K-pop has also been accused of capitalising on the consumers’ mental health. There is a strict rule for the idols regarding their dating life. Idols are not allowed to date before the contract with the agency expires. This is a strategy to not only avoid unnecessary scandals, but reassuring the audiences that their favourite artiste belong to them, which leads to the extreme obsession of the fans with idols, where they believe they have the access in their idol’s personal life. That’s also why sexualising the artists is highly visible in K-pop culture. There are multiple encounters where Korean fan base often invade the privacy of the K-pop artistes. In 2020, Chen, member of popular South Korean band EXO faced backlashes from the fandom after the announcement of his wedding and his children, as the fandom claimed it “jeopardized the relationship between the singer and the fans”.
The extreme behaviour of the K-pop fanatics and death of these idols after reaching the peak of their career speak volumes about the dark concealed side of K-pop.
To aggrandize the impact and profit more, K-pop agencies have been trying to tap into American market for a long time. They were successful in 2012, after the release of Gangnam Style by PSY and their efforts have really ramped up in the past few years after BTS and Black Pink shot to fame. Other strategies the agencies use to grab the western attention is, producing more English songs and recruiting English speaking members in K-pop groups. K-pop is now more interested in debuting more Korean-Australian and Korean-American artistes for drawing the attention of western consumers.
In 2018, BTS was rewarded ‘Order of Cultural Merit’ in South Korea. The Order of Cultural Merit is awarded by the president of South Korea for “outstanding meritorious services in the fields of culture and art in the interest of promoting the national culture and national development.” It clearly reinforces the idea of K-pop being a reliable representation of the country. Yet the K-pop artists are treated as commodities where they are trained to perfection, have restrictions on dating, being held to beauty standards to influence the fans. They are needed to be polished so that they can be consumable by the fans. Clearly, to South Korea’s entertainment agencies, K-pop is a marketing strategy where South Korea inculcates their standards in cultural exports by the Korean artistes. It’s also a strategy of drawing the attention of the foreigner consumers as well.
Many people try to define K-pop as an entertainment source which is enjoyable only when it is consumed wisely. Over the years, the way K-pop has conquered the international industry by their smart marketing and advertising strategy, denotes the extreme practice of these problematic standards. At first, K-pop was an expression of Korean culture. But now, it has become a business of standards than an entertainment sector for the country, where every artiste and audience involved in it, are merely trading products. All said and done, South Korea has been extremely profited by this export of culture and the government has been more than happy to capitalise on this success.
* Ayesha Humayra Waresa is a student of Dhaka University