Dhaka, Bangladesh
Downside to fame

Off the track

Downside to fame

The ever-growing popularity of the K-pop band BTS is amazing. Hardly a day goes by without news about them. The seven members are also the face of major products in Korea from a leading bank to an electronics company. LG Electronics, for which the band promotes the G7 ThinQ smartphone, said Monday that online views of its video ad reached 150 million in just 50 days. Also, the seven are known to command high fees per commercial, around 1 billion won. The band’s performance on the domestic as well as U.S. and Japanese charts are stellar. The band is also well-known for their rapport with fans mainly via SNS, begging the question: do the seven young men have some time to refresh and recharge? Now some may question whether one needs time to recharge when on the path to super-stardom and raking in a big income. But news of BTS’s success is juxtaposed in recent news about a five-member boy band who asked a court to annul its contract signed with a former talent agency. The court granted the plaintiffs a win. The story was that the five members signed the contract in December of 2014. After months as trainees, they were able to form a band. Their goal was to peak at the summit of the Korean wave that K-pop was a part of. But reality soon set in for them, as the members were asked to chip in personal funds to do styling for their stages or even minor cosmetic surgery. News reports stated that they got to perform on foreign stages, but on many occasions left on their own without managers. Similar stories of trainees struggling at talent agencies appeared more frequently several years ago. Even the wildly popular program “Produce 101” provided glimpses of how fierce the competition among trainees was and how trainees at smaller agencies endured hardship. But since then, the government has worked to have talent agencies adopt standard labor contracts in signing with trainees as well as other employees; and has cited some progress. However, having attended interviews or press conferences with various K-pop bands, sometimes it’s hard to shake off the questions as whether maybe there is too much work involved in preparing for a debut album or a new album. Members of several different bands have said that they are “working hard,” meaning they may rely on intravenous drips when their schedule runs too hectic. Once upon a time, working hard to the extent of relying on intravenous drips seemed like the norm. Koreans often mentioned it as their intent to illustrate their will and dedication to the effort they were undertaking. Yet, to hear young men and women ? sometimes teenagers ? working to that extent causes concern.

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