC News
Upload: VisualJYJ

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BBC Newshour 14 June 2011: What is K-pop?

Source: BBC iPlayer
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35 thoughts on “[NEWS] 110614 The dark side of South Korean pop music

  1. “A director for DSP says they do share profits with the group, but admits that after the company recoups its costs, there is sometimes little left for the performers.”
    “A former policy director at South Korea’s main artists’ union, Moon Jae-gap, believes the industry will go through a major upheaval. “Because at the moment, it’s not sustainable,” he says.
    Until that happens, he says, artists will continue to have difficulty making a living.”

    Bitter truth; the oly ones who are paying the broken dishes are the artists theirselves. They work like slaves, from sun to sun almost 365 days a year, but they have HUGE difficults to make a living.
    ¿IS THIS FAIR?
    Entetainment agencies managers aren’t starving, they’re living like kings, profitting on their slaved artists.
    ¿HOW CAN THIS BE?

    ¡ABSOLUTELY OUTRAGEOUS!

  2. “South Korea’s government is keen to promote its new international identity, one many hope could rival Japan’s cool cultural image.

    The only question is whether the industry ends up more famous for its music, or for its problems.”

    Love that closing. Especially that last sentence. Hits it right on the dot!
    I don’t know if they should emulate “Japan’s cool cultural image”. They have an image all their own, have they not? It’s just that Japan is…Japan. There’s no describing it in words. There’s a reason there’s thousands upon thousands of Japanophiles around the world. I don’t know, but Korea shouldn’t Japan this and Japan that so much. It’s getting tedious and grates on nerves.

    I love their interviews as well, especially with DFSB Kollective. I’m glad that some albums are on iTunes and Amazon MP3 now, instead of sites controlled by CARTELs. True, they’re trying to compete with piracy, but there’s a limit cutting prices. Make the prices reasonable and go with that. Reasonable!

    I like that. Highlighting the DBSK lawsuit and the results, but I wish they added that the lawsuit is still ongoing and it’s been around 2 years already. But I’m sure the courts are feeling the pressure from this and the “Soft Power” article as well. There’s bound to be more articles to come out once word gets around. This story is like fodder to international news.

    Overall, another well-done BBC article. Props!

  3. I was mildly surprised and rather pleased to see that, these days, JYJ is becoming more regularly reported to have won the lawsuit.

    “The court came down on their side, and the ruling prompted the Fair Trade Commission to issue a “model contract” to try to improve the deal artists got from their management companies.”

    Interesting that there are these news articles popping up all over the place suddenly.
    🙂

  4. @allison25
    “aren’t you curious why fewer and fewer believe in this site? its bec of what you posts, rubbish!!”

    Huh. Really? Fewer and fewer, is that right? Now how could you possibly know a thing like that, one wonders? Admins…. any stats on this?

  5. @allison25
    “SORRY GUYS BUT SMT IS THE CENTER OF KOREAN WAVE! ”

    LOL! Oh, please! SMTown is the center of a pernicious criminal organization that is in the process of tanking, economically!
    Do some research, at least. Or then again…….. go to your contacts at SM and tell them that P.R. Smear Strategy #6072 has failed, just like all the other ones.

  6. it seems that the door they try to open to the global market is the same door to hell. Kpop obviously are not ready to the world with the same formulation they used to market their music. They underestimate the worldwide audiences and music critiques.

    Not everyone agrees with your way you know, Kpop and its fandom.

  7. see…this is one example of what i wrote down there. Kpop and its fandom culture only eat rainbows. Of course SMT is the center of Korean Wave and that’s why SME will be the one to bring you down to the pits of hell as well. See you in hell k ^^

  8. @9mmleftshinki
    “it seems that the door they try to open to the global market is the same door to hell. ”

    Whoa. Well said, 9mmLS. Oh, no indeed. It’s not going to work and how pathetically naive of SM to think for a moment that it would. The global market is full to bursting with incredibly intelligent, savvy, laser-wit people who will see though your little song and dance in a SECOND. I believe that this is what has curbed the Korean Wave until now in the west–that it was dominated and directed by YOUR ilk. But don’t you worry. JYJ is going to change all of that. They are destined to be The BEATLES of K-Pop.

    • hehehe im mean as usual but that’s how i see it. Everyone knows how harsh it will be when you talk bout global market, no one give a shit of sugarcoating or fabricates stuff where freedom of speech is not restricted.

      i wish i could divert the global media attention to JYJ instead but people love juicy spicy stuff like this, you know dark stuff people hides in closet and under the bed. They will do lots of the digging in SME files believe me since that company got piles of things hide.

      • @9mmleftshinki
        “i wish i could divert the global media attention to JYJ instead but people love juicy spicy stuff like this, you know dark stuff people hides in closet and under the bed. ”

        I hope and pray that that day comes sooner than any of us can possibly imagine. I can’t wait. Every day, a new and impossibly graphic depiction of SM’s dirty laundry splashed across the front pages of the press. My, my, my. Won’t it be grand. And I will modestly feel that perhaps in some small way we have all helped it to happen. My courageous JYJ3 ladies and I.
        🙂

  9. Is it true that Korean Government subsidizes SM??

    If it is true, no wonder it is still ongoing with this lawsuit.
    .

  10. People like allison and her evil demented twin allison25 amuse me endlessly….If they actually understood the French language and culture, they would know that SMTown has succeeded in making Kpop and Koreans one big joke in France. Koreans and Kpop fans have SM to thank for being portrayed by the French media as crazed groupies and morally shallow idiots.

    Thanks SM! * sarcasm *

    • allison is allison25 lols

      must be hard to accept the truth that she need to name herself and comments twice.

    • “sm town paris has suceeded in making kpop and koreans one big joke in france”. wow, really? but i heard in many kpop news that it was a big sucess and even lee soo man insisted US and Europe ‘try-to-learn-from-our-system-these-days’ errrrr….if sm town paris a fail one, how come he state bout that? confuse, really…please give me a hint about what exactly most people in france thinking bout sm town a few days ago…really curious bout that

      • And you actually trusted Korean media? Frankly, I feel sorry for you, because what I’m about to say will come as a shock.

        Korean reporters are mouthpieces and PA systems, not journalists…this is not a value statement, just the way things are there. The concert organizers had already prepared in advance (as in long before the first concert date) press statements on how SMTown Paris sold out within minutes of opening ticket sales (not true as those who investigated ticket sales a couple of days before the concert found out), and how the French and foreign media were raving about Kpop, and Korean reporters just gobbled it up and spat it out without any further investigation whatsoever. If they had taken the time to have someone translate the le Figaro, le Monde, and later the French TV pieces into Korean (I would have happily obliged) they would have seen that SMTown Paris attracted nothing but mockery and bafflement from the French press and public.

      • @Jimmie, yeah, i read on twitter the one of the articles u mentioned….it’s so..embarrassing, the way they portrayed Kpop and its fandom….they even said about all SM boy bands as boy bands with ambiguous gender ……so sad !! they portrayed all Kpop idols as nothing but mere products of a merely ridiculous training systerm. no talents, no individuality. nothing.

      • @Jimmie and Haphuong91 Can you give me link to the translated article? I want to read.

      • @jimmie thx for u’r explanation ^^ before this, i still gave an innocent eyes for how SM succesful story in paris and the korean media article still didn’t stop to praise SM until now!!! errrrr…. *and i think it’s still many kpop fans that believe what korean media praise bout SM town paris ==’
        and yeah, now i think at least i understand bout the truth, your explanation about korean reporter (wow! it’s beyond my expectation, yeah it gave me a shock really…) and french opinion bout kpop hmm….SM…SM…*speechless

  11. Articles like this one (and follow by the “K-Pop’s Soft Power” ), i didn’t see them before SM town concert in France, or should i say before SM started to spread all the fabricated facts about their imaginary achievement in France. i think doing that was the biggest mistake of SM ever.This is the world, not Korea where they can control all the media (proof that two French articles didnt hesitate mocking them to the extent that i really felt worried for all the other Korean artists if they ever come to France after this) and international public is not teenagers who will believe in whatever they brag about. did they really think that people pay notice to their fabulous self proclaimation would just stop at that,and blindly idolize them just like the teenage fans in their hometown?? obviously they were wrong. they drew people’s attention, and from that attention, people start to dig deeper, and now here come these articles. and at this point, i think i’ll will thank SM. without them, international public may never know about DBSK’s slave contract, and how artists/ idols in Korean are treated unfairly in their country.
    Good thing is i read that Korean media has also reported about this news of BBC. maybe they has realized that it’s time for them to face the truth and solve the problem rather than dodge it, and sugarcoated things to their people.

  12. “garbage, rubbish!!!” you say?

    You’re calling the BBC, THE British Broadcasting Corporation, rubbish? FYI, in case you don’t know, they wrote and posted this. What garbage crack are you on may I ask? Bloody idiot. Successful. Bah. If it was that successful then why didn’t my French friends hear that it was happening to begin with? All it SMT is, is another Hindenburg. Flammable hot air that’s bound to explode any second, and I suggest that you get off it before you go the way of the passengers of the real Hindenburg.

    • @Bluefyre
      ” If it was that successful then why didn’t my French friends hear that it was happening to begin with?”

      You know, really, if they’d only asked ME I could have told them that their bubblegum K-Pop acts were not going to go over well with the French entertainment press.
      These people are S-O-P-H-I-S-T-C-A-T-E-D. France is absolutely renowned for its outspoken and archly intellectual press as regards the arts. Europe is not Korea.

      Sheesh, SME! Break into the slush fund and BUY A CLUE.

      • France is absolutely renowned for its outspoken and archly intellectual press as regards the arts.

        No kidding! I thought they (the French press) actually took it easy on the kids.. I was expecting much worse. (Did SME forget they were in the city with the most famous of chorus lines? And of prostitutes?)

  13. your SM in my opinion love to exaggerate his success. and whatever success it is his flaunting, most of it is most likely thru underhanded means, sucking your favorite artist dry
    center of korean wave…. i think JYJ has more success in that

  14. I’m not sure about all Idols lacking talents, but I know for sure that many lack individuality. Is it just me, or do they refuse to speak up rather than can’t speak up?
    Anyways, as far as the articles goes, I totally agree.

  15. I ‘m French and I went to the sm town in Paris (because I support both sides, yunho and changmin and JYJ !) . I thought after reading all the comments that I had to post my point of view over the current situation and the media cover of these events . What I would call trustable newspapers (Le Monde, Le Figaro) said about KPOP in France is true in a way : because there were many groupies at the concert, just see the way they were welcomed at the airport in paris !
    But it is also true that the medias in France are making fun of us. Believe me, many, many people in France disregard KPop as well as they did for Tokyo Hotel, a deutsch rock band a few years ago, my point is that they will make it a trend, talk about it during a few years, sell a lot of newspapers and then, in european countries, we will never hear about them again in european medias !
    Also, in order to make the fans go crazy and pay much for the tickets, they sold the tickets only ten by ten and blocked internet selling websites (they were bugged) so that fans thought the tickets were all sold out and so bought some very expensive . I think that it is because SM is on the market and that it would make them earn a lot of money (excuse my poor english, I don’t really know how to phase it !) . Does anyone know something about that ?
    Anyway, from a french point of view , in short, 1) they showed us a hysterical fangirls
    2) I was chocked by some guys in there late 30’s I would say, who went to the concert only to look under the snsd’s skirt ( snsd’s videos for the concert reaveled to be watch mostly by teenage girls but also by males in their 40’s which I think is kind of chocking)
    3) I was releaved when the BBC ‘s article because it mentioned the “dark side” of KPOP which french articles didn’t .
    If SM should be bashed, it should be for the good reasons (for not treating well their artist and not for the fan’s behaviour, because talking about the fans behaviour is wayyyyy less important than for instance the jyj case).

    • you can support a group without supporting the industry that produces it, that ‘s my point as a dbsk and jyj fan ! I love the group and the music so much, that’s why i can’t stand sm !

  16. @elizacake
    “No kidding! I thought they (the French press) actually took it easy on the kids.. I was expecting much worse”

    🙂 The minute LSM & Company left SK he was dealing with what I like to call The Real World, which bears no resemblance to the seemingly hoodwinked and manipulated place where he has been allowed to roam free, lie cheat and steal and face no consequences for any of his actions. Which tells us that not only is he a crook, he’s also stupid.

    • You too, dear. If you don’t calm down & breathe a little, you’re gonna hyperventilate and pass out soon.
      And I really don’t like wasting my medical/CPR skills on those afflicted w melodramatic hysteria……

  17. @fooljyjstan
    “, WHY DON’T YOU JUST LEAVE IN THE HOSPITAL I’M AFRAID YOUR DISEASE WILL SPREAD, LOLOLOLOL!!!!!!”

    Would it be possible for you to get someone calmer and, dare I say it, more polite to translate your English into some sort of a more coherent English statement that makes sense? That would be great. Just ask them to strain out all of the name-calling and general rudeness too, if you would. I don’t respond well to people with bad manners. (Well, who does?) OK, then. I’ll be waiting to hear back from someone normal.

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