November 7, 2013
So, this is something we’ve been saying for quite a while now. I’m not sure if we explicitly said it out loud in a video before, but now we’re going to be totally out in the open with it right here, right now. We would never, ever want to be Kpop idols. If we had kids, we wouldn’t want them to be Kpop idols, either. Kpop idols as people are fine. We met lots of them, and they’re cool people, but the industry that they’re in is so unhealthy and almost poisonous that I have no idea how anyone would wilfully pursue a career in it. What may initially seem like the pursuit of a dream, to perform and to sing, comes with loads of unwanted caveats. The artistic spirit is secondary to the industrial one, in which maximizing profit is a company’s greater concern than caring for their artists.
Is that too scathing? Do I sound like an old man with a scraggly beard and furrowed eyebrows wagging his finger at you? Well then tell me this: tell me all the dating bans, dietary regulations, insane schedules, and negligence for an artist’s health are good for the artist. I don’t see it. All I can see is a company trying to work the artists to the bone.
I will admit though, that a lot of our discussion on this subject is far from objective. We’re looking at this through our own perspective as people who kinda sorta live in the entertainment industry with their own tiny entertainment company. We’re not in the Kpop industry itself, or the TV industry, or anything like that, but our careers are here on our blog. We are creative for a living, and have a studio and staff that help us in being creative. And we know really, really well that if we push ourselves too hard we start to struggle to get through it all. We have a rule now to actually force ourselves to take weekends off, because we know that downtime is essential to recharge. You can’t be GOGOGOGOGO all the time. Finding a balance between work and life is tough, as we’re always on Twitter or Facebook or Final Cut or YouTube or WordPress or this site. On the other side, it’s hard for us to even call this “work,” because it’s really just a hobby that we’re pursuing, but we pursue it for many hours a day and many days a week.
With that small background spiel laid down in front of you, we can easily say that if we were told that we had to do this all in a van, that we couldn’t sleep in comfortable beds, that we couldn’t sleep in, couldn’t date each other, couldn’t eat this or that, couldn’t see our friends because we had to go somewhere else, couldn’t make a video we wanted to make, we’d quit. Quit! FREAKING QUIT SO FAST. Kpop artists don’t even own their own songs, their own image rights. If they have projects they want to pursue they have to go through their bosses for approval. A lot of the time the songs are written for them. Their dances are choreographed for them. Their outfits are chosen for them. Their schedules are set for them. Their lines on shows are written for them. There are so many hands involved in moving them around, this way and that, and they lose a lot of their own autonomy.
That’s too much responsibility for us. Too many demands. Too overwhelming a life.
At the same time, I can easily re-read these paragraphs in the Airhead voice we sometimes do on our show, like “OMG LIFE IS SOOOO TOUGH.” I don’t want this blog post to be dismissed that easily. Kpop idol problems are first world problems, we know, so we don’t extend the same amount of sympathy to them as we do to people in worse situations. And, yes, we’re advocating autonomy, individuality, creativity, freedom, self-expression, healthiness, and all that hippy stuff, but that’s not a BAD thing to argue for, is it?
I don’t want this to be also read as a “BOYCOTT KPOP!” article as well, because that’s not fair, either. As people in the creative industry we just want to see artists treated better. To be paid fairly. To be fed properly. To be offered standard liberties. I’m sure you’d like to see that as well.
One thought we didn’t pursue in our video, though, is that this unhealthy work environment isn’t isolated to Kpop alone. The entertainment industry, drama sets in particular, can also be pretty crappy to the actors. We did a couple of commercials and TV shoots for Korean TV. Never again. Whoa. Unless decent work conditions are met and we are promised to be FED – yes, fed food – then never again. And at the same time, if you’re Korean and not in the entertainment industry, working as a salaryman is also soul-sucking work. The hours are insane there, too. I had a co-teacher whose husband worked for one of the big name companies here (who I won’t name) and she saw him once every three weeks. ONCE EVERY THREE WEEKS. See your husband, who you love and want to spend the rest of your life with, once every freaking three weeks. And high-school teachers, if they’re single, get stuck teaching the sucky classes, from 7AM to midnight.
The situation that arises then, is that potential Kpop artists pick their poison. They can work insane hours as idols or insane hours elsewhere. Either way, there’s a culture of excessive work here in South Korea. But that’s an entirely different TL;DR. But, at least, if you’re not an idol, you can eat and drink as you please, date who you want, live where you want, and not have bat-shit crazy fans ruin one of your friend’s weddings just to see you.
Side note: back to working at the Eatyourkimchi Nasty Studio: Soo Zee works for us full-time. She’s on salary. And she’s free to come and go as she pleases. If she’s tired, we tell her to go home. She can work from home if she wants. She can come to work in pyjamas if she feels like it. She was feeling a bit sick today, we told her to GTFO and not come back until she feels better. There are no sick days that we count here. She can date whoever she pleases. She can bring friends to work, or leave in the middle of the day to meet her friends for dinner and a drink. She’s got creative output: she’s designed almost everything you see in our store (and she’s good at designing, too!). We don’t put any crazy restrictions on her. And, from what she tells us, she’s really happy here. That’s what we want to do as a company. Not work people to exhaustion till they go crazy or quit. Not have a tight grip on everything they say or do. We want people to be able to pursue what they’re passionate about, and to pursue it in ways that they see fit. We might not be a multi-million dollar company as a result, but we’re a lot more ethical, in my opinion.
What would make you happier in your career? Is Kpop fame worth it? I clearly say no. I’m not going to dislike you if you say otherwise, but I’d like to hear your reasons.
Lastly, Dongho: come work for us. The Eatyourkimchi Studio could definitely use more men around here :D