The Late Capitalism of K-Pop

Share this video on

What's Hot

What's New

Top Grossing

Top of the Chart


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!).

dunyazade : Sad :(

Alonzo U : I have like a month or so that I've been entering the world of kpop, and I've already heard unnatural things from the business. One idol was told to lose 15 pounds in one week or she couldn't debut. The idol resorted to eating only ice cubes and expressed how she felt so weak that she was scared of going to sleep as she was afraid she wouldn't wake up.

AME C : Okay I think I understand better the appeal BTS had for me. I feel like in this context, they are trying to make itty bitty tiny steps to move from this mindset. I mean the music and MV's are still extremely calculated, produced and tailored, but, the three rapper are participating in the producing and lyric making, Yoongi even has a proper salary for it now i think. They are also trying to show the behind the scene with burn the stage. Yet at the same time it is still hard to be sure if it is truthfull or genuine...

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

OKI: Weird Stories : Brilliant video! Well done!

Evenstar : As a Korean, this is so spot on. I used to be a huge SNSD fan in my high school years, but now I can't really get into Kpop since I learned how manufactured everything is. And it's not just Kpop. It's a problem with the larger Korean society.

potbotra : most kpop fans will take offense to this video or at the least be defensive about it cos most of them are all in the system and relate to their fave groups as if there were fantasy football teams. but that's their problem. kpop's excess is its most interesting quality to me. they are slowly giving more ~creative freedom~ to their idols BUT i'm also not delusional that it means they're becoming more ~authentic. following american pop's footsteps - they too moved from an in-house type system to a more decentralized (and sp, hard to pin point) system, where it seems like everything arises naturally (but of course that's not the truth) - they're just turning into a more subtle beast, which given the algorithmic era we are in, will mutate in a completely different form. excited to see what that becomes.

roboky101 : This video was HEAVY. I generally find Kpop amusing but for some of the reasons you mentioned, I can't really get into it. It just comes off too fake/manufactured to me. You explained and elaborated on it in ways I never thought about. Kpop is catchy but knowing what I know, it feels hard for me to really enjoy it now because how controlled and manufactured it actually is. Good job!

Pvk Jhilk : well that explains k-pops decline over the past 10 years

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

Sascha : I remember, when the leader and main vocalist of Girls' Generation (Taeyeon 11:05) said that she's struggeling with depression. A lot of people started to hate her. They said things like "You are unprofessional". They made fun of her on TV. A few years ago, when she was openly talking about her mental illness, she was voted as the most hated KPOP-Idol. After that incident she stopped talking about her depression and the last time she looked sad/was crying in public was when her best friend and co-worker Jonghyun killed himself. I do not know how to explain this. Is this the systems fault? Or are the people in the world are really that cruel? I am a KPOP fan and I love Taeyeon. She is my favorite singer for 3 years now and I love Jonghyun as well. It really hurts to see them suffering. Or not being on this world anymore... THIS SYSTEM IS SICK.

Zenymn : Well, hold on, Korea was a kingdom before the us came. It has a history.

4eversupersonicgirl : incoming all the butthurt kpop fans protecting their unnies and oppas

서보국 : i think you miss some of background. imo,it is not because of capitalism rather it was market itself. although in dictatorship there was a censorship, but still there were variety of genre out there. because people buying album for listen their music. however after internet was popularized in korea, people didn’t buy music anymore. so korean entertainments today no longer earn their money with their album profit, they rather make idol and make people obsessed with them, so earn their money with concerts, idol goods, broadcast..etc. in conclusion i agreed with todays kpop has problem, but if we have bigger music market maybe kpop is very different from today.

Lucipurr : I appreciate how in depth this is. From my personal experience, a lot of kpop fans (especially younger fans) don’t understand that kpop behemoth groups, such as BTS, weren’t formed in a garage by some kids after school. Also, a lot of older individuals who bash kpop tend to go after the idols themselves, they don’t understand that the record labels are 100% responsible for the idols. They say things like “they have all this money, all this fame, and they make shit like this” with out realizing they are just people trying to make a living. This video is very, very well done. Subbed.

lyosha : probably the most in-depth video i've seen on the kpop industry, but this is still grossly oversimplified and you make a lot of generalising statements

Daira Fernandez : I would love to hear your take on BTS having such unprecedented success while breaking so many of the norms inside this industry. Do you think they're a sign of a possible change in paradigm or just a slight deviation from the norm?

ZWar101 : i love the music and dancing that the kpop industry creates, and i love my favorite idols for their charming personalities and admirable work ethic. and i know about a lot of what you talk about in this video, but it is certainly uncomfortable to face. i think i engage in a bit of willful ignorance, verbally condemning the treatment of trainees and rookie idols by their companies, while not thinking about it or being that critical of it in my day to day enjoyment of the genre. im not sure what to do about it, as i have no power over korea or korean laws, being an american. and i already do not buy albums from sm or the other large, problematic companies. but if i want to enjoy the music and the hard work that the idols put into what i, frankly, think is an incredible product, then i watch their videos and listen to their music on spotify. im not sure how to both enjoy something while not being supportive of the parts of it i do not agree with. additionally, i want to mention that the us concept of art being only worthwhile if the performer is 'genuine' is honestly horseshit. these idols pour their heart and souls into their work, to a degree that is unhealthy, and to say the art their hard work produces is not worthwhile simply because the idols were not the sole artists, or didnt write the songs or design the costumes or produce the music is a very narrow view of what makes art good.

ㅇStarYeon : Overall this was very interesting and I appreciate the effort that went into writing the script and producing the video content itself. However, you definitely missed the mark on some points and overlooked some major factors. One thing that I would like to pick up on is the reason why K-Pop is so focused on visuals and body weight. I think that the most important reason why this is the case is that the South Korean society as a whole is very judgemental in terms of looks. Although this judgement is apparent everywhere, in South Korea it's on a whole different level. From job applications to engagements, the weight of someone and the look of a person is judged. It's not uncommon for a job application in South Korea to require an ID photo attached so that the recruiter can judge your face and choose the most attractive candidate, and attractive tends to mean very slim. Furthermore, these idols have almost no choice but to succeed in K-Pop unless they are very slim. In fact, if idols gain a bit weight their company may not necessarily go mad at them but South Korean journalists and other internet users will write articles and post about highlighting this weight gain. The idols who are the skinniest/most slim have an advantage because that is what the South Korean general public is attracted to. It's not linked to capitalism as such because even in older generations there are current mothers/grandmothers who talk about their current partners parents were rejective to women who weren't very slim to marry their sons. This was well before K-Pop even rose to the level it's at now. There are a few other things I'd like to explain but that's enough for my hands to type.

RoachDoggJR : I don't particularly like your claim that K-Pop is a display of late stage capitalism. It feels to me not like a problem with capitalism, but a problem with Korean society. Asia doesn't have the long history of individualism and personal freedoms that we do in the west, so it doesn't surprise me that the cruel excesses of the K-Pop industry would go relatively unchallenged.

jammity : Really good analysis, even with the inconsistencies you identified. A lot of people down in the comments will tell you that the industry is changing for the better, that kpop idols now have more creative control- but it's important to note that most of these changes are only happening for boy groups though, so unfortunately the whole industry isn't changing.

A E : This is how Disney celebrities come to be as well

Stagger Lee : So K-Pop is as far removed from actual music as you can get.

manu de hanoi : unless you intend to show us how free artists are under communism regimes, please correct the title of the video, and replace it with "The business of k pop". As far as the video goes, there is nothing specific to "capitalism".

Jay Boyd : As a teenage girl who listens to K-Pop almost religiously, this put what I'd seen and heard of the industry into words. Though one thing that truly resonated with me though was how you mentioned that the company controls every aspect of the idol's career. This reminded me of how Chanyeol from EXO set up a SoundCloud once to post the music he wrote and produced on his own and how SM forced him to shut it down. Of course there's a plethora of other examples, but that's the one I thought of.

TrillionTeeth : North Korean music > South Korean music

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.

ceelar : This video has been popping up on my suggestions for a while and I never clicked it because, well, "Cuck Philosophy" doesn't really draw me in. I'm glad I caved, though. Interesting stuff.

ZWar101 : i would like to mention that kpop is not in any way the leading form of media that most south koreans consume. it is, at this point at least, very much an industry for the already devoted. most young adult koreans i have met really do not much like kpop and dont feel it represents their country or their culture. there is in fact popular music in korea that is not 'kpop'. so it is a bit demeaning to the korean people to claim that their desires are controlled by the companies whose products they consume. it may have been different during the second gen or "the golden age of kpop" but at this point in time groups like exo and bts are viewed as music and media made for only obsessed kpop fans specifically, namely young teen girls. many young adult koreans i know believe that the genre is 'trashy' much in the same way mainstream american culture views justin bieber or one direction.

Vilyus B. : I can see the resemblance of K-Pop industry to big sports. You have to start young, work like hell without any guarantees etc.

Eliah Holiday : I think the pop music industry in North America is already on this trend. It’s pure factory pumping out a product with little consideration for humanity. Soon though human artist will be replaced by computer programs and holographic images.

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

Ethan Tokko : Just to let you westerners know: We aren't always living in a Cyberpunk-ish suicidal dystopia. We are...doing fine. Sincerely, a South Korean.

shyam sundar : Not an issue with capitalism. Music industry is like this everywhere. Even in India, singers start as young as 12 and are put through a rigorous training process.

rubber band : This is somehow similar with the Japanese idol scene…

MrZeyami : Welcome to the machine

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

Yvonne Hoff : South Korean capitalism is...not quite free. Chaebols are essentially the modern equivalent of aristocrats given monopoly rights by the government. Or very limited competition, as seen with these three entertainment companies. The minimum wage and lack of labor unions aren't the real issue: it's the lack of a market that's actually free. Keeping wages artificially low by locking out organic competition, as opposed to keeping wages artificially high with a minimum wage -- which is protectionism for the unions. In both cases, workers get screwed over, either by low economic mobility or high unemployment rates. So yeah, the issue here is the unfree nature of the South Korean economy, not capitalism itself.

Magnus Ludvigsen : While some of the analysis is very well done, a big chunk of it seems very much based on dated information. While you mention some of the mistakes in the comments it's still used for the basis of your conclusion. But while still an industry which is quite bad behind the flashy facade, it seems to be shifting towards the better... which is how capitalism tends to work.

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.

aquaticko : This is what got me into Kpop, and South Korea, in the first place: it's quite honest about the socioeconomic framework in which it operates, and in which we are all currently living. It's so honest about its artificiality that it's actually very authentic, but it also shows just how unhappy and hollow life under capitalism so often is, especially in a country whose aesthetic traditions work in almost exact opposition to it. I'm quite glad that Korea's music scene is slowly evolving out of this very narrow framework, but the continuance of the socioeconomic conditions which gave birth to it--both in South Korea and in most of the rest of the world--is quite a sad thing.

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.

Howard Fisher : This is out of order.. Korean anarchist bands and artists need to tear this shit down.... and be careful they don't get coopted back in to the system!

acutelychronic : so in south korea, there can be no real rock n roll. no punk, no underground rap.. no soulful genuine sincere music.

Lewis Hales : Only a marxist can ruin kpop

Jeremy Jones : I feel bad for saying this but after all the grueling training and choreography you would think some of these girls would dance better

hoherspatz : sounds more like North Korea

tarkineWild : This kiddies is what is known as indentured servitude