Image credit: BTS
One of South Korea’s most famous exports is K-pop. In fact, BTS and BLACKPINK are some of the most popular music groups in the world today, with their popularity extending beyond Asia and into Western culture.
As proof of their immense popularity, these groups have appeared in various American variety shows and held sell-out concerts worldwide. Many non-Koreans are even convinced to take Korean lessons so that they can listen to and understand the lyrics of their favourite K-pop music.
However, while these idols may seem like they are leading a glamorous lifestyle, the reality is, their journey to stardom is far from a bed of roses. It actually takes years of sacrifice and dedication for them to achieve their levels of success. From spending sleepless nights in a dance studio to coping with extreme pressure, the journey to becoming a K-pop star is indeed a road paved with obstacles.
Often, many fledging idol wannabes fade into obscurity even before releasing a single hit. However, this has not stopped many from harbouring a dream of becoming the next big K-pop superstar. Even Singaporeans are beginning to join in on the act. So, if you have ever dreamt of following in the footsteps of Tasha Low and Ferlyn Wong from the K-pop group, SKarf, let us share what it takes to become a K-pop idol in Korea.
1. Constant practice and auditions
This is where it begins for almost every aspiring K-pop idol. Every hopeful trainee has to undergo frequent practice every day in the hopes of making their debut, and only a lucky few are fortunate enough to be discovered by talent scouts.
Meanwhile, most trainees will have to go through a nerve-wracking audition to become an idol. Even after a successful audition, these K-pop aspirants still have to undergo regular training and practice – usually between 2 to 4 years - before making their debut.
However, the training period differs for each trainee. Super Junior's Ryeowook made his debut within 2 months, whereas others, like TWICE's Jihyo, had to wait for close to a decade before getting her chance to shine. Generally, how quickly a trainee makes their debut will depend significantly on their skills, improvement, and dedication.
2. Image Maintenance
Being a K-pop artist is more than just possessing exceptional singing and dancing skills. They are always expected to maintain a positive image. In the public's eyes, they are expected to be flawless role models, which is undoubtedly a tiring experience.
Even before they become full-fledged K-pop idols, the trainees are expected to maintain an ideal weight, undergo media training, and learn basic etiquettes. These are meant to instil in the trainees the importance of maintaining a perfect image and staying out of trouble.
3. Phones are not allowed
K-pop management agencies are stringent when it comes to their trainees and artists. They do not want their talents to be distracted from their goals. For this reason, many trainees and newly debuted idols are instructed to hand over their mobile phones to their managers, as the distracting influence of smartphones and the internet is a big no-no for many idol agencies in Korea.
Many K-pop stars have divulged that they are only allowed access to their phones after they have won an award. Even members of the legendary girl group, SNSD, had to endure this strict rule during their debut years. According to one of the band members, Tiffany Young, none of them were allowed access to their mobile phones during an overseas trip, so she had to find a phone booth to make an international call to her parents.
4. Sacrificing a dating life
Dating is seen as a taboo in the K-pop world. In fact, whenever a K-pop idol is reported to be dating someone, the news is usually considered a scandal. For instance, when news about the romance between BLACKPINK's Jennie and EXO's Kai broke out in 2019, numerous fans of both groups were surprised by the news, and it was treated as a huge deal. Some were happy for the former couple, while others were distraught.
Indeed, many K-pop fans do not want their idols to be in a romantic relationship. For this reason, many artists are forced to sacrifice a love life to maintain their public image and ensure continued fan support.
K-pop agencies also try their best to prevent their artists from dating. For example, JYP Entertainment is notorious for imposing a strict no-dating rule on all its idols, which is only lifted three years after their debut.
5. Making a splash on your debut
For many K-pop trainees, making their debut is just the beginning and not the finish line. In the competitive world of K-pop, it is a challenge to stand out from the crowd and attract a legion of fans. With numerous K-pop groups to compete with, many idols often fall by the wayside before making it big.
Idols debuting from the famous Big Three agencies – SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment – generally have a greater chance of achieving stardom within a short period of time.
However, this does not mean idol groups that fall outside the umbrella of the Big Three agencies do not stand a chance at making it big. The most famous example is BTS, which is represented by Hybe Corporation (formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment). Its members were not an international sensation when they debuted in 2013. But through perseverance and hard work, the group eventually managed to make a name for itself.
There is no denying the hard work and dedication required to make it big as a K-pop idol. The tremendous amount of sacrifice needed to succeed is often why many aspiring idols drop out even before they make it to the big stage. Additionally, those who have made their debuts often find it challenging to maintain the spotlight.
However, if what we shared has not deterred you from your dream of making it big as a K-pop star, we recommend brushing up on your Korean language skills by signing up for Korean classes. After all, as an aspiring K-pop idol, you will be required to be fluent in Korean.