Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Exploitation of Minors in the K-pop Music Industry

A deep dive into the dark waters of an unethical business
Photo Courtesy of ADOR, HYBE Labels. Members of NewJeans from left to right: Minji, Hyein, Danielle, Hanni, Haerin.

Introduction to NewJeans

NewJeans has undoubtedly cemented their place in the K-pop industry. The quintet— consisting of Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein— are known for their “girl next door” image. Their signature relaxed style evokes a nostalgic feeling for current listeners: a sharp contrast to the heavy EDM tracks and overwhelming songs produced by current K-pop groups. 

Since their debut in the summer of 2022, the group has achieved international fame and shattered record after record, some of which were set by big names in the K-pop industry such as BTS and Blackpink. The group is the fastest K-pop act to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify, achieving the feat in just 262 days, and becoming the first K-pop female act to perform at Lollapalooza.

However, beneath all the unprecedented fame lies a troubling issue: the exploitation of minors in the K-pop industry.


Minors Have Debuted in K-pop before; why is it so problematic now?

While NewJeans’ success is undeniably remarkable, the K-pop industry’s dark underbelly raises concerns about the safety, both physical and mental, of its young talents. The employment of minors, a practice ingrained in K-pop since its inception, is facing increased scrutiny, especially after the debut of NewJeans. 

Young aspiring idols often start training as young as age seven or eight and usually dedicate their entire childhood to debut. During their training period, these trainees follow a rigorous training schedule, which usually lasts around 18 hours. 

Despite the grueling training days, it usually takes several years before a trainee has the opportunity to debut yet only 10% actually make it to this stage. Of the groups that debut, less than 1% are successful. 

Even when the trainees become part of a successful group, they are continually scrutinized by the media sometimes even for the pettiest matters: not smiling, breathing too loud, looking ugly, or even being too skinny. For instance, Hanni received criticism for having a “muscly” trapezius. It’s disturbing that netizens feel that it’s fine to casually comment about a teenager’s body. 


Physical Safety Concerns 

Normally, K-pop groups hold fan meetings; these events serve as a great way to let fans interact with their favorite idols. However, several posts of NewJeans interacting with grown men during fan meetings have blown up on the internet. The most concering aspect? Many attendees are two or even three times older than NewJeans. 

Instances of underage members interacting with much older fans have sparked worry among netizens, raising questions about the appropriateness of such engagements. Some fans have even gone so far as to propose age restrictions on attendees.


Inappropriate Concepts and Outfits

On August 1, 2022, NewJeans released their first EP NewJeans. Despite the generally positive reception, the third track, “Cookie”, received some criticism from listeners who believed the lyrics depicted a sexual innuendo. They further supported their argument by pointing out the inappropriate nature of some of the lyrics including “No dinner, dinner, you’re hungry though” and “No water, water, you’re thirsty though.” Moreover, cookie, the title of the song, is generally used as a western slang term for female genitalia. 

Although NewJeans’ parent company, ADOR, denied the accusations, claiming that the song was innocently depicting the members baking cookies with their fans, netizens aren’t happy with the label. 

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case as mature concepts are becoming increasingly common among younger K-pop groups. While first or second generation K-pop groups from the early 2000s often pursued more age-appropriate concepts such as schoolgirls, agencies, desperate for money, are looking to over-sexualize their idols so they can expand their listener audience to young and middle-aged men. 


Final Thoughts

Since the debut of NewJeans, the issue of debuting minors has gained renewed attention, yet agencies continue debuting young talents for financial gain and unfortunately, they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. 

While change may never happen, raising awareness and discussing the issue are vital steps towards creating a safer industry. 

NewJeans’ success, as incredible as it is to witness, should not overshadow the unethical practice of debuting underage artists in the K-pop industry. It’s imperative that fans continue to speak out, challenge the status quo, and support initiatives that promote the well-being of young artists they admire. Only through collective efforts can we usher in a new era where talent shines brightly without the shadow of exploitation. 

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About the Contributor
Sophia Dong
Sophia Dong, Staff Writer
2023-2024 Staff Writer   I joined CMag because I thought writing about culture and arts was extremely unique. Additionally, the feature-centered writing was really appealing as I started appreciating the intersection of visual art and writing. My favorite part of CMag is the community. I enjoy interacting with other individuals sharing who also appreciate arts and culture. I love journalism because I enjoy writing! I feel like it gives me an opportunity to develop my writing skills and express my thoughts in a unique way. While I haven't been as interested in design, I enjoy formatting and coming up with concept ideas for a given spread. Aside from journalism, I'm interested in engineering, especially circuits and audio analyzing. I also enjoy applied math and physics. Additionally, I play the flute and am currently in a youth orchestra. In college, I hope to major in applied math or electrical engineering/computer science (EECS). I also look forward to continuing my flute endeavors and joining a college publication!