“Before coming to Canada, I was a KPOP trainee in a small company. Music was always one of my major interests since I was young,” says Hyebin Kim, who was a part of the Durham College journalism program before going back to Korea in April and not returning this fall due to family issues.
Kim, 28, is in South Korea managing her family business.
Kim went through a series of mental health issues due to her trainee days.
“Being a K-POP trainee means you have nobody to talk to,” says Kim. “Back then, I was not allowed to have any friends outside the company, no boyfriend, completely isolated. I could not even speak to my parents during that period.”
Kim is not the only one who went through such hard times and some have spoken up and some have not.
Jung-Je Won known as One is a rapper who in an interview with Vice magazine said that his life was stifling while he was training to be a KPOP idol hence he quit.
Back in 2017, a very popular member of a popular boy group SHINEE took his own life. Jonghyun was 27-years-old when he took his own life and left a suicide note about how he was struggling with depression.
In his note, Jonghyun said being famous had given him a big blow.
This industry puts so much pressure on trainees they either succumb and take their lives or live a miserable, lonely existence. The hate these artists get from rival fans also known as saesang, scares them and it is hard not to believe they are depressed but still keep a smile on their face.
Being a trainee is hard.
Kim was told by her boss that if she broke her contract, she would have to pay around 10 million dollars, or she would be sued.
“Being a K-POP trainee was hard. Practising for 24 hours and they just gave us an apple to eat for an entire day. The boss of the company I joined in told me to get some plastic surgery, because of my uncommon looks.”
“Plastic surgery is a cultural thing in the Korean Culture. You need to look pretty in order to fit in. Looking physically good is like a big thing in Korea,” said Mehreen Khan, the President of the the Korean Culture Club at Durham College.
Khan met Kim in 2019 when she joined the Korean Culture Club’s Korean Thanksgiving event.
Khan knows how to speak, read and write Korean. “I first came across an infographic on how to speak Korean in 15 minutes. That’s when I started to get into the Korean culture,” says Khan, who is from Abu Dhabi.
K-POP is impacting people in a good or bad way all around this world. It has a huge effect on people around the world grabbing the attention towards their long-lasting beauty, skinny bodies and dance skills.
“The older generation were mistreated a lot, but the new generation is not being mistreated by these industries nowadays,” says Khan, who got into KPOP back in 2016.
“The Korean pop industry is very transparent. It is not what we see. Major edits are a part of such a mess,” says Khan.
The Korean artists are put on a rigorous diet, with strict training for 24 hours a day just to achieve the perfection of a performance. One of the biggest and the most famous groups in Korea was EXO back in 2012. They won many awards.
The three Chinese members of EXO sued SM and they left because they were being mistreated by SM Entertainment just because they were from China.
Kim left her trainee days and migrated to Canada.
She said,” I left the company and told my manager to never call me back again or try to contact me. I would never come back to this industry.”
Kim is still scared to pursue her dream to sing. She has a flashback of what mental stress she went through while being a trainee, and she cannot do it all over again.
“I can never go back or even produce my own music. I just cannot. I also am old now, so I do not have a chance to return back to the industry even if I wanted to,” says Kim.
Kim says that she has a full-time job now.
She says,”I am managing my dad’s business and looking after my family.”
Although Kim went through a lot of ups and downs, she still tries to be positive and live happily.
But deep down, she is still haunted by those terrible days.