The K-pop industry

This week I looked at the k-pop industry and the functionality of how it is run. In 2009 the k-pop industry as a whole made over $30 million dollars, since they have started to break into the Western market this number has since doubled. (Williamson, 2011) Although this looks like a success there are few downsides to the K-pop industry itself. Including the infamous slave contracts, the k-pop market and the choosing of k-pop stars.

The k-pop industry is made up of many agencies but there are three that are most common which are also known in Korea as “The Big three”. These include S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. It is very similar to the pop industry as they have a similar “big three” these include Sony music entertainment, Universal music group and Warner Music Group. When reading this I didn’t find it any different to the western pop world as the top three basic control all Popular singers. But there was one thing that I though was very interesting, is that the contracts that these agencies have their artists sign.

These contracts are also known as the “slave” contract. The biggest successes in the k-pop industry have been built on these slave contracts with long extensive deals with little control over anything and little financial reward. (Williamson, 2011) Successful groups such as Dong Bang Shin Ki, have been victims of these contracts and have tried to get their rights back. They took their management company to court, as they believed their 13 year contract was too long, too restrictive and gave them very little of their profits from their success. (Williamson, 2011)

As the cd market has gone down and illegal downloading has been introduced the k-pop industry find it hard to make money of the actual music. Most of the money comes from advertisers and concerts. Although even though cd’s aren’t the place where they make their money there is a massive difference in price comparing it to the American music market, the average song on iTunes is $0.99 whereas in Korea the average price of a song on iTunes is $0.06. (Nguyen, 2011) This is a huge difference and I feel is the main reason for the “slave contracts” .

The K-pop industry works in a very particular way. Most of the major labels have casting calls every week to scout new talent, where they are chosen based on the way they look, sing and dance. (Cain, 2013) Some K-pop stars have even been scouted off the street based on their looks. As long as everybody looks like they are the part it their talent doesn’t necessarily matter. ( Sydney Morning Herald, 2013) Most K–pop stars are scouted when they are young and put through intense training camps from anywhere between 4 and 10 years, where they learn multiple languages, dance, singing and receive makeovers, with many of them resulting in plastic surgery. (Cain, 2013)

Overall my experience of researching the industry side left me astounded. Purely because the k-pop industry is almost like a “Celebrity” factory, creating talent and altering peoples look to making sure they are well received.


Cain, G. (2013). K-pop’s dirty secret. [online] GlobalPost. Available at:

Nguyen, N. (2011). BBC’s The Darker Side of KPOP sheds light on slave contracts. [online] Ningin. Available at:

Sydney Morning Herald, (2013). Australian idols of the K-pop world. [online] Available at:

Williamson, L. (2011). The dark side of South Korean pop. [online] BBC News. Available at:

One comment

  1. Having down some research into K-Pop as well, it was really interesting to read about the idea of ‘slave’ contracts, and how this affects the artists involved. We don’t really think too much about musical groups in contracts these days, just that they are signed to a label that puts out their new album once every 18 months or so. I definitely believe the artists should be contractually entitled to a lot more of the rewards of their labour.


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