Extra! Korea

September 11, 2010

Rep. Ahn: Girl groups’ agencies breaking the law

Filed under: gender equality, legal issues, music, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 6:44 am

According to Rep. Ahn Hyung-hwan of the Grand National Party, the agencies of girl groups f(x), Kara, and GP Basic are breaking Korean labor laws. Sulli (of f(x)), Kang Ji-young (of Kara), and Henna and Janie (of GP Basic) should have obtained permits from the Ministry of Labour due to the fact that they are minors, but they did not, and thus may be summoned to court.

The current labor standard act states that no one under the age of 15 can be considered part of the workforce unless given presidential approval.

In response to Ahn’s charges, SM Entertainment released an official statement saying the company would make their next move only after looking into the matter with its legal team.

Management camps for both Kara and GP Basic said they too would quickly look into the matter with the help of legal representation.

I’m a little confused, because both Sulli and Ji-young are 16 years old (international age).

August 25, 2010

Taiwanese singer talks about being forced to sexually entertain in Korea

Filed under: gender equality, music, prostitution — extrakorea @ 6:54 am

Taiwanese singer Estrella Lin used to be a member of a girl group, 3EP Beauties, in South Korea. Now she’s talking about how she, and other female entertainers here, are pressured to sleep with investors in the entertainment industry (Chosun Ilbo, Korea Herald).

“I was forced to ‘sexually’ entertain investors but I never allowed myself to do so. I’m not afraid of Koreans protesting because what I said is so true,” she was quoted as saying by multiple news reports.

[ snip ]

“I was asked to go out and meet someone. There was a man, about my father’s age, who said ‘I will let you become whatever you become, if you let me buy your youth,’” a 20-something actress was quoted as saying in the human rights report.

It sounds very much like what was described in Jang Ja-yeon’s suicide note.

The reopening of the sensitive issue of the coerced sex trade for work and benefits in the entertainment world brought back the question of why police and prosecutors have not got to the bottom of the sex trade issue, despite the suicide of Korean actress Jang Ja-yeon in March 2009. Jang left a note saying she suffered forced “sponsorship” by her agency owner.

At that time, the police said it had identified five corporate figures, including a securities firm executive, a CEO, a drama director and three media moguls as major suspects who might have had sex with the late actress.

However, the year-long investigation ended up finding “little evidence,” according to the police, and the case was closed in April this year.

Lin claims that it happens to both men and women, and to both famous and B-list performers.

Lin wrote that any popular singers in Korea, regardless of gender, are pimped for sexual services but claimed that despite being frequently asked to sleep with investors, she stubbornly refused.

(emphasis mine)

Yu Gi-na, a film critic and professor at Dongguk University, concurs.

“Men who have power and high rank seem to think their power is bigger if they have sex with popular female entertainers in secrecy,” Yu told The Korea Herald.

[ snip ]

For Korean female entertainers, receiving a proposal to have sex in return for fame or money from influential figures is an open secret. Korean model Lee Pa-ni early this year revealed in a TV show that she was once made such an offer.

August 24, 2010

Some teen entertainers coerced into wearing revealing clothing, skipping studies

Filed under: gender equality, music, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 6:34 am

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family surveyed 88 teen entertainers, 47 boys and 41 girls (Chosun Ilbo, Dong-a Ilbo, Korea Times). About ten percent of them were found to have been coerced into wearing revealing clothing. Remember how some performers have been too young to legally watch their own performances (e.g Hyun-ah and GP Basic)?

Korea’s Broadcast Law is geared at protecting children and adolescents from viewing programs containing sexually explicit or violent content, but does not have any clauses regarding children or adolescents depicting such content.

It seems that some have also suffered sexual harassment and pressure to go on diets or to have plastic surgery.

Moreover, 9.1 percent said they had to caress, cuddle or kiss someone on stage and on the set.

Another 4.5 percent said they have experienced sexually insulting words or sexual harassment.

Many are encouraged to go on a diet or undergo plastic surgery. Among female teen celebrities, 56.1 percent were pressured to go on a diet and 14.6 percent to have cosmetic surgery.

Are these teens being allowed to keep up with their schooling?

Among 85 celebrities who are attending primary or secondary schools, 40 percent said their right to study is not guaranteed. In addition, 47.5 percent said they skipped a quarter of a day’s classes per week in a semester, and 34.1 percent said they have no time for homework.

The trend is that young singers drop out of school and get into college by taking a qualification exam because their right to study is not protected. Yet 65.9 percent said it is important to attend classes.

Sun-mi (ex-member of the Wonder Girls) and Minzy (of 2NE1) are two examples of dropping out of school and taking a qualification exam.

So what do Korea’s child labour laws have to say about this?

Among teen celebrities under the age of 18, 39.5 percent worked eight hours or more per day and 10.3 percent worked for 40 hours or more per week. Though the Labor Standard Act stipulates the working hours of a youth under 18 as less than seven hours a day and 40 hours a week, the law does not apply since entertainers are categorized as special workers such as insurance agents or salesmen.

(emphasis mine)

Lastly, some seem to suffer from insomnia and/or depression.

Fifty female teen celebrities and aspiring wannabes say they experience insomnia (64.3 percent) or take anti-depressants (14.3 percent).

August 13, 2010

Court agrees that entertainer’s contract is “slave-like”

Filed under: music, youth — extrakorea @ 7:37 pm

In 2006, a member of the boy band U-Kiss signed a 10-year contract with his entertainment agency. The contract further states that “if his performances were suspended due to health problems or mandatory military service, the inactive period would be added to the term.”

Two years later, he took them to court, saying that it was unfair, and today, the court agreed.

A district court ruled in favor of Woo, saying, “The first ten years after his debut album constitute virtually his entire life as a singer. Given the nature of the industry, the contract term is unfair and excessively infringes upon his rights.”

An appellate court upheld the decision.

Such excessively binding contracts in the showbiz industry came to light when three members of the popular boy band TVXQ filed a suit against its agency, SM Entertainment, to invalidate what they called “life-long slave contracts.”

August 12, 2010

GP Basic’s video teaser looks as pedotastic as some of us feared

Filed under: music, youth — extrakorea @ 1:44 am

Do you remember GP Basic, the new girl group with one member in elementary school and the other five are in their second year of middle school/junior high? They’ve released the video teaser for their upcoming debut single and video (via PopSeoul, K-Bites, and Seoul Beats). Unfortunately, it seems to confirm many of my worst worries. Three of the members are wearing short shorts/miniskirts. (I hope the full video doesn’t feature them doing so-called “sexydances.”) They look surprisingly like some other, older K-pop girl groups (e.g. high heels).

Seoul Beats writes:

I did a little research on South Korean child labor laws and they say that: All children under the age of 18 need permission of their parents to work, those under the age of 15 need even more permission from the labor ministry, children need to attend school at least until the age of 14, children between the ages of 15-18 may only work 7 hours a day and no more than 42 hours a week and are not allowed to work overnight hours.

BoA debuted at the tender age of thirteen, but she has always relied upon her dancing and live singing skills instead of wearing revealing clothes or trying to be “sexy.” That’s why I give her a pass.

August 8, 2010

Cube Entertainment has its performers meet with mental health specialists

Filed under: music, youth — extrakorea @ 6:36 pm

From Omonatheydidn’t comes a translation of an article which describes how Cube Entertainment (a subsidiary of JYP Entertainment) has its performers meet regularly with mental health specialists.

Every week, the Cube idols are able to meet with a mental health specialist and they can train their personalities and characters to be strong. Cube executive, Hong Seungsung, said, “Our singers are able to receive education and mental consultation.”

Hong also feels Cube has a responsibility to the families of 4minute and BEAST: “Their parents entrusted them to us while they were still in their 10s, and therefore it is our responsibility to think only about their futures. And because the effects of becoming a celebrity is greatly increased the younger a person is, we value character building for our trainees before they become famous in order to avoid problems.”

I’m very glad about that, considering how young some of these performers are when they begin training and debut, and how pitiless the Korean music industry can be. I’d be happier, though, if these kids were allowed to grow up first before being thrown into the corporate gears.

August 6, 2010

(Updated) New girl group has member in elementary school. Stop the madness!

Filed under: music, rapid cultural change, youth — extrakorea @ 3:17 am

According to K-Bites and AllKpop, a new girl group named GP Basic is set to debut next week. Since you can`t swing a dead cat without hitting a girl group or boy band member these days, what makes this noteworthy?
The youngest member is still in elementary school and the other five are in their second year of middle school/junior high.
Stop the madness! Please, for the love of God, can`t we let kids be kids before throwing them into the meat-grinding corporate gears of the Korean music business?

Edit/Update:

It looks like I’m not the only one who is concerned about the welfare of these young people.

Some believe that dressing prepubescent girls in tight pants and high heels is ethically wrong and should not be attempted.

No sh** Sherlock. And how about this piece of irony?

There is also a problem for GP Basic’s appearance on various music programs, since a handful of them require parental guidance for those under 15. The shows include KBS Music Bank, MBC Show! Music Core, and SBS Inkigayo. If all three shows ban young kids from even viewing the show, how will they be able to perform in the show?

That reminds of when the video for “Change” by Hyun-ah (of the girl group 4Minute) was deemed to be “inappropriate for those under 19 years of age” when she herself was under 19.

August 2, 2010

Interview with “Godfather of Korean Rock” Shin Joong-hyun

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 9:32 pm

Remember Shin Jung-hyun (Shin Joong-hyun)? The Joongang Daily had an interview with him about the custom-made guitar that he received from Fender, and about guitars in general.

In December, he became the sixth guitarist to receive a custom made guitar from Fender Musical Instruments Corp., the leading manufacturer of guitars in the world. Since 1964, Fender has dedicated custom made guitars to musicians who have made significant contributions to rock music. Other guitarists who have received the honor include Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen.

[ snip ]

What do you like about guitars?

A guitar can express anything. For example, there is a technique where you pull a string upwards or downwards to change the note. It is a subtle change you cannot easily produce with other instruments. Also, amplifiers expand the scope of expression to infinity. It’s limitless.

When I retired in 2006, I thought I probably would not have another chance to perform in front of an audience, but receiving the Fender guitar seems to be a sign that is my calling to continue making music.

We need you Mr. Shin, to educate the current generations who are tone-deaf to real music, mainly because they`ve never been exposed to it.

A member of DJ Doc, Lee Ha-neul, had a great rant about the Korean music business lately:

We had the weekend off thanks to them [Inkigayo] cancelling our performance, because apparently if you refuse to show up on Strong Heart, you don’t get to perform

[ snip ]

The one-sided love that management companies show to the music program producers is certainly a problem, but the authoritative producers who like to show off and only think of artists as disposable products for their programs!!

[ snip ]

The program that sucks up to the artists from major management companies, and the stage where those that suck up to the producer get to perform on …

Damn you, Grand Narrative!

Filed under: gender equality, music — extrakorea @ 3:56 am

This might seem like a strange thing to say, considering that I left a complimentary comment under one of his posts.

In a follow-up to this post, I was intending to point out yet another example of how so-called “sexydances” are a staple of Korean variety shows, to the extent that they are evidence of either laziness or a lack of imagination on the part of the staff writers.

But Grand Narrative beat me to it. He basically mentions everything that I intended to, plus a whole lot more. The only thing that I would add is this: When Hyun-ah finished her “sexydance,” she covered her face in embarassment. This might seem strange, considering that she has defended her choice of revealing stage outfits, saying, essentially, that she should be able to wear what she wants. However, I think that it`s not incongruous, because there`s a big difference between performing for one`s fans, out of choice, and having your arm twisted to do a “sexydance” for pervy, middle-aged, B-list celebrities.

While we`re on the subject … I`ve always wondered why Hyun-ah`s video for “Change” was deemed inappropriate for those under 19 years of age* but the same thing was never done to the Brown Eyed Girl`s “Abracadabra”? Watch the two videos below. Are the hip-thrusting movements really that different?

* Since she herself was under 19 at the time, that meant that she would have been too young to watch her own video!

July 22, 2010

Who’s Shin Jung-hyun and why can he speak with authority about Korean music?

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 2:47 pm

You might recall this post, which had this quote:

Veteran rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Shin Jung-hyun said in a recent interview, “There is no real music on Korea’s pop music scene these days. There is only greed.”

So who is this Shin Jung-hyun, and what gives him the right to talk about the Korean music scene like that?

Well, he’s one of only about a dozen guitarists to be honoured by guitar company Fender with his own guitar. This list includes all-time greats like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton, and he is the first Asian to be so honoured. If you’d like to hear his innovative songwriting and playing, listen to the video below. (Hat Tip to commenter milton, who was responding to an excellent article about Korean culture and creativity, by the way.)


Can you hear distinctive Korean flavours? I can. (I can’t describe or put my finger on it, but I can hear it.)

What was his era, and who were his contemporaries? The following snippet comes from a blog post about the reason that K-pop acts like Rain have so much trouble breaking into the American music scene is because there is nothing distinctively Korean about them save for their lyrics.

Korea had a great music scene in the 1970s, with performers such as Shin Jung-hyun, Sanulim and Yang Byun-jip, as well as all the folk singers.

OK, but let’s go further back in time, to the beginning of his story, courtesy of Mark Russell, author of the book “Pop Goes Korea” and of the “Korean Pop Wars” blog.

At night, in between, and any chance he got, he taught himself guitar.

Soon Shin was good enough at the guitar to find work teaching at a music institute in Jongno, the center of old Seoul. His reputation grew quickly, and someone suggested he audition to play for the U.S. Eighth Army.

In 1957, he started playing rock music for U.S. Army bases (under the name “Jackie Shin”), where he would continue for ten years. The American Army circuit was a godsend for musicians then, with plenty of clubs (jazz standards for the officers clubs, more country music for the NCOs, and rock for the enlisted men) and decent pay.
Asked to write a song glorifying then-president Park Chung Hee, Shin refused… Soon after, police officers and government agents began following and harassing him.

“The American bases are where Korean rock developed,” Shin says. “At the time, Korean clubs only played ‘trot,’ tango, music like that.” Shin still remembers the music he most liked to play then: “Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle,’ Duane Eddy’s ‘40 Miles of Bad Road.’” He was a big fan of Elvis, and after seeing the movie Love Me Tender, Shin bought a denim jacket and practiced shaking his legs and playing like the King. “But I could never get it right,” he says. “I was very disappointed in myself.”

Gradually, rock music spread from the army bases to the rest of Korea. In 1961, Shin formed Korea’s first rock band, Add 4, but Korea still was not ready to embrace the rock sound.

Mainstream success eluded him until 1968 when he produced an album for two high school girls who called themselves The Pearl Sisters. That album, Nima, was a huge hit, and soon made Shin a star, too. Over the next seven years, Shin and the singers he produced released many hit records, usually with his signature “fuzzy” guitar style, spacey organ sounds, and a healthy dose of the psychedelic.

In 1972, near the peak of his fame, however, he received “the phone call”—it was the president’s office on the line. Asked to write a song glorifying then-president Park Chung Hee, Shin refused.

And that was the beginning of the end. The government of Park Chung-hee harassed, arrested, and banned him from performing. By the time the ban was lifted, with the passing of President Park, the music scene was being taken over by government-approved disco, trot, pop music, and ballads.

It was all, ‘Let’s work hard,’ and ‘Let’s be happy’ kind of stuff,” Shin says, with a soft, matter-of-fact bitterness. “It was completely physical, with no spirit, no mentality, no humanity.”

Sounds familiar, huh? Replace “Let’s work hard,” and “Let’s be happy,” with “I love you,” “I miss you,” and “Yo yo yo, I hip-hop styyyle,” and the words would ring completely true today.

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