The Tough Life of Wannabes at Korean Star Factories

      March 23, 2010 07:31

      One in two Korean children wants to become a star, according to a survey by Internet portal Daum of 10,478 people, and due to the explosive popularity of manufactured bands, there has been a marked increase in the number of young Koreans entering entertainment "academies" that groom them. But many of the more than 1,000 young Koreans believed to be enrolled suffer physical and psychological abuse by entertainment agencies.

      The Chosun Ilbo recently interviewed 15 of these kids and learned that many of their human rights are being ignored. They have to follow an extremely rigorous schedule, with some quitting school to concentrate on their training. Those that are still at school are forced to spend their vacations at training camps where they practice their various skills from 9 to 10 a.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. the next day and only have two or three hours off before or after meals.

      The training consists of dancing, singing and acting lessons and physical training to improve their figures. "The toughest part is getting only five hours of sleep," said a 16-year-old student. "I feel like I’m in hell every time I get up in the morning." One manager for the entertainers said, "The reason why the trainees are often punished and shouted at is so that they are driven to succeed in a very competitive industry."

      Participants are on stage during a televised audition for singers by cable music station last year. /Courtesy of

      Some trainees suffer inhumane treatment, but for many kids, being accepted by an entertainment factory is their top goal in life. At one audition for singers by cable music station last year, no fewer than 720,000 people sent in applications. Aspiring singers and dancers turn to these auditions or various training institutes so they can be accepted as trainees by the big management companies. Students pay between W500,000 to W2 million (US$1=W1,137) a month at those institutes.

      There are around 700 of these academies. Bae Jin-taek, the head of one of them, said, "Five years ago, there were only around 300 music academies, but the explosive popularity of idol groups has led to more academies to open." His own academy opened in July last year and already has 220 students. "Students train at music academies for one to three years so they can be accepted as trainees at management companies."

      Experts say it is worrying to see these budding entertainers grow up under such conditions and develop a distorted set of social values. Ji Jung-soon of the Bright Youth Center, said, "Young kids who want to be stars grow up being punished and pushed around, so if they become famous, they may become fixated on power and influence, while suffering from low self-esteem."

      Sung Young-shin, a psychologist at Korea University who works for a committee to prevent violence against teenagers, said, "Another factor behind the abusive practices by management companies is the excessive desire of parents who force their kids into show business."

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