Traits of Kpop and Jpop Industry: The Morality

Recently G-Dragon from Big Bang, a Korean boy band, was reported to be caught by authorities for smoking marijuana.


Because of this, the originally scheduled comeback of next month may be delayed. Even though G-Dragon didn’t smoke marijuana on purpose (“I smoked a cigarette that someone had given me at a club,” G-Dragon said. “The smell was somewhat different from that of a regular cigarette so I was slightly suspicious that it was marijuana, but it is true that I smoked it,” he said.) and his final punishment was light (a warning), his future in the entertainment world and the leadership in Big Bang is extremely dangerous. His morality will certainly be doubted in South Korea despite of the fact that he was actually pretty “innocent”.

This is the issue I am going to talk about today: the morality in Kpop (and Jpop).

As I have mentioned before, Kpop industry has been focusing on the perfection of their superstars and idols. As a result, these idols MUST make sure that they always look good (at home or at supermarket) with good fashion, good hair and good makeup on. When not weaing makeup, usually these stars will wear sunglasses and hats to cover their natural appearance in order to preserve the “perfect” and pretty image that fans have. And most importantly, they have to be perfect in their behavior, language, and relationships.

Many entertainment agencies forbid love relationships – if you really have one, hide it, hide it as deep as possible! The reason is that these stars need to be single, or “available”, to their fans all the time, so that the fans will feel how genuine the stars are toward them. Having a relationship will ruin the fantasy of the fans and therefore the stars will lose their popularity – and the lover will get severe attacks by fans. This may sound a bit crazy to new comers, but it’s in fact pretty accurate. Take the example of Jonghyun from SHINee. In October 2010, he revealed that he was in a relationship with Shin Se Kyung, an actress nicknamed “goddess” by her fans. The news was groundbreaking. Over night both Shin Se Kyun and Jonghyun was harshly criticized by each other’s fans, and anti-fan cafes grew rapidly. This couple eventually broke up in June 2011 “due to miss-match of their schedules” according to the agency of Shin Se Kyung. However the reason was debatable – SHINee hadn’t come up with new albums after Jonghyun got into a relationship, but when SHINee debuted in Japan and started preparing for new albums, they broke up.

Another huge issue the kpop industry cares about idols is their language and behavior. These stars may never ever swear in front of the camera, or give gestures to annoying paparazzi (well, there are exceptions for swearing like Super Junior, but they did so for an entertaining and funny effect for the real-life shows). They always NEED to smile, look happy and welcome their fans no matter how chaotic the situation is, or how rude and franzy the fans may be. They should NEVER express their opposition or dislike toward any other idols or entertainers, and fights and quarrels between group members are considered “disunity” and signs of breaking up. These stars may never get caught being drunk, smoking or dirty-dancing. Certainly these idols need their own privacy and in deed they may have habits of smoking or going to clubs, but fans rarely get the chance to really see them doing so – it ruins the image.

Now let’s go back to G-Dragon. But why is this issue about marijuana so serious? It has something to do with the laws and common sense resulted from these laws and policies in South Korea. Unlike a super liberal country like the US (sometimes I think it’s too liberal), marijuana in South Korea – or in Asia in general, is not only something that’s illegal. It represents mental failure and serious immorality. Smoking marijuana equals stealing, robbing, raping and intentional injury – even drowning a baby. In addition to his singer and idol social status, this issue may have serious effect on him and his life. Luckily, due to the fact that he smoked the weed unintentionally and that the amount of the weed was very small, G-Dragon got a warning instead of going in jail.

The situation in Japan is very similar to the situaion in South Korea: no relationships, good behaviors, and good languages. So many times that an idol gets expelled from the agency or sealed because of underage drinking or street fighting. Uchi Hiroki, a former member of contemporary boy group NewS, is one perfect example. Uchi Hiroki drank alcohol when he wasn’t old enough in 2005. The command from the agency was almost immediate: He was forced to quit all kinds of performing activities immediately and was canceled the membership of NewS. He was pushed back to the dark behind the stage and was given a life-time cautious sanction. He was buried for 3 years until 2008, and in 2008 Uchi Hiroki finally stepped onto the stage again, but he could never go back to NewS anymore. Even though he eventually made it back to stage, the fame was gone forever.

Different from the entertainment world in the US, the morality standard in Asia (mainly Korea and Japan as I discussed) is a lot more strict for the superstars, and the consequences of the violation is a lot more serious too. These superstars in Kpop and Jpop industry truly are not only doing their job just on stage – they are carrying the burden of being idols every moment of their lives, and they are always working, establishing and maintaining the “perfect image” that’s vital to their survival.

This entry was published on October 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm. It’s filed under J-pop, K-pop, The Traits and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

20 thoughts on “Traits of Kpop and Jpop Industry: The Morality

  1. momo on said:

    i believe that its something important to have morals and ethics as an idol !!!!! Because being an idol is not only entertaining the public or achieving dreams or following passion….etc , it is being an example for the public so you have to reflect the good self , as we can see how are the US idols reflecting their self’s and how the public are imitating them even if they were in the wrong path , i think the k pop industry need to give those idols what is considerable in the same time doesn’t dissent morals and ethics , that`s why i love k pop more than a pop . 🙂

  2. Bruce Zhou on said:

    Morality is important! Otherwise it’s a slippery slope.

  3. I don’t know much about K-Pop (or speak much Korean) but what I’ve heard is pretty good. One of my wife’s nieces came to visit us in Canada and she brought a whole bunch of music with her, including 2NE1. Sometimes when I ask my wife what she’d like me to make for dinner, she’ll say “I don’t ca-a-a-a-a-are!”, just like in the song. Pretty catchy!

    I also like some J-Pop (Hamasaki Ayumi, Utada Hikaru, Hitomi), The China Dolls (from Thailand), and old Vietnamese ballads ( by singers such as Ngoc Lan, Kieu Nga, Ai Van, etc. I can understand more Vietnamese than Korean, but still not much). Sometimes not knowing the lyrics’ meaning is a good thing… the vocals becomes another instrument. Sometimes songs in a language you do understand has great intrumental tracks and wonderful vocals, but the meaning of the lyrics is superficial and without soul. If you don’t understand, your imagination can make the vocals mean whatever touches your heart the deepest.

    As for music management in K-Pop making art an industry of conformity and “purity”, this might not be the best thing, musically speaking. A lot of great music in the West is born out of the writer’s or singer’s struggles with love, drugs, and other life challenges. On the other hand, in the US, especially, there is a powerful gang culture that may or may not be glorified by certain musical genres. I’m sure Koreans don’t want the same kind of thing happening in their own country!

    • Haha I did not expect your wife to be so interesting 😀
      I am glad to know that you actually like K-pop, well Asian pop in general. Kpop IS catchy!
      And I can’t agree more with you on the lyrics part. Sometimes it ruins a great song when I look up the lyrics. The vocals and the instrumentals is really what makes a song moving.
      Yeah I also agree with you on the issue about the industry. Well there is as well a branch of K-pop that kind of “aids” the gang culture, but luckily this branch is not so big – so those hit songs will usually not fall into this branch (unlike in the US the hit songs always include some really inappropriate songs). Also I totally agree that this goal of reaching purity and uniformity really sets a limit on how far Korean music can go. But this unique style certainly creates an interesting music industry with the sacrifice of some alternative genre of music.

  4. First of all I don’t think smoking marijuana in south korea does not considered as awful and unforgivable behavoiour such as stealing, murdering or raping. You went to far with that. If you think about it western society’s attitude toward marijuana is rather nominal . Lady gaga or amy winehouse for example openly talk about drug use or weed but it did not even the slightest bit affected their carrer. I don’t think usa is liberal but just korean culture represents the contrary of this maxim ” don’t judge books by its cover” like you said those stars only cares about looks and fame . So I think this issue depends on societal value in south korea they only care about titular and looks … Which is very sad and I think one of reason why korean pop can not appeal to the world like british and usa music appeals to the world. And how do we fix this ? I don’t know. Should we just sit around and accept the way it is ? Or is it fans responsibility ? Or agency’s responsiblity ?! I think it lies on individuals thoughtful thinking about their culture. They need to sit back and how korean pop culture is heading toward to its end.

    • > So I think this issue depends on societal value in south korea they only care about titular and looks … Which is very sad and I think one of reason why korean pop can not appeal to the world like british and usa music appeals to the world.

      I am not trying to sound rude, but I do not see how these two things relate.

      I don’t know much about K-Pop but I have no problem believing that so much of it is driven by looks and image. However, that does not sound particularly different from how pop works in the West.

      Honestly it has been my experience that people in the West, or the U.S. more specifically, are not interested in Korean or Japanese music simply because it’s in a language that is not English.

      • Again I agree with you. In my opinion, the importance of look is not negligible anywhere in the world – look at the Western music industry! Yes they do focus on talent and individuality more, however at the same time they use so much airbrushing and photoshoping to make the stars look good on albums, magazines and stars would choose extreme ways to lose weight (drugs, vomiting, smoking, eating parasites) in short period of time for upcoming events instead of really giving effort to stay fit by diet and work-outs(I watched many American “revealing truth” TV programs about these features). So I don’t see how “looks and titular” make korean pop not popular worldwide. And I totally agree on that culture and language difference – English songs get the most attention because there are the biggest number of people that speak or at least know English!

      • I am not the one who easily get offended in discussion, so do not worry about being rude ! I totally agree with your opinion. The most reasonable reason that Korean Pop culture can not appeal to western world is because of its language and culture. But how do you explain my case? when I was young I remember listening to Toxic by Britney Spears and other pop songs from usa. I did not understand a bit, but i liked it because it sounded good. Thus I partially disagree that your opinion that US is not interested in Korean or Japanese music imply because they are in a foreign language.

        One of reason why i think looks and titular hinders Korean Pop culture to be worldwide is that Koreans put emphasis on things that Western culture would not. For example, in Korean pop culture people put their emphasis on how perfect they look in conventional way – hair, fashion and makeup. But in Western culture they more put emphasis on – uniqueness, shock values. The latter values are more likely to appeal to wide audiences because these draw attentions that well dressed, nice haired beautiful girls and boys would never.

        • > I am not the one who easily get offended in discussion, so do not worry about being rude !

          I’m glad to hear that 🙂

          I am used to discussions online where disagreeing with someone is equivalent to personal insult, lol.

          > when I was young I remember listening to Toxic by Britney Spears and other pop songs from usa. I did not understand a bit, but i liked it because it sounded good. Thus I partially disagree that your opinion that US is not interested in Korean or Japanese music imply because they are in a foreign language.

          That’s a good point. And actually I have seen that reaction from *some* Americans regarding Japanese music. Like you say, they didn’t understand the language, but the music itself was interesting enough to hold their attention.

          > For example, in Korean pop culture people put their emphasis on how perfect they look in conventional way – hair, fashion and makeup. But in Western culture they more put emphasis on – uniqueness, shock values.

          Ah ok, I see what you mean. And I would have to agree with you that generally that seems to be the case.

    • lol fine I did get too far on the seriousness of marijuana, but if you think about it, marijuana is a lot more a big deal in Asia than in the US! And I agree with you about the nominal attitude toward drugs. However, there are lots of people who do drugs in the US (they may be just near you, you just don’t know – my cousin knows a couple of those kids at school, they act just as normal as others). The US is in fact a very liberal country in all aspects – not just on marijuana! What country allows private guns?! What country allows limitless critics and opposition towar governments and officials?! What country allows extreme forms of art no matter what?! The United States of America was built with the words “freedom” and “liberty” on the day of declair of independence, Jun. Also I didn’t say the Korea is not liberal because the US is more liberal than it. Korea is still a very liberal country – the prosperity of the entertainment industry is a perfect exhibition of liberty already! Certainly the style of korean idol industry has huge flaws and needs changes, and the lives of those stars are pretty tragic in some aspect, but I think it’s also what identifies Kpop. Think if korean entertainment industry becomes just like American ones, then the special part of it would be lost. I hope that the industry will have a reform (it’s actually getting better if you consider agencies like YG that decide to give idols freedom and privacy, and the frequent law suits recently and the change of “slave contract” in some agencies), but I also hope korean entertainment industry will keep its uniqueness as it grows.

      • > Think if korean entertainment industry becomes just like American ones, then the special part of it would be lost.

        As a curious outsider, what characteristics about Korean pop make it special or unique? (Ignoring obvious things like “It’s in Korean” lol). I’ve gotten the impression that the K-Pop industry has a lot of problems with regard to how they treat artists and idols. But like I said elsewhere, I’m pretty ignorant about Korean music in general. So I’m just curious what—from a fan perspective—makes it more charming or enticing than other forms of music.

        • I am Korean and i remember watching why korean pop is appealing to other asian countries. 1) Choreography that fan can easily mimic ( like yujie) 2) Cuteness of the group or image 3) Other TV entertainment shows where most idols and singers appeal viewers such as dramas, reality shows. etc. – thus fans can related to those groups ( mostly tv producers and writers write srcipt that can make groups and idols most appealing to the viewers i mean having charming personality.

  5. Nice article.

    Outside of the J-Pop circle (because I know next to nothing about Korean music) I have seen different reactions to this type of behavior. The most extreme example I can think of was in 1997 when Sakura, the drummer for L’arc-en-Ciel at the time, was arrested for possession of heroin. According to PR statements he ‘quit’ the band but I don’t believe anyone actually thought that was true; it seemed obvious that he was thrown out. And then CDs were immediately pulled off shelves.

    Interestingly that generated a large mixed reaction from the music community, which was not what I expected. A surprising number of people felt like throwing Sakura out of the band was the wrong thing to do (ignoring the fact he had to go to jail anyways). I think that can be partially explained by the fact that heroin does not have the cultural significance in Japan that it does elsewhere, particularly in the West; certainly it is considered a bad drug in Japan, but nothing seems to come close to amount of negative attention given to meth-amphetamines. Nonetheless, it didn’t bring an end to man’s career, although he’s never returned to that same spot-light since.

    All that said, something I have noticed is that it is *far* more fatal for a musician to say something negative about their management company. Off the top of my head Ami Suzuki is the one person whose career survived after something like that, and not without a long lull as a result. Go smoke marijuana or shoot up or whatever and it’s not going to completely end your career. But God help you if you don’t smile when you’re told to smile or say what you’re told to say.

    • Wow what a great point there! Yes! Certainly a singer can never say anything negative about his or her agency. I think of the lawsuit cases of HOT, ShinWa, TVXQ, and Super Junior… They all sued the agency (the funny thing is, it’s all one agency called SME), and almost immediately those members who sued would get harsh rejection and the agency would do dirty things to try to make them look bad. In the case of HOT, the agency dismissed the group and cut the members’ source of media support by buying broadcasting stations and programs, and rumors about the members were spread. Same things happened when ShinWa, 3 members of TVXQ and some members of Super Junior sued the agency….. What’ more, these stars who stood out were called “betrayers” because they “betrayed” the agency that promoted them. And of course even if they actually win the lawsuit, their career future will be a lot more ominous compared to before.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. I’d honestly hate to be an idol. It’s like totally throwing away your life to live to the standards other people set for you and there’s no room for mistakes. That’s one of the reason I don’t like Kpop or famous people, I feel like everything they do is fake. They seem like these artificial beings with no flaws and are always perfect. I guess that’s the sacrifice they make to stay in the industry.

    The whole issue with GD, I was surprised that they let him off with a warning. I mean regardless whether it was intentionally or not, he still smoked it. They could have gave him some other form of punishment besides “just a warning”. It kind of give the message that if you smoke unintentionally it’s perfectly fine. It’s the double standards that annoy me especially.

    Sorry for the long comment, I haven’t talked about this and I felt like ranting ^.^

    • LOLOL don’t be sorry!! I love seeing looooong comments 😀

      Yes it does give people a feeling that all about the idols are fake. It is a true tragedy that they have to give up their lives to become the people they want to be.

      I thought GD would be going to jail… I was actually relieved when I got to know that he got a warning only. But yeah it is pretty strange that he got away with just a warning. I am now thinking about some other stuff that may be lying underneath…. (remember the huge sex scandal in 2009 about those suicided stars?! I wonder what other dirty things could be going on…) not that I don’t trust GD, but it’s just that the industry try so hard to make everything appear perfect that it starts to become over the top by doing all the dirty stuff and hiding it.

      Yeah~ that’s what I think…. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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