SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Korea Bizwire) – The death of K-pop superstar Jonghyun from SHINee has sparked a debate over deep-rooted problems facing the K-pop industry.
In a suicide letter released by his best friend Nine9 from rock band Dear Cloud, Jonghyun said he was ‘broken from inside’ and that ‘depression slowly began eating away at me before swallowing me, and I couldn’t fight it.’
The sad news, which sent a shockwave through fan communities around the world, shed light on the overwhelming pressure placed on young trainees wishing to emulate stars like Jonghyun in the K-pop industry’s idol system.
South Korea has a unique idol training system that isn’t found in other countries, which began developing as the South Korean music industry went through a major industrialization process.
Unlike typical pop stars who are discovered as a ‘diamond in the rough’ before they make their debut, South Korean entertainment agencies rely on auditions to discover trainees, who will then be put through tough singing, dancing and acting training programs which can take years before a select few are put together in a group to enjoy a taste of stardom.
Trainees often live together in communal residential spaces for the purpose of teamwork and keeping up with busy schedules.
Even after making their debut and becoming public figures, strict diet and workout regimes follow, as well as restrictions on their private life, with some prohibited from being in a relationship in extreme cases.
A lot is at stake, as agencies are now thought to be spending between $3 million and $5 million dollars on a group of five people to record an album and shoot a music video, as well as covering training and marketing expenses, placing huge pressure on the shoulders of young trainees.
Adding to the anxiety is the issue of career longevity for idol groups, which typically survive for five years on average.
“Idol stars often face anxiety over how long they can last as a singer,” a source close to the industry said.
“Jonghyun might have felt more anxious and depressed than others and tried to channel his energy into songwriting and other activities such as being a radio DJ and writing a book,” the official added.
Choi Byeong-ha, a psychiatrist at Semin Hospital, says, “Idol singers who have spent their teenage lives as trainees could be more vulnerable psychologically as adults, due to a lack of social relationships with their peers at school, which are a natural part of human development.”
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)