The beginnings of a K-Pop ‘idol.’

Posted on November 15, 2010



When I say "K-Pop," who comes to mind?

When you see the word “K-Pop,” what thoughts come to mind? The singers you like or the bands you fancy? For me, the only true ‘maketh’ moment that an artist can consider themselves as being fully ‘in’ with the K-Pop crowd is when they’re considered to be an ‘Idol.’

You’re probably thinking, what’s so special about being an idol? Can’t any singer be considered an idol if they just have fans who ‘idolise’ them? If you’re just looking to define the word “idol” as you would when you look in a dictionary then, technically, this is true, but in the Korean Pop industry I think they’ve taken this word on and brought another meaning to it.

You see, ‘Idols’ are those you’ll often see on Korean TV variety programmes goofing around for our entertainment or endorsing a whole heap of things from beauty products to beer; within the inner circle, if you’re doing these things then you’ll acquire respect from your peers because it shows that you’re an established and recognised singer- not a newbie.

If being an ‘Idol’ in the K-Pop industry sounds like a nifty thing and you’re wondering “just darn it, how do they do it?” then hopefully, this new “K-Pop Newbie” thread, will explain some of the in’s and outs of the industry- as I’ve come to see it. And for today’s first ‘one-on-one lesson’ I will just scratch the surface and reveal the beginnings of  a K-Pop idol’s life.

Difficult start to a different kind of schooling.

To become a K-Pop singer compared to, say a rock star, has a different set of difficulties and requirements, then just setting up a band and playing a few gigs.

In the UK we have schools where you can learn to sing, dance and act- with the hope that you’ll be discovered and made into a star. But in Korea, to become a pop star, your best bet is to either be ‘discovered’ as you walk down the street (yeah right, like that’s easy) or to attend dozens of auditions and get picked to be enrolled in a record company’s own little entertainment, training school (like the SM-Academy.)


The girls of 2NE1 showed determination to get where they are today

But with hundreds of other hopeful auditionees you have to make sure you stand out, because talent  alone is not enough;  2NE1’s Park Bom auditioned 10 times before she landed her gig, her bandmate CL sent in demo tapes to her record company every 3 months for 4 years to show her progress and ‘world star’ Rain had to dance for 2 hours straight for his audition, all to impress and garner interest from their CEO’s (read about that HERE).

However, if you have a definite foot in the door after a successful audition then you’ll have 3-7 years of training and hard lessons to look forward to.

The journey to stardom.

Attending these training schools is undoubtedly tough; it takes great willpower to be able to attend normal school until 3pm and then make your way over to these training schools until late night. Attending such schools is made even more difficult for these wannabe stars if they live outside of Seoul, which is the Korean equivilent of L.A- the land of opportunities.

Firstly, you’ll have to try and throw away any hint of a rural accent and ‘take on’ a more city, Seoul accent. And secondly, these training schools won’t have dorms for you to stay in, such dorms are reserved for those who are going to ‘make it’ and have been chosen to debut. So what happens if ‘home’ is a 3 hour train ride away? That’s a 6 hour round journey just for a few training sessions, so if you miss the last train home, the station floor becomes your bed for the night.

The secret lessons to be learnt.

These training schools undoubtedly teach their eager students great lessons; on paper, we’re looking at dancing, singing, acting and even foreign languages (Mandarin and Japanese being most popular). Building such an all-round, multi-talented character, means that life will become a bit more easier when/if these stars make it. This tough training is especially useful if a trainee ends up in a group/band- with an all round character they can easily hide their weaknesses (for example singing abilities) behind their band member’s strengths and vice versa.

Strangely enough, training to ‘debut,’ or in other words, if you’re expected to be dropping  a record soon comes  with the joint agreement between trainee and CEO  of secrecy and that these trainees must remain hidden from the media… I don’t know why? Maybe these CEO’s are scared that their ‘hard-earned’ trainees will be ‘talent-napped’ or poached by rival companies, tempting trainees with better offers? So, whilst you may be ecstatic  if you make it into these schools, you’ll have to scream into your pillows to hide your excitement 😉

Living in a madhouse of fun?

All these K-Pop singers you’ll see on the TV will have had to go through this and will probably still be going through this, unless they are successful solo singers- the problems of living in dorms. When I took my first glimpse into the K-Pop world,  I didn’t even think about the living arrangements these singers would have had to or would still be experiencing- I thought that they would be lapping it up in their gated community houses or penthouses

In reality, if these trainees hit the stage of preparing to debut, then their record companies want to instill an even greater sense of independence in them before they hit the big time. Groups that are about to debut, will have probably not even met each other or gotten to familiarize themselves with their fellow band members until a year or so before their debut; they might have seen these familiar faces in the joint surroundings of the training rooms, maybe even befriended them beforehand, but for the most part a group is literally thrown together to live in a dorm as strangers. And for solo singers, they’ll still have to live in such dorms with complete strangers before debuting, which I simply think is because it works out better for the record company’s if they just have to pay for one joint house for their future solo artists to live in rather than the luxury of getting them one each- after all, whose to say that these trainees will actually ‘make it’ and earn their CEO’s money?


2PM's (probably now old) dorm, makes me appreciate the luxury of my own room

The madness of living in a dorm with strangers becomes even more strained when you have a 6 member group and only 2 bedrooms and one bathroom to share; can you imagine the hell that 9 member girl group SNSD aka Girls’ Generation had to go through before they debuted? And spare a thought for the newbie artists you see on TV, these living arrangements could be what they’re going through right now because only with big bucks comes the bigger rooms sizes. As a result I’m still shocked when I see TV clips of groups  giving TV programmes a tour of their dorm; 2 bedrooms stuffed with bunk beds and 4 singers sharing a room. It’s this image that runs through my mind when I see these singers endorsing products and it leaves me thinking “just where is your pay packet going?”

Becoming a K-Pop artist requires a Herculean amount of effort and dedication; it puts my efforts in life to shame. I will talk more about the life of a K-Pop artists, after their debut in future posts, but I hope that this first post will help you understand and appreciate just how far these artists have come just to debut.  Especially when you consider the sad fact that, even after signing up with a record company, these artists weren’t given a guarantee of becoming singers- instead they were just signing up to train with them, in the hope that they might just reach the ‘debut’ stage. So how did artists, such as 2a.m’s Jo Kwon who trained for 7 years before debuting,ind the strength and grit to fight through it all? I don’t know, I suppose that’s why I’m not a K-Pop artists myself… well, and the fact that I can’t sing and have two left feet 😉

Source:,, wikipedia
Posted in: K-Pop, K-Pop Newbie