Extra! Korea

March 25, 2010

(Updated) How K-pop trainees are (mis)treated

Filed under: celebrities, music, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 2:41 pm

Twenty-seven years ago, a plurality (23.3%) of Korean schoolchildren wanted to be scientists, followed by teachers, judges, doctors, and artists. Nowadays, 41.6% of kids want to be singers when they grow up. Considering that an additional 8.5% want to be actors, that means that over 50% of kids want to be entertainers. Those that want to be scientists amount to only a little over 1%.

Nowadays, groups manufactured by the star factories of SM, JYP, YG, and DSP Entertainment dominate the music scene, leading to large numbers of young people to enroll in “star academies,” hogwons for future pop music hopefuls, which cost trainees from 500,000 to 2,000,000 won per month (US$1=W1,137). On average, trainees attend for four or five years before being allowed to debut (if they debut at all). In addition to the monetary costs are other, more intangible ones.

During that process, the company may require the aspiring star to live in a boarding house with colleagues (or rivals), go on a strict diet with regular weight checks and put in more than 10 hours of practice a day.

[ snip ]

Park, the manager of Beast at Cube Entertainment, explained, “When registering as a trainee with our company, the trainee makes an agreement with us that they will comply with a set of rules along with an acknowledgement that we cannot guarantee when they will be able to make their debut as a full-fledged singer.

Park Bom (Bom), Sandara Park (Dara) and the other two members of 2NE1 are forbidden from having boyfriends. That’s fine for, say, 15-year-old Minzy, but Bom and Dara are in their mid-20s.
The members of After School were forbidden from having cell phones. Ironically, Uee (Ms. “Honey Thighs“) appeared in commercials for cell phones. When this ironic fact became publicly known, their management relented and let them have cell phones.

“The toughest part is getting only five hours of sleep,” said a 16-year-old student. “I feel like I’m in hell every time I get up in the morning.”

Kahi, the most senior member of After School, once fell asleep right on national television. She’s not the only member that goes with little sleep.

Kahi revealed, “UEE only got 1-2 hours of sleep daily because of all her drama filmings, After School activities, and dance practices. Because of that, she falls asleep as soon as she gets home.”

And falling asleep in front of camera might not be as embarrassing as dozing off in a toilet cubicle.

She continues “when she was sleeping at the toilet, we had no idea where she was. So we kept searching the whole building for our leader. Suddenly our staff member said she fell asleep inside the cubicle.”

Eunjung responded, “Honestly, I fell asleep because I was so tired. But the seat was so comfortable and I didnt even smell any bad odors.”

I’ve nodded off while watching movies, riding the bus, studying in the library … but on a toilet seat?!

In fact, these no-holds-barred training regimens – and the hold they give managers over young performers’ careers – have caused numerous scandals over the years. Last year, when actress Jang Ja-yeon committed suicide after allegedly being forced to act as an escort for VIPs at the behest of her manager, it led to an investigation by the Fair Trade Commission, which found last July that most entertainment contracts, including those for idol groups, infringe on performer privacy and limit their ability to change agencies.

According to rumor —rumor!— the reason that Park Jae-beom was permanently kicked out of 2PM was because he divulged details of his “slave contract” to his friend during that infamous MySpace incident. JYP Entertainment finally stopped having “slave contracts” only in November, 2009, after such contracts had become such a big public issue.

One manager for the entertainers said, “The reason why the trainees are often punished and shouted at is so that they are driven to succeed in a very competitive industry.”

They can be punished like schoolchildren even after they successfully debut. Look at the way Park Jin-young treated members of 2PM not too long ago, making them kneel and hold up their arms.

Experts say it is worrying to see these budding entertainers grow up under such conditions and develop a distorted set of social values. Ji Jung-soon of the Bright Youth Center, said, “Young kids who want to be stars grow up being punished and pushed around, so if they become famous, they may become fixated on power and influence, while suffering from low self-esteem.”

The power that manager or producers wield over these group members seems to extend over every aspect of their private and public life:

“Every time we record a song, our boss Park Jin Young emphasizes that we should sing very emotionally. During those times, there are specific emotions that he assigns to each of us 2PM members. To me he said, ‘Taecyeon, you show anger. You show anger no matter what.’”

You’re told what emotion (not emotions, plural, but emotion, singular) to exhibit while performing?! What if I don’t want to be “anger”? What if I want to be … angst? Or schadenfreude? It’s almost like that scene from the movie Reservoir Dogs:

A: Here are your names. … and Mr. Pink.

B: Why am I Mr. Pink? … Why can’t we pick our own colors?

A: No way. … I pick. You’re Mr. Pink. Be thankful you’re not Mr. Yellow.

B: Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. P***y. How about if I’m Mr. Purple?

They don’t get any control over, say, lyrics either. Seo-hyun, of Girls’ Generation, was so uncomfortable with the lyrics of Oh! that she could hardly sing the song:

“The part where the lyrics go ‘Oppa I love you’ was really difficult for me to record. … No matter how much I practiced, when it came time to record, I couldn’t sing it!”

After letting out a sigh Seohyun said, “The lyrics were just so embarrassing that I couldn’t do it at all.”


Artists also have no control over what clothing they will wear

T-ara members HyoMin and EunJung participated in the filming of SBS Strong Heart recently and they said, “When we first received the animal costumes during our first performance, we were really embarrassed and don’t know what to do with it.”

T-ara had followed cute concept with various animal costumes and gloves for their performance of ‘Bo Peep Bo Peep’. They added, “There is something we have to clarify. There are many who raised their doubts about how our stylists are antis. The truth is our codi unnies have no wrong in this. All the costumes were ideas of our boss.”

… or dances that they will perform

Ga-In also shared her feelings on the Saucy Hip Swaying Dance in their song, “Abracadabra”. She said that when she first saw the choreography, she was so shocked by how racy and sexy the whole dance was.

… or who leads the group

Jo Kwon continued,

After “This Song” was released, JYP decided I should be the leader of 2AM for marketing reasons.

… or which songs will be released as singles

She revealed that Lee Hyori had decided with ‘U-Go-Girl’ while their company boss had wanted the song ‘Mister Big’ as Lee Hyori’s 3rd album title song.

… or their lyrics or music

Everything about the Wonder Girls, from writing lyrics and composing music to costumes and choreography is controlled by Park’s magic hands.

… or even their music genre.

At first we [the Brown Eyed Girls] went with R&B, hip hop and ballad. This time, we felt that electronic should be our thing.

In the video below, the Wonder Girls are being interviewed. When asked about their favorite music, Yoobin replied that her favorite band is Muse, and that she likes rock.

Finally, there is this story, which should make anyone consider carefully about sending their daughters to these “star academies.”

Taeyeon explained, “During practice, there was a missed call from an unknown number waiting for me. Initially, I thought it was a prank call so I disregarded it. Later, I received a text message that read, “I am __ oppa.” He kept sending me text messages so, out of curiosity, I dialed his number using the office phone to confirm his true identity. It turned out that he really was the man that he claimed to be.”

According to Taeyeon, he is a famous celebrity that can easily be identified by his name alone. However, she has never met him face-to-face before.

She continued,

“He told me that he happened to find my number and asked if it was okay for him to contact me. Of course, I consented because he has always been a sunbae much older than I am.

Despite him being a sunbae with a large age gap, he continued to contact me. He would send me texts like, ‘Let’s meet sometime’ and ‘I’ll buy you some ice cream,’ almost like a child abductor

What was most upsetting, though, was the time when he called me in the middle of the night while he was drunk. He said he knew a lot about my private life by talking to the people around me. Hearing this, I grew really angry. I asked him, “Why are you being like this? There is no need for us to keep in contact any longer” and quickly hung up the phone. He replied a few weeks later with a text message that read, “If you plan on continuing your life as a celebrity, do you really think you can cut ties with me, just like that?”

Taeyeon’s confession shocked viewers, including fellow SNSD member Seohyun who shared that it was her first time hearing it as well.

As she wrapped up the story, Taeyeon expressed that she received a huge shock from this ordeal and wished that the mystery man would not create such a tramautic experience anymore to other hoobaes in the future.

(emphasis mine)

Tae-yeon certainly showed strength. It should be noted that she’s undoubtedly the best singer in Girls’ Generation, and that a young woman with less talent may have relented and ended up being like Jang Ja-yeon.

March 24, 2010

Will the retiring Scorpions come to Korea on their final world tour?

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 2:45 pm

The Scorpions, a hard rock band that’s been around for forty years and had their first big hits (like Rock You Like A Hurricane) in the 1980s, announced their retirement a couple of months ago. Their latest, and last, album has just come out, and they plan to be on tour for the next two years.

Will they come to Korea?

“We’re hoping to meet you very soon. I am already very excited to perform in Korea, a beautiful country with a great culture.

[ snip ]

Schenker and Meine did not say when Scorpions would visit Seoul.

Please God, don’t let the Scorpions retire without letting me see them perform live first. For that matter, could You also bring Metallica’s Death Magnetic tour here, too? Or is that asking too much?

Will the Turin world championships be Kim Yu-na’s final competition?

Filed under: sports — extrakorea @ 2:33 pm

I’ve mentioned before that Kim Yu-na has gone to Turin to defend her world title. If successful, she’ll be the first in decades to do so successfully (Katarina Witt: 1984-85, 1987-88; Kristi Yamaguchi: 1991-92; Michelle Kwan: 2000-2001).

She admitted that she lost her motivation after winning the Olympic gold medal:

“Whether you win or lose, it’s hard. You`ve won the biggest prize in the history of the sport. And then, if you haven’t won, you’re defeated and you have the ‘why bother’ attitude,” he [coach Brian Orser] said.

“All the athletes have that,” he added. “And I told Yu-na that: `You`re not special.’”

This was the first time Kim lacked the motivation to train before a competition. Orser said it was very tough to prepare for this event, adding Kim would not have known that it was this hard.

Kim confessed her feelings about this event. After practice, she said, “After realizing my dream, the Olympic gold medal, I think I got a little bit loose.”

There is speculation that this may be her final competition:

After winning the gold medal at the Olympics, Kim insinuated that she may retire, saying she has “achieved everything.” Later she took a more cautious approach, saying she would focus on the World Championships and then think about her future direction afterward.

It is uncertain whether Kim will continue to compete or turn professional, but experts say that to keep her marketability high it would be better to remain in competition. Kim’s brand value soared with her winning the Olympic gold.

[ snip ]

Kim will return to Seoul after the World Championships on March 31 and perform in an ice show for three days from April 16 at Olympic Park’s Gymnastics Stadium. With the ice show, her contract with IB Sports will expire. The management agency is naturally eager to renew its contract with the biggest sports icon in Korea.

[ snip ]

The chemistry between the company and Kim is said to be very good, so many expect the contract will be renewed. However, it all depends on what decisions Kim makes about her future after the championships.

Korean becomes first foreigner at Tokyo University’s medical school

Filed under: education — extrakorea @ 1:47 pm

A South Korean student, Kim Yae-kang, has become the first foreign national to enter Tokyo University’s medical school.

March 23, 2010

(Updated) Slowly, painfully, Korean and Japanese scholars work on joint history textbook

Filed under: history — extrakorea @ 1:32 pm

A committee comprised of 17 historians each from South Korea and Japan have recently convened a 30-month study. Their purpose is to hammer out a history of their two countries that they can agree with. As you might imagine, the going is slow and painful. They failed to find consensus on 17 issues. However, they were able to agree upon one point:

The most tangible result of the study was that both South Korean and Japanese researchers agreed to reject the existence of a Japanese base, previously known as “Imnailbonbu,” on the Korean Peninsula from the 4th-6th century, a claim often used to justify Japan’s colonization of Korea in the early 20th century.

“Such a claim has been around since the final years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and it was sometimes described in some of Japan’s history textbooks,” Cho told the press conference.

“We (South Korean researchers) raised the need to review the claim that there existed a foreign territory on the Korean Peninsula and that foreigners were able to undertake massive military activities here. The researchers of both countries came to agree that the term ‘Imnailbonbu’ should not be used any more,” he said.


The Joongang Daily now has an article. There isn’t much new information, though.

March 22, 2010

Will Kim Jong-il’s son be formally introduced at N. Korean Parliament?

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 2:05 pm

Will Kim Jong-il’s third son and rumored heir Jong-un be formally introduced at the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang on April 9? Some think so:

But since the botched currency reform last year, the regime appears impatient about the succession, Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said.

“If its efforts so far have been tentative, but now they’re getting more systematic,” he said. “So it’s possible that the SPA will appoint Kim to a junior post in the Defense Commission.”

Chung Young-tae, the director of the Korea Institute for National Unification’s Center for North Korean Studies, said, “If Kim junior makes a formal appearance, it will be because he has become a member of the Defense Commission.” He predicted that any successful attempts to manage the fallout of the currency reform will then be touted as the achievement of Kim junior.

But others don’t:

But Prof. Yang Moo-jin of Kyungnam University suggested the North will continue to handle the succession discreetly. “If the North brings the succession issue into the limelight in the current circumstances, it will only aggravate confusion, persuading people that Kim senior’s health is really bad. I don’t think Kim Jong-il will appoint his son to the Defense Commission.”

And here is another bit of information that may be forthcoming at the assembly:

One interesting question is whether Pak Nam-gi, the ousted director of the Workers’ Party’s Planning and Finance Department, will attend, quelling rumors that he was executed by firing squad to take the fall for the currency debacle.

Kim Yu-na goes to Turin to defend her world title

Filed under: sports — extrakorea @ 1:52 pm

Kim Yu-na is going to Turin, Italy, to defend her world title. If she is successful, she will be the first woman to do so since Michelle Kwan did it in 2000 and 2001. Canada’s Joannie Rochette won’t be there, but Italy’s Carolina Kostner will be, as will the Japanese trio of Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Akiko Suzuki.

Asada, who has been in a heated rivalry with Kim since they both entered senior level competition in 2006, has vowed to beat Kim at Turin and surpass her scores since the Olympics ended.

The short program will be this Friday, and the free skate is on Saturday.

In case you are wondering, here is how Yu-na stacks up against some of the other all-time greats (I’m counting the number of gold medals in Olympic or World competitions):

* Sonja Henie: 3 Olympics, 10 Worlds

* Carol Heiss: 1 Olympics, 5 Worlds

* Katarina Witt: 2 Olympics, 4 Worlds

* Michelle Kwan: 5 Worlds

* Kim Yu-na: 1 Olympics, 1 Worlds

March 21, 2010

Movie about No Gun Ri fails to impress at premiere

Filed under: movies — extrakorea @ 1:14 pm

Remember that movie about No Gun Ri that’s coming out, the one with the poster that I took issue with? Well, this past Thursday, it had its premiere at a theater filled with journalists, critics, and photographers, and it failed to impress them.

Prior to its completion, the production had been widely publicized as a project that was described as a labor of love from everyone involved with most of the headlining actors forgoing pay to off-set the lack of funding it received.

[ snip ]

But for a film that took so much time, effort, and passion from its cast and crew, it got a lukewarm response from the local press and movie critics.

The post-screening Q&A session with the cast and director was an awkward affair. Reporters who were clearly unimpressed with the film were reluctant to ask critical questions out of respect for the subject matter.

Executive Producer Lee Woo-jung who championed the project from day 1 looked as though he had already lost confidence in the box office potential of the film.

Actually, it was not the first time that the film had been screened … or had had a lackluster response.

Last year, the long delayed film premiered in competition at the Pusan International Film Festival but failed to gain much buzz.

Speaking of which, why is the film being released now, since, according to some, it was completed almost four years ago? As ROK Drop points out, the timing is very suspicious, since it just happens to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

March 19, 2010

Cost Of Korean Reunification: $62 billion or $5 trillion?

Filed under: economics, North Korea — extrakorea @ 1:58 pm

In a previous post, I discussed a Wall Street Journal article that stated that the cost of reunifying Korea could be from 2 to 5 trillion dollars.

Now there’s a Forbes article (page two here) that seems to contradict that by estimating the cost to be 62 billion dollars.

Despite the seeming contradiction, they actually agree on the numbers. They state different goals, and thus come to different costs.

If a more modest goal is adopted focusing on dramatically increasing per capita income in the North—say, by doubling it within 5 or 6 years—instead of equalization with the South, the cost burden decreases sharply to $62 billion.

Right now, the North Koreans are starving, literally. Doubling their income and living standards will have them jumping for joy … for a while.

However, a reasonable estimate of per capita GDP in the North is perhaps $700, in South Korea about $20,000.

Once the North Koreans get used to the idea that they can count on a full belly three times a day, for how long will they be satisfied to have a per capita GDP of $1,400 while their southern brethren enjoy one of $20,000? While they nourish themselves on barley and rice porridge, they’ll look southward to Koreans enjoying kalbi, whiskey, fried chicken, pizza, and pasta. Even though they will be geographically far away, thanks to the Internet, South Korea’s wealth will be in their face. How long will it be before gratitude erodes away into resentment? How long will it be before they start saying things like, “Hey, we could have nuked you when we had the chance, so why don’t you give us some sugar?” For this reason, I would like to re-quote something from my previous post:

I estimate that raising Northern incomes to 80% of Southern levels—which would likely be a political necessity—would cost anywhere from $2 trillion to $5 trillion, spread out over 30 years.

(emphasis mine)

So I agree with the estimate given in the Wall Street Journal article.

And who, according to the Forbes article, will foot the bill?

If and when Korean reunification occurs, the costs will most heavily impact South Korea. But the burden can and should be shared with Korea’s American ally, as well as with the other principals engaged in the Six Party talks, including China and Japan.

Japan. After having its citizens kidnapped and being threatened by North Korea for years, they’ll be asked to pay money to them. They’ll like that.

China. You don’t think they’ll exploit that leverage someday?

U.S.A. Sugar Daddy Sam. The bailout king.

Cambodians banned from marrying Koreans (and only Koreans)

Filed under: gender equality, multicultural society — extrakorea @ 11:14 am

The Cambodian government has at least for the time being, banned its citizens from marrying Koreans, and only Koreans. Why?

The restriction pertains only to Korea because nearly 60 percent of international marriages in Cambodia involve Korean nationals, and most of them are arranged through brokers, the official said.

Cambodia has banned marriage brokerage since 2008, allowing only “love matches.” Despite the ban, the number of Cambodian women marrying Korean men more than doubled from 551 in 2008 to 1,372 last year.

The latest measure came amid news reports in the Southeast Asian nation that a clampdown on marriage brokers in Vietnam has made neighboring Cambodia the new destination for Korean men seeking to “buy” wives. They denounced the practice of men choosing mainly poor women as wives, calling it “human trafficking.”

So if Vietnam, and now Cambodia, have clamped down on marriages with Koreans, where will unmarriageable Korean bachelors find their brides? Perhaps the Philippines. Maybe Thailand?

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.