From this point on I will be joining Kuro in doing a weekly commentary. This week I will be discussing a recent trend in K-Pop, bailing out of your contract. As always the following is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect those of the other Selective Hearing Staff.
Slaves to The System or Ungrateful for the Opportunity?
KARA is currently locked in a dispute with their record label (DSP) over many things. Most of the problems stem from the same issues that have affected other labels, mainly money & treatment of artists. We’ve seen this before recently with the whole SM & DBSK fiasco which resulted in the 5 member version of the group essentially breaking up (or being put on hiatus, whatever makes you more comfortable & able to sleep at night)
This makes the whole idol world look less than glamorous doesn’t it? Those of us who don’t buy into the hype machine already know this but there are still people out there who think being a pop idol is a wonderful world of rainbows, eternal sunshine & massive wealth. If that were the case we wouldn’t be hearing about these disputes would we?
This brings up questions of who is right? Are these long so-called “slave contracts” justified? Do the artists deserve fair treatment, shorter contracts & more creative & personal freedoms?
The whole “slave contract” from the labels point of view is to simply get the most out of their investment as they can. They spend a lot of money training their artists in dancing, singing, etiquette, dealing with the media and everything else it takes to be a top level idol. Some even go as far as to cover their artist’s accommodations and expenses and pay them a salary. (or allowance)
So what if they’re bound to the company for a long time? How else are they going to pay back all that was put into them? Yes people, the artists have to pay back everything given to them because it isn’t free. Wait? You thought they were given all these things? No my friends, everything is expensed against the artist’s future sales. These are called an advance. (a.k.a. a loan)
For those who don’t believe me I suggest you read Confessions of a Record Producer and This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Business and Legal Issues of the Music Industry. The second book may be a little dry since it’s written like a college level text book but both are very enlightening.
If the idols these Korean labels have under contract have to be worked a little harder to achieve the maximum number of sales so be it. They should be elated that they’re living their dream and have a legion of adoring and loyal fans. (& anti-fans) So what if they only get 2 or 3 hours of sleep and are getting medical conditions because of the amount of work heaped on them? They’re young and can recover fast. Right?
If you look at it that way it’s completely justifiable. It’s heartless and it’s cold but it’s also just business.
On the other side of the coin are the artists. Sure they are superstars but do the demands of the label come before their own personal and financial well being? Probably not but it also depends on how you see things. If you believe the artists are actually slaves than yes, your favorite idols are seen as nothing more than commodities or property of the labels rather than actual people.
They do deserve fair treatment but they have to earn it. Even if they’re the hottest artist on the roster it doesn’t mean that they automatically get a free pass to call their own shots. A bit of proven consistency and dedication to the company will loosen the reigns to the point where there’s a chance for more artistic and personal freedom and financial opportunity.
If you take a more practical and sensible approach these artists are not slaves. They (& their parents) must have known what they were signing up for. Anything worth having requires hard work and effort. There’s no easy road to stardom. (Despite what all the reality singing TV shows tell you) And to stay on top you have to put in even more effort and sacrifice many things.
Does that mean the label is being incredibly demanding or controlling? That would depend on the attitude of the artist and what they feel they want out of their career. Perhaps they feel they are being treated unfairly for all their blood, sweat and tears and would like a bit of compensation for that. Whether that’s financial or not is up to them.
Many fans will obviously stand behind their idols even if their careers are jeopardized or halted by the attempt to break free of the oppressiveness of the “slave contract”. There will be endless rooting for them to emancipate themselves from the evil company that gave them the shot at the stardom they enjoy. And of course the anti-fans will do the opposite and wish these groups a friendly demise
Again, depending on where you stand you can think of those who try to break their contracts as spoiled brats biting the hand that feeds them or as heroes of the industry blazing a new path for artist’s rights.
No matter what your stance you must also realize that it’s not only the idols and the labels that lose but you the fan also end up with nothing. You will be deprived of what you love most because of some sort of petty dispute. Time that could have been dedicated to making new music and performing is instead wasted on mudslinging and lawsuits.
The longer it takes to come to a resolution the harder it is to recover, especially at the light speed rate that K-Pop moves at and no one is safe from being replaced by a shinier and newer group that sings the same songs & plays ball with the label.
Who’s right? That’s up to you to figure out. If you have been paying attention you can take a guess at where I stand on this issue.