It would not come as a surprise to many to hear news about an idol passing out due to exhaustion or getting hurt while rehearsing a difficult choreography. Unfortunately, it has also started to become apparent, that even more than the physical health, many celebrities have been suffering damage to their mental health as well.
It’s also not surprising news for most that South Korea has a very strict culture that encourages kids and teenagers to give their best always, it doesn’t really matter if they want to do it or not. Young Koreans are raised with the pressure to succeed in everything and they are not even allowed to let the thought of failure cross their mind.
This pressure is the main reason behind the high rates of teen suicide that affects South Korea nowadays. Everyday, about 30 South Koreans commit suicide. This video shows a bit of what it is like to live under this ideology:
Another thing that compromises the mental health of Korean teenagers is the fact that going to see a psychologist or psychiatrist is almost a taboo. The culture considers you weak if you go to one of these professionals, because it means you’re not able to deal with your own problems by yourself.
Unfortunately, suicide affects the K-Pop world as well, with the recent sad examples of the suicide of Leeteuk‘s father, the suicide attempt of Son Ho Young, and the suicide of a contestant on the SBS reality show “The Mate.”
It seems that day by day, the pressure is affecting more and more celebrities as well, even though, thankfully, only a rare few get to the point of trying to commit suicide.
When you audition for a company and become a trainee, you’re also signing up for a severe training schedule. You practically put your future and destiny in the hands of managers and allow them to control almost all aspects of your life from that point forward. Idols, especially girls, go on strict diets to get thinner and thinner. That is unfortunately the unrealistic beauty standard that Korea subscribes too. It gets to the point, for some of them, to decide to undergo plastic surgery in order to get “prettier.”
The documentary “9 MUSES of Star Empire” gives us a small idea of what it’s like to be a trainee in some companies. The girls are criticized all the time, treated like products that have to be sold and can be replaced anytime. They’re even afraid to tell their manager that they’re sick. Even though it may have been edited to make the situation look worse than it actually is, the documentary itself is very shocking (you can watch it here). I do suggest checking the trailer below first to decide if you feel you can handle the full documentary as it can be very upsetting to some.
In the documentary, there’s a moment where they go to see a psychiatrist and all the nine girls are diagnosed with some psychological disorders, from stress to depression. This is the result of the pressure and criticism they had had to face everyday in order to succeed in their careers.
After you pass the hard years of training and debut, the pressure just increases. You have to maintain your image no matter what. If you’re cute, you can’t do anything that your fans would disapprove, if you’re sexy, you have to agree with every decision about your clothing and choreographies that the company makes, no matter how unconfortable that will make you feel. That’s, of course, not to mention the series of rumors that you’ll have to face, going from dating rumors to things that netizens bring up just to destroy your career.
Even though 9Muses‘ situation was very shocking and very serious, there are lots of other idols who have had to agree to do things that they don’t want to do. In order to fit the Korean standards, IU once confessed about her crazy “apple diet” that made it possible for her to lose almost 9lbs in 4 days. Even newly debuted singer Lee Hi has talked about a product that her staff applied on her skin to make her look skinnier, and she did so as if it was something that was a normal situation.
IU and Lee Hi are not the only ones. When watching the show “WIN,” from which the soon to debut group WINNER was chosen, it was shown that the boys sometimes didn’t even sleep at night, in order to be able to practice more and more. Many idols have passed out onstage or ended up at the hospital because of exhaustion. It is also a possibility that they were staying away from food in order to look better onstage.
The famous singer BoA once said that she was even afraid to go onstage because of the pressure of being who she was. Another situation that shocked many fans was when KARA‘s Goo Hara broke down in tears because of a comment that Super Junior‘s Kyuhyun made about her relationships, which probably happened because she was already under a lot of pressure. The worst part – she was crticized by many people for not being able to control her feelings.
The pressure to be perfect can affect idols in many ways and some more than others. The most famous case is probably the bullying rumors of T-ara‘s Hwayoung, which were enough to make her leave the group.
Even though they were just rumors and nothing has been actually proven, Hwayoung did leave the group, which put T-ara in a very delicate situation. As if this whole story wasn’t enough, the member who replaced Hwayoung, Areum, soon left the group as well and even though the official statement said that she left to persue her solo career, it didn’t take long for rumors to come up about her being depressed as well.
Even though the new South Korean law to protect minors in the entertainment industry has gone into effect, the pressure on these youngsters has not decreased.
2NE1‘s Park Bom may not be a teenager anymore, but she has had her fill of trouble being accused of drug dealing. Although everything has been explained, there are many rumors about her using the anphetamines in order to get thin instead of as a prescribed medicine. YG has already explained that she was in a difficult mental health situation, but it may not be the case for many other idols that we don’t even know about.
We can never know what’s really happening with the idols behind the cameras. Who would guess, for example, that the smiley and cheerful Girl’s Day member Sojin would be diagnosed with high levels of stress and depression that even made her tear up?
The most recent case and the main reason why we decided to discuss this topic, was Sulli‘s decision to stop f(x)‘s promotions and step away from the entertainment world for a while. It’s completely understandable that Sulli has been suffering a lot lately with so many rumors pointing at her and so many mean comments about her on the internet, but the situation grew so large that she actually asked her agency to allow her some personal time away from the promotions. This is potentially a good indicator that she has been facing many problems in both her personal and stage life and that she hasn’t been taking care of them properly. Would the situation have gone so far if she had received good psychological support?
Giving all the pressure and the thing that come with it, it’s not surprising, then, how many artists go against their own labels because of unfair treatment. The best example would certainly be DBSK‘s break-up, but if you’re looking for a more recent situation, we can also mention Nicole‘s departure from KARA and Dongho‘s departure from U-KISS which, even though nothing has been confirmed, have certainly something to do with the relationship between them and their agency. And, of course, we have EXO Kris‘s current situation that hasn’t been sorted out with SM Entertainment yet.
There are some agencies, however, who make sure the mental health of their idols is as good as their physical one. JYP Entertainment, for example, has something they call “mental health class,” in which the idols take a moment to ease their minds and hearts and get rid of the stress that they’ve been facing. We can see how well that works because JYP Nation‘s artists are probably the most confident onstage of all companies.
Even though it’s a taboo in South Korea, shouldn’t the agencies consider taking better care of the mental health of their idols? Maybe if the idols had less emotional issues, they would even appear healthier and happier on music videos and onstage. We, as fans, don’t care if our idols are perfect or not. All we want is to see them as happy as they make us.
So what do you think? Should agencies be paying more attention to the psychological health of their artists?