6 K-pop idols who were mistreated by their agencies
A career as a K-pop idol appears extremely lucrative. From highly paid endorsements to enviable celebrity status, the fishbowl lives of celebrity singers seem near perfect. But barring the extremely successful acts who become household names, a majority of those trying to achieve their dreams often fade into oblivion.
The industry can, at its best, be unkind to trainees, and at its worst, mete out inconceivable treatment to even established acts. When K-pop idols do not meet certain goals decided by the company, their retribution can be immense. From withheld payments to physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, idols can undergo unspeakable mistreatment at the hands of their agencies.
Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of s*xual and physical abuse.
OMEGA X, Lee Seung-gi, and four more K-pop idols suffered shocking treatment by their companies
The maltreatment of Korean idols and trainees is not a new phenomenon. It becomes easy to understand the exploitation when one realizes that most singers start off when they are in their early teens. Trusting the agency with their lives might lead to them signing unsatisfactory contracts that may cause bigger harm in the long run.
After their debut in 2014 under J.Tune Camp, MADTOWN worked as a group for two years and released three EPs, one single album, and a few collaborations before J.Tune Camp shut down and got acquired by GNI Entertainment.
Under the new agency, group members were not given any compensation and had to pay transportation fees, rent, and staff salaries out of their own pockets, according to a Dispatch investigation.
The CEO of GNI Entertainment was arrested for fraud, which prompted MADTOWN to sue the CEO and file an injunction to end their contracts. After the court ruled in their favor, the K-pop idol group went their separate ways and the disbandment was confirmed by Daewon and Lee Geon in 2018.
2) OMEGA X
In one of the worst cases of mistreatment of K-pop idols that came to light, OMEGA X revealed the s*xual, physical, and emotional abuse that the eleven-member group underwent by Spire Entertainment and its former CEO in a press-conference held on November 16, 2022.
The situation was brought to light by an exclusive SBS News report that spoke about their woes, including being forced to perform with COVID-19, drinking alcohol, and being subjected to harassment by the CEO, Kang Seung-hee.
At the press conference, the lawyers representing the K-pop idols mentioned that the agency was demanding compensation of about 400 million KRW due to falsified statements and OMEGA X had received no apology either. Despite all this, the group has promised fans that they will continue to make music and hopes that their statement strengthens those suffering.
Another K-pop idol group that has suffered due to mismanagement is NewKidd. They debuted in 2019 and have released just four singles (and two single albums) since then, which includes their pre-debut singles.
In 2020, fans were surprised to receive a statement from J-FLO Entertainment stating that three of the seven members would be unable to participate in group activities due to health issues, withholding their names for privacy. It became clear that Hansol, Jiann, and Seungchan were the ones missing. Fans believed they were overworked and hospitalized.
Sporadic and unclear updates from the agency, along with a lack of comebacks, and members randomly disappearing from content (apart from the members who enlisted), is a serious matter of concern among supporters of the group who have launched a petition to investigate this matter thoroughly.
Far from the only K-pop idol group that suffered under TS Entertainment, B.A.P. was the first to sue the label after repeated mistreatment but eventually reached an agreement with the company.
In 2014, all six group members filed for nullification of their contracts, citing a long contract and non-payment of all their dues. Group leader Yongguk discussed the repercussions of the lawsuit, stating that he was forced to move back with his parents and take on a part-time job to sustain the fees.
Despite their agreement with TS Entertainment, all members refused to renew their contracts once they expired in 2018-19, eventually disbanding the group.
5) Topp Dogg
Members of Topp Dogg sued their former CEO for mismanagement of funds during their tour in Japan, for which Cho PD, who used to lead Stardom Entertainment, was sentenced to probation with a chance of imprisonment in 2018.
The K-pop idol group underwent many changes after this incident. Under Hunus Entertainment, they reintroduced themselves as XENO-T, wanting to show a fresh side of the remaining five members (the original lineup had 13 members), despite the mistreatment by the previous agency.
6) Lee Seung-gi
Lee Seung-gi, one of the most well-known K-pop idols, recently revealed that he had not received payment for his music from his agency, Hook Entertainment. The singer was made to believe that he was a 'minus singer,' which refers to someone who generates losses for the company.
A recent statement by Seung-gi's legal representative, translated via Soompi, states that,
"Lee Seung Gi heard insulting and threatening remarks that are difficult to even say from the CEO and others, so he eventually decided after much thought on sending a certification of contents through a legal representative because he determined that beyond just the issue of the payment settlement for his music, a relationship of trust could not continue with CEO Kwon Jin Young as well as Hook Entertainment, which he has relied on like family while being together for a long time."
Fans were shocked by the years of mistreatment that the artist had to go through and are hoping that the issue will be resolved soon, with the K-pop singer getting his dues.
The K-pop idols mentioned in the above list provide a microscopic view of the mistreatment in many agencies that do not get much media attention. Solo artists and groups often work without pay, in terrible conditions, and with unfavorable contracts to get a chance at success and fame. An overhaul of the industry at large is needed to unveil all the unfair practices taking place under wraps.