Years of training. 16 hours a day. A life far away from family and friends. A new home with strangers, sharing not only a dormitory but also hopes and tears. Having to go separate ways because dreams did not come true. Maybe one day the long awaited debut stage. The tight schedule, which does not leave room for sleep. Diet plans. Makeovers. Plastic surgery. Let’s be honest. The path of a K-Pop idol is exhausting and life itself, when you made it, hard.
Every third teenager in Korean dreams of becoming an idol. Of course, the market is booming and K-Pop is one of the most important export goods of South Korea. The Hallyu Wave has also reached Europe over the last few years involving a good amount of money. With each year more and more bands are having their debut, being able to fulfill their dream. The percentage of those who are turning into stars is rather humble.
In a country that had a military government until 25 years ago and has grown to be an impressive industrial nation in the last decades, the matter of course young Koreans are taking this path is a different one. One that teenagers that have been raised westerly will barely be able to comprehend. South Korea’s population knows that their country would not have come so far without the well-functioning system of school and work. Diligence is a highly valued virtue and the respect towards the ones who are working hard can be shown best through more diligence. And like this the country clicks like a clockwork in which one builds on one another.
In a discussion with a student of Korean studies we once exchanged interesting thoughts. Idols are an important component in a smooth cycle in this country. Let’s ignore the fact that they want to boost the economy and take care of the global awareness and therefore help to sell other Korean products on the global market- leaving one thing left: The sight into the country. K-Pop stars existed long before the global market discovered them. End of the 90’s the three biggest entertainments arose - YG, SM and JYP – and short after the first groups made their debut who characterize what we now call K-Pop. They offered distraction to youngsters who have to study until late at night and the ones who have to work more than 12 hours a day and six days a week. Leaving only little time to go out and meet friends. (Of course, Koreans always find them time to meet one another and have fun -and maybe they enjoy the time more than Europeans who do not know what to do with their free time).
Idols are everywhere. They are colorful and cheerful. They entertain the audience at home who are sitting in front of the TV with music- and variety shows. They are smiling from posters and advertise the latest products in commercials. They can be taken home on DVDs, t-shirts and cellphone charms. At fansigns one is able to get a closer look. They offer topics of conversation aside everyday life. Their world is dazzling but- and that is particularly important- can be experienced. They are also working hard and have little free time. They like to eat, listen to music and have their own troubles.
K-Pop idols are open and private like no other international star- without their private family life being in the lime light, ripped apart or dragged through the mud.
They are the hobby that you one can afford when one barely has time. They are the scattering one needs when one is threatened to drown in responsibilities. They are role models that demonstrate that all the sweat and deprivation is worth it. Their role is important. It is responsible. When having a closer look fame and fortune, although very important and possibly the motivation for most has a subordinate role.
So what leads 300 European K-Pop fans in their teens (the age limit for applicants was 19) to Berlin to the YG Audition? K-Colors of Korea talked with a few of them right before they have to enter the room to showcase their singing and dancing abilities. Nicole (18) from Dortmund loves 2NE1, the girl group which is signed under YG. She has been singing and dancing since she was six years old and started because of K-Pop. What she expects from the audition is to face the staff members of YG and also she wants to get a first- hand experience of participating in an audition because there have not been any K-Pop auditions in Europe before. Yen (14) has been listening to K-Pop for three years. She loves Big Bang and 2NE1 and she is currently taking singing classes. She just wants to be part of the whole experience but she does not know if she really wants to be a trainee at an entertainment.
Most of the applicants came out of curiosity. They have never been that close to the Korean music business and they are willing to take this step if this brings them a little closer to their dream of a career in Korea.
Lee Jun Won, a staff member of YG who had been listening and seeing applicants for hours tells us how things will proceed for the applicants after the audition. Those who make it through the pre- selection in Berlin and London will be invited to a second audition in Korea. The ones who will make it will be offered a trainee-contract to sign. After that, not only singing and dancing lessons are waiting for them. The future idols are also going to learn the language and have to adapt to Korean culture. Whether they are able to make it and when it will be possible for them do debut will depend on their performance but also on the question if they will understand what it means to be an idol.
Sometimes when a dream comes true, you ask yourself why you were dreaming it the first place. A dream is light and carefree. In a dream you are never exhausted nor lonely. In a dream you are receiving without having to give. Some of the participants of the YG Audition in Berlin will return to their homes and dream of being successful the next time. A few will advance and some of them will wake up on the airplane heading to their home country and find new dreams. Only a handful is going to stay in Korea and hold on to theirs. Even they are going to wake up because they will understand that hard work is going ahead before one gets to experience the living dream. That there are always to sides to every coin and not only be confronted with fame, the fans and the popularity but also with stress, the missing privacy and the occasional doubts. Only those who do not delude themselves and carry enough passion and unconditionally love what they do will be able to see the door which will reveal a fascinating world. A world filled with beauty and illusion. A world filled with unexpected downs and countless possibilities.
We hope that YG was able to find such a talented and dedicated person in Europe and that we might have come across in Berlin without knowing.
© Esther Klung, Translation: Kim Dinh