Being a K-pop star might bring you hoards of screaming fans and undying admiration – but it has a dark side too. Between the restricted diet and gruelling gym routines and a complete ban on dating, life inside the multi-billion dollar industry isn’t always easy.
Some K-pop stars have spoken out about exactly how tough it is. While the stars are showered with love, admiration and gifts from their dedicated followers, life behind the scenes is very different. Up-and-coming K-pop band Great Guys, which is made up of nine men in their 20s, opened up about their gruelling daily routines after a performance at the Korea Drama Festival in Jinju in October.
They told Insider their lives aren’t as glamorous as they appear. Member Ho Ryeong said: “Gym, studio, bedroom — that’s my life circle. We are now preparing for our new album and are actually quite busy. Honestly, we don’t have much time for eating. Nor are we free to eat what we want.”
Fellow star Jae I added: “That’s the hardest part. It’s not easy to follow a diet, but [I suppose] it’s not impossible either. The industry has some intense beauty standards and its stars need to be young, beautiful and in good physical shape. That means severe diets and exercise regimes are always going to be imposed.
One famous K-pop diet is called the ‘Paper Cup Diet’, which involves eating nothing more than nine water cooler-sized paper cups worth of whole grains, fruit and vegetables a day. A former member of K-pop Crayon Pop, named Way, said she and her bandmates were banned from having midnight snacks, crisps and candy, and that they’d sometimes sneak out to buy goodies and stash them in the bathroom to secretly eat later.
She said their workout routines were just as trying, with them being made to dance with 4kg sandbags on their feet for several days. She said their teacher made them perfect their routines with sandbags on their feet so the dances would look lighter when they actually performed them. When it comes to their love lives, it’s said there’s an unwritten rule in K-pop that stars need to remain single if they want any chance of being successful.
The theory goes that single stars will be seen as more accessible to their fans, and therefore their fans will be more devoted to them, and therefore make the record label more money. Fans of K-pop are so dedicated that they’ll go to extreme lengths to defend the honour of their idols.
BTS fans, who call themselves the ‘Army’ once left a stream of one-star Yelp reviews for a Korean restaurant after its owner said another band was better. Other hardcore fans have even pooled their money together to buy huge presents for their favourite artists, including very expensive billboard ads in New York’s Times Square.
It’s a practice based on the Korean word ‘jeogon’, which means ‘tribute to the king’. The need for stars to appear single is also said to be the reason the bands are never mixed. All-male and all-female groups will lead to less suspicion that band members are dating each other.
Crayon Pop’s Way said stars even had to hand their phones over to their record company so that they couldn’t arrange to meet up with anyone outside of their working lives. Donghwi, another member of Great Guys, said that none of them are in a relationship.
When asked if that’s because none of them want partners or because they’re not allowed to have one, he said: “Both! We shouldn’t, but also, we don’t want to [date anyone].
“We agreed not to have a girl in our lives, so we can focus more on our mission. We love our fans, that’s enough for us. If things go well, we can stay like this forever. We are happy as long as we are doing what we love.”
And if it all gets too much, it’s said that quitting K-pop is not an option as record companies tend to have financial hold over their stars. A typical contract would see companies pay for venue bookings, travel and food, but if the expenses outweigh the earnings, the stars are expected to pay the company back.