K-pop idol auditions not taken seriously

October 14, 2019 — by Esther Luan and Tiffany Wang

In the past, Korean entertainment companies, in search of foreign potential K-pop (a popular style of music originating in South Korea) idols, have hosted auditions around the world. These global auditions have come to California multiple times, in locations such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, at which there are many willing participants. 

However, not many of these participants seriously consider a career as a K-pop idol, not only due to the lack of success in the field, but the extra scrutinization that comes with being “foreign,” or non-Korean.

In March, a senior girl, who has asked to stay anonymous, auditioned spontaneously for Stone Music Entertainment, a company with well-known artists such as Chungha and AOA.

“My friend wanted to audition, and I had a free afternoon, so why not, I thought,” she said.

The audition, which lasted less than two minutes, comprised of her showing off a dance that she had learned from YouTube. She danced to a panel of two representatives from the company and two translators. 

“While I was dancing, the judges were so stone-faced,” she said. “They had no expression at all, it was so scary.”

Right after the audition, the judges asked her why she wanted to become an idol and if she wanted to go to Korea, but she said she only did the audition for fun. Even if she made it past all the stages, she recalled, she admitted she would not have pursued a career as a K-pop star.

This senior girl is not alone in her sentiments of dreaming of becoming an idol without actually pursuing the career due to the implications of becoming a K-pop idol. For an aspiring K-pop artist, there are countless pitfalls along the way, and the chance of real success is extremely low.

Long-time fans with insight in the industry’s culture are well acquainted with seeing the image of glory and stardom that idol life displays; however, the reality is far from glamorous, warding off many who would otherwise consider the career. 

K-pop trainees undergo grueling training before they are even considered for debut, which is never guaranteed. Idols and trainees must sign long-term contracts, aptly nicknamed “slave contracts,” as they revoke freedoms and limit activities like dating and drinking. 

K-pop idols are also held up to a body image and weight standard that is dangerous and unhealthy for many, often leading to health complications. For example, the expected weight for most female K-pop stars is below 100 pounds, which while normally is considered severely underweight, is considered a beauty prerequisite within the industry.

Furthermore, the actions and words of K-pop stars are constantly scrutinized and judged by the Korean public, especially the online Korean community, colloquially known as “netizens.” Netizens are notorious for being especially vicious, often hypocritical in their comments, and extremely hard to please. This mercilessness may result from projection of strict Asian culture ideals on a relatively new and fast-changing industry; moreover, many idols’ careers have been jeopardized by the internet’s amplification of a careless mistake or comment.

It’s an even longer and more arduous path for foreigners who seek to succeed in the industry. Foreign idols and trainees are often treated as inferiors and given less consideration for debut. In fact, only 1 percent percent of active idols are foreign — the vast majority of whom are also East Asian, demonstrating the extreme bias against non-Koreans. Even idols who are ethnically Korean but have lived in other countries before debuting are considered a mix of Korean and another race.

With all of these overwhelming standards and prejudices, it comes as no surprise that the idea of actually entering the K-pop industry can be no more than a far-fetched dream for most aspirants. 

While the senior girl who went to the audition continues to enjoy K-pop as a music genre and culture, the harsh idol life is not for her, she decided. 

“I think it really depends on how big of a dream it is,” she said. “If it’s your ultimate life goal, then go for it. “But if it’s just a side thought or a fantasy, then I’d think it through first.”

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