The Late Capitalism of K-Pop

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Cuck Philosophy : Some corrections on the things I’ve said in the video: - The 13-year long contracts have not been legal since 2009. It is now limited to 7 years. - I say that Jessica is a member of Girls Generation, but she hasn’t been since 2014. - I say that in the 90s, “with the advent of the internet, South Koreans became familiar with American pop culture”. This is inaccurate as South Koreans had access to American culture long before that. What I meant to say was that the liberalization of media and communications technology in the 90s made American culture easier to access, which led to a growth in its popularity. In addition, it must be noted that some of the things I mentioned do not apply across the board to all trainee situations, for example, dating is not prohibited to ALL trainees and not all trainees have to pay back the money spent on training. As in any large industry, there are exceptions. There are, of course, also changes happening in the industry, but this video was more of a broad outline of how K-pop developed. Any comments involving news on legal and social developments in the K-pop industry are very welcome. Thank you for the views and the comments, I really appreciate it!

Ganja Mozart : Loved the astute analysis (I’m Korean and so it was extra fascinating!).

OKI: Weird Stories : Brilliant video! Well done!

Syon : 9:36 >24 Ireland >Flag of Iceland Hmmmmm

Scott Erdmann : I lived in Korea for three years and was completely saturated by the cultural phenomenon you are trying to talk about. All the images, bands, movies, and other forms of commodified culture you referenced or showed in the video were constantly in the backdrop of my daily life there. It was everywhere in public life. Your analysis is definitely spot on in many ways, especially when you talk about how self-referential everything gets once capital generated this weird simulacrum of images copying, exaggerating, and canabalizing each other endlessly. I especially love how you contextualize this in the modern developments of Korean history to emphasize how the material conditions of labor in Korean society generated this kind of pop culture on steroids aesthetic. This is some truly original work. BTW, I lived in a city called Yeosu which was right next to a city called Suncheon. Both of these cities suffered terrible massacres of leftists, student activists, and artists way back in the day. I think the casualties actually reach into the 100,000s when you add up the toll of all this violent oppression. These massacres are still definitely apart of the collective memory of the people still living in those regions today. I was an English teacher there and had quite a few students tell me about them.

Hyperion : As a professional dancer myself, the western ballet world seems quite similar to K-pop industry training..

bfchang : fantastic, this is fulfilling my YouTube essay craving

Kanelel : The more I learn about Korea the more it seems like a cyber-punk setting. Great video.

Hubris M : Wow, sometimes the youtube's suggestions actually points to nice things!

faded fella : People are pressured to become dehumanized tools for success in markets.

John Alich : At around 3 minutes you give out some misinformation. Koreans weren't exposed to American pop culture in the '90s. They've been exposed to American culture for much longer than that, because they had readily available access to American movies, TV shows, and music through various outlets. None of them being illegal, btw, unlike Japanese or Chinese entertainment. On TV, you had AFKN (Armed Forces Korea Network), a US military TV station that caters to Americans stationed at the military bases and embassies in South Korea. There was no restriction to it's broadcast, because it was viewed through over-the-air antennae transmission. It's still broadcasting today, except now exclusively through a cable connection, and it's now called AFN (Armed Forces Network). AFKN also has a radio station that was also readily accessible so Koreans always had access to American pop music. American movies played regularly in Korean theaters, and the '80s saw a huge popularity boom in VHS rentals. Most of them being unedited American films. Up until recently, you even had video bangs (video clubs) where you could actually rent out a small decked out theater rooms to watch rented VHS tapes or DVDs. Koreans have been exposed to American media for a very long time. It's just that the political environment of the '80s and before wasn't conductive to a flourishing entertainment industry. The government wanted to focus more on industry and technology during those years.

96fps_from_mars : Your have a theme of powerful, perhaps accusatory, final lines. Their impact is heightened when the video immediately cuts with no endscreen. The message of the video is not to subscribe, like, or anything, it's entirely devoted to the topic it covers.

Marko Stravamir : Long term tendency is to produce everything the way you make cars. 100 years ago on a Ford production line one worker had to to many operations. Now workers work on a Toyota style line - each worker puts in one or two crews and the screw drivers have electronic meters to tell them when to stop turning the screw. Lost of control over their work makes people feel alienated and quite dissatisfied. Of course, behind this is the logic of commodification of labor. As each worker performs an operation that is as simple as possible, the worker does not need a formal education nor a lot of on the job training. This makes the work force disposable. The end point of such a work is to simply replace the human with a machine. For this to be possible the idea of standardization is really important. Every screw is the same, every worker is treated as the same, every car is made to be the same even as it can be customized by the customer. This logic is being applied to everything from video games production to retail and distribution. You slice every job to its minimum components and hire managers to organize these processes. This is how we end up with workers in diapers, their toilet brakes have to be planed too. Efficiency.

Abyssal Mang : Damn. life isn't like my Taiwanese comic books.

Frank Delgrosso : Damn it. K-pop vids are so good though. But now watching them will feel like putting on a baby seal coat lined with polar bear tears.

upchuckles : Great video! fyi "eo" in Korean romanization is pronounced like "uh". It's confusing because there are 2 romanization styles. In one of them, "eo" makes an "uh" sound and "u" makes an "oo" sound, and in the other, "u" makes an "uh" sound and "oo" makes an "oo" sound. "Seohyun" is in the first romanization style. If it was in the second, it would be romanized as "Suhyoon", I believe. (I am not a native Korean speaker so I could be wrong.)

Basaltq : Okay this was amazingly informative. How on earth this only has 1630 views?

Kate R : i wonder if its exactly the same in other east asian pop industries, or if the specific circumstances of south korea’s history led to such a wide spread inescapable system.

hohoho hohohoho : I'm glad to find vids like this, so informative and truly critical. But it still just shows the bad sides of the kpop industry, and yeah i guess there are more bad things on it, but it's not as dark as people always say and in these late years it has changed a lot, giving a bit more freedom to the idols in some aspects. But it's still good to consider it still has a lot to develop. . Anyway, thank you for making this video.

Mina Minari : Finally a video on kpop that's well researched and put together! However I wanna add that this video is a tad dramatic. While idols don't have a lot of creative freedom, its not obsolete. Normally, if an idol can gain the trust of their agency, they'll get to write and sometimes compose their own songs. A lot of the examples you used are from SNSD (which makes sense, they're asia's no. 1 girl group) but they debuted 10 years ago, so a lot has changed. Jihyo and Chaeyoung from twice write a lot of the songs, and just recently Soyeon from g-idle wrote and composed their debut song, and co-wrote all b-sides. That's all, bye ^^

Hans Heintze : Thank you this is the best video essay i have seen in months.

Kiina : Actually in 2009 the FTC ruled you can't make contracts over 7 years. Also Jessica left Girls Generation a long time ago, same with Seohyun, she left before the video was published. Also you said they have to repay the training cost, which is true for some company's but the wardrobes they wear for performances or music videos are mostly sponsored or rented, so they won't have to pay for them. Lee Sooman isn't the CEO of SM since 2010, I know it is probably a citation of an old article but if facts change this should be pointed out. The Show is called "Big Brothers" and it was a talk show which has no connection to the "Big Brother" franchise, just so nobody is confused. I can look over the bad pronunciation but all the little mistakes make it seem like it was badly researched. Also while illegal downloads in korea are kind of a big thing, so are legal downloads, you can see a lot of Singles getting a million legal downloads. Groups like BTS, Wanna One, Exo can sell a million physical copies of one Album.

ActuallyAnanya : This video I think has good intentions however many points are seemingly under-researched and vastly generalising. I'll go through some here: 1. Your implication that all kpop is 100% manufactured by the company and that the idols themselves have little to no say in the music. While this is still true in many cases, there are several exceptions to this rule with many idols participating in composing, lyric-writing, choreographing, and in some cases even music video direction. The artists you cited as the first kpop act ever, Seo Taiji and Boys, are very well-known for writing and composing their music from the start. On their debut album, 8 out of 10 tracks were written and composed by members of the group. 2. The 13-year contract is no longer legal under South Korean law. I believe the maximum is now 7 years, after which you can renew the contract or choose to terminate it. 3. Jessica is no longer a member of Girls' Generation as of 2014 and is no longer signed to SM Entertainment. 4. While some companies have dating restrictions, this is by no means generalisable. SM for example do not have a dating ban and several idols from their company are or have been in public relationships, some even with each other. 5. The implication that idols are robbed of an opportunity to have friends is definitely incorrect just by looking at how many idols are friends from training together, even if they did not end up in the same group. Take for example Suho from EXO and his close relationship with the members of SHINee, with whom he trained (though he didn't get to debut with them). Another is the friendship between Taemin (SHINee), Kai (EXO) and Timoteo (Hotshot - in fact he left SM after not getting to debut in EXO, but the friendship persisted). These are just a few examples. These friendships are of over 10 years, and to act like they don't exist and that all trainee life is solitary is misrepresentation. By its very nature, you are always surrounded by other trainees. 6. A follow-up to the previous point, idols still go to school and have friends there. Some idols, depending on when they were casted, may have even finished school. Baekhyun and Chen of EXO trained for only a few months before debuting at the age of 19, and they clearly lived a full school-life. Some trainees, such as Johnny Suh from NCT, trained part-time, thus only training during school vacations. Quite frankly, due to the competitive nature of the Korean education system and the difficulty with which one enters university, most teenagers don't have time for their own pursuits between school, homework, and cram school. So for many, choosing the trainee life is a way to actually be able to follow their ambitions. Some idols even go to university while doing their schedules, in fact Xiumin from EXO achieved a Masters in Music and may be pursuing a PhD. 7. Not all companies require you to pay back the money spent on training you, in fact bigger companies such as SM expressly bear the entire expense by considering it a necessary investment. You can leave SM during trainee life at any time and you will not owe them anything. 8. Pretending like this system is exclusive to East Asian pop music is just false. Pretty much the exact same training system existed in Motown in the American music industry. And it's impossible to deny that the American pop music industry is still largely manufactured, with a big emphasis on visuals and branding. There have already been a number of legal reforms which kpop companies have changed policies to adhere to, and it will change even more for the better in the future. The youth of the kpop industry is why we see these factors, but when it reaches the age that the American and British music industries are now, I'm sure things will look very different. In general I think a lot of what you said... has been said before. None of this is exactly a secret, to idols, prospective trainees, or fans. At this point even teenagers know exactly what they're in for when auditioning, as it is so highly publicised. I agree with you that the kpop industry has a long, long way to go before it is fair to its idols, however I think this analysis was a bit too one-sided in that it didn't recognise any of the steps that HAVE been taken to improve already.

anastasia c : Most of this happens in smaller companies. The big three are wealthy enough that they can afford to treat their artists, even trainees well. Still it's a tough industry. Also when they've reached a level of success, idols gain more freedom to producing or writing their own music. It's getting better but there is definitely still pressure for idols to act and look a certain way. I think this is more cultural than purely based on capitalism. No doubt the goal is profit but the pressure is very much ingrained with a fear of failure.

Calf : Most of the examples are from SM entertainment, easily the most cruel and unfair company in all of Kpop. Not every company or group struggles as bad as in these examples. Especially in lesser known companies.

shxneexo : This video was structured well and you made a lot of relevant points and I'm not usually one to defend South Korean entertainment companies but I do think it's important to note the change that is currently happening within the K-Pop industry. You based a lot of your points on how strict companies can be on (my queens) Girls' Generation, who were the lead girl group of the so-called 'second generation' of K-Pop. This is important because there's quite a big difference between how the second generation groups were treated compared to the third/current generation. Companies are gradually giving their idols more creative freedom compared to the notorious treatment their veteran groups received. If you take a look at NCT for example, the newest group under SM Entertainment (the same company as Girls' Generation), members such as Ten, Mark & Taeyong have all emphasized their roles in lyric writing and choreographing. There are many other groups I could talk about that have similar creative control but I'll briefly mention the phenomenon that is Seventeen, a group that compose, choreograph and write lyrics for all of their music. I believe this change in the industry's control is a result of the gradual spread of K-Pop to the West. Our music industry is run so differently that we heavily criticize Korea's and our negative comments haven't gone unnoticed by the industry's leaders. Entertainment companies have a long LONG way to go before their artists have a real say in the music they release, and sadly I don't think I'm gonna see companies treating their idols humanely in my lifetime, but it's definitely important to note the progress that IS being made.

ur couzin : It's another episode of westerners telling Asians what they can and can't like, while claiming to stand up for them. Also has this guy been completely ignorant of the music industry prior to this video? Of course it's all fake and over produced. Mainstream music always has been. And has this guy just become aware of asian culture? This extreme work ethic has always been present is asia. Blaming capitalism without even acknowledging culture is just blatantly ignorant.

Nathan Nam : Isn't this the same with all Asian idol systems? Like the idols in Japan?

Miss Oblivious : God bless those poor idols.

leastcommondinominat : I have a college friend that was a trainee at one of the big 3 for about 3 years. What you said about the weight thing was 100% true. She was so traumatized by the experience that she decided to pursue her education in America. Although no one will know Jonghyun's exact motive to commit suicide, in his last letter he did question his decision to go into the entertainment industry.

sugarkang : Although this video is presented from a socialist point of view, I enjoyed it, I only wish there was a bit more balance.

zaffri : oh god.. :-( the knew the idol industry was so fucking bad but having it reaffirmed is so sad. i feel bad for enjoying some kpop.

Spencer Bernhard : Well now Jonghyun's suicide sadly makes more sense. What a sad life

love always kate : I feel like the music is over produced and its too unnatural

midnight kitsune : Does this mean we have to sacrifice kpop in order to reach fully automated luxury gay space communism? ...I'm not sure if I can do that.

DJheapzgood : I am always very skeptical about exactly what point is trying to be made when I hear these types of criticisms of the K-pop industry. I'm not denying the truth of the issues raised in the video, nor do I support the abuse suffered by many trainees and idols; however, to me, these sorts of analyses always come off as attempts to delegitimise K-pop as an art form. The bottom line of this video is that, in many cases, music industry employees are over-worked and mistreated; however, this is the reality across virtually all industries in South Korea. A significant cultural and political shift is needed in the country to amend this, but there is no logical reason to centre this discussion around K-pop. Music is not delegitimised if it is the product of many brains working together. There is no reason why performers must have (or even necessarily want) creative control over that which they perform - they are simply one part of the production in the same way that lyricists, instrumentalists, producers, etc. are, the only difference being that performers are the most visible people in the operation. The notion that performers must also be creators is entirely misinformed - do we expect actors to be involved in the script writing process? The art that is produced by the K-pop industry does not necessitate mistreatment in order to come into fruition. So the only point to be made here is, let's keep enjoying K-pop and hope that in the meantime South Korea continues to shift towards being a culture that motivates its people through positive and caring means, rather than via the channels of intimidation and cruelty.

Tokyo Arrow : As someone who speaks both Korean and Japanese and did my thesis on comparing the industrial reformation of several European and Asian countries, I would like to point out a flaw in your reasoning. Yes, South Korean capitalism is oppressive, but the reason for this is because they are still in the early stages of this shift. The UK, France, US, Germany and japan all went through the same oppressive early period which gradually morphs as the economy reaches its potential to be in-keeping with a developed country. I’ve been to South Korea, and despite the glamorous media portrayal, the reality is that they’re still developing in many ways - 2nd world rather than 1st. Even Marx predicted that the oppressive phase of capitalism would pass as we move towards a new phase. He was right about that, but he was wrong about what that phase would be. In the West, we still have capitalism, but our version of capitalism is far less oppressive because our wealth has reached a point whereby even the average poor lead comfortably (in comparison to developing countries). Also, your criticism of capitalism leaves out one GLARING control... North Korea, which proclaims itself to be socialist. I’ll grant you that North Korea is not the best example... but then again it’s hard to find a good example of any state that isn’t capitalist. USSR, NK, Maoist China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, are/were all horribly oppressive regimes. In conclusion, capitalism begins horribly oppressively as the country goes through a process of rapid economic expansion. As the expansion begins to level off and the wealth spreads around, we see time and time again that conditions improve, and that QOL is significantly better than under any other system. Furthermore, liberal freedoms and the focus on individualism means that prosecution of groups is far less likely (though arguably America has some issues in this regard).

Dundo Der Dumme : I compleatly agree. I always had the feeling, K-Pop was manufactured, but I didn't know it was this overdone. I think I was never really interested in K-Pop because it didn't feel genuine. In comparison, our western music industry seems like heaven, even though it can be very cruel too. The most creative music always comes from bottom up scenarios, the Korean model is the exact opposite. Sad, because I believe the Korean people have great capacity for excellent music.

Blackmage4001 : So K-pop idols go through the Michael Jackson childhood.... That's just sad.

CommanderCronus : Seeing non-kpop fans criticize kpop is like reading steakhouse reviews writen by vegans.

Nicole Simone Alexander : Really interesting video, I have been living in Korea the past 6 months and thought I would fall in love with KPop but haven't. I'm a musician myself and appreciate pop music especially groups like Pentatonix and The Piano Guys who take pop music and make it into creative fusions and arrangements. I'd like to point out that capitalism produces this as well as K Pop. Like you say Kpop and modern Korea embodies the shadow side of capitalism. However capitalist societies also produce most of what we call art. Whereas socialism stulifies creative expression in order to conform with ideology. I don't know any examples of this with pop music but I know that Shostakovich, a classical composer in the USSR could only express his true musical voice in his string quartets which were privately performed as opposed to his public symphonies.

MrPugg : You my dude. You just took Anime to a New level

dunyazade : Sad :(

J M : Jessica Jung isn't in Girls' Generation anymore.

Pink Elephant : oh god. hwy did he include the heechul ad. I can't stop laughing now

gogetyourgun : I watched a video of interviews with 2 north Korean defectors. What really stood out to me is that this one north korea man stated he didn't contemplate suicide while in North Korea. However, when he went to university in South Korea and is now competing with other south koreans, he felt he was extremely behind and not adequate enough. He was studying long hours, not fitting in with student, so he started to contemplate suicide. You would think that since he lived in an oppressive shithole country that he would contemplate suicide there, but the total opposite happened. He also observed a disconnect between family members in South Korea. In the North, families were more connected since they were all they got. But since South Korea is saturated with consumerism, materialism, etc., it seems people are way more interested in making money and material things since those qualities are more likely to get you respect amongst a capitalist society. There really needs to be some sort of workers rights reform since South Koreans are dealing with high suicide rates. In North Korea, you're a slave to Kim Jong Un, but in South Korea, you are a slave to private corporations. Of course South Korea is a way better place to live in than North Korea, but what the North Korean man said about his experience with suicide was extremely telling.

Bamo Steel : Hi I see that everyone has commented here just recently so I will write mine as well: here are my two cents: I really like the idea of the video and I agree with it having truth to it but would really like to agree with it %100. But the problem is: Although I dont know anything kpop industry. I cant help but feel like you have oversimplified it here a bit. It does have a bit of altright conspiracy tone to it that I dont like (and please take this as constructive). Maybe say rather: (introduction/ general idea of kpop industry). Surely there is more to this than television came first --> kpop happened --> people got exploited. I hope what I want to say is clear and keep it up. Always nice seeing leftist videos on YT.

peaceofpi : Welp I'm now officially disgusted with myself for enjoying k-pop

Nicole Simone Alexander : Really interesting video, I have been living in Korea the past 6 months and thought I would fall in love with KPop but haven't. I'm a musician myself and appreciate pop music especially groups like Pentatonix and The Piano Guys who take pop music and make it into creative fusions and arrangements. I'd like to point out that capitalism produces this as well as K Pop. Like you say Kpop and modern Korea embodies the shadow side of capitalism. However capitalist societies also produce most of what we call art. Whereas socialism stulifies creative expression in order to conform with ideology. I don't know any examples of this with pop music but I know that Shostakovich, a classical composer in the USSR could only express his true musical voice in his string quartets which were privately performed as opposed to his public symphonies.

elijah brown : all art should be excessive