The Death of Sojin Ahn and the Industry of Korean Pop Idols

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A photo of Sojin Ahn during Baby Kara. Source.

Update 8/13/15: When I originally published this post I didn’t think that many readers would read this since I was a newbie blogger and had like what? 5 followers? It’s unbelievable that I’ve been blogging for over half a year now and that this is my most viewed post to date. So I just wanted to thank you guys that have read and shared this post. As I said, this is one of my earlier posts on this blog so I apologize for the lack of balance of professionalism and bias, which I now constantly strive to display in my later blog posts. And for K-pop fans, I initially wrote this thinking my reading audience would be new to K-pop, so there’s a good bit of an introduction. I will often refer to “Gangnam Style” and other K-pop cliches. 


Lately, I’ve been hearing two debates. Is the dress blue and black, or white and gold? And the controversy within the Korean pop music industry. It’s likely you’ve seen the dress, but I’m pretty sure you haven’t caught onto the K-pop situation. Recently, Sojin Ahn, a K-pop trainee, was found dead due to jumping off the 10th floor of her apartment building with thoughts of suicide. This onset of depression was partly due to the fact her contract with DSP Entertainment was terminated after many years of training. And in the past year, the industry of K-pop idols has experienced other deaths and group disbandments.

Before we get into the details of how corrupt these Korean idol companies can be, let’s do a crash course of what Korean pop is. Most likely, your main reference of K-pop is Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” a 2012 song that went viral. Obviously, that song is only a part of the K-pop genre, and K-pop is not defined by “Gangnam Style.” In fact, Korean pop is a musical genre that originates from South Korea and, despite its name, encompasses not only pop music but dance-pop, ballad, electronic, rock, hip hop, and R&B as well.

And a big part of K-pop is the global community of fans. The K-pop industry grows because of the Korean and international fans. These fans possess a great scale of devotion to their idols and participate in different traditions. For most fans, staying awake for a new released music video, re-watching a bias’s (a term used to connote your favorite member within a K-pop group) variety show appearances repetitively, or simply just replaying a song so often they can sing along even if their native tongue is not Korean is pretty common. These fans also make reaction videos to MVs, learn choreographies and create dance covers, and produce English and Korean covers of the original songs.

As for the companies, they produce these much adored idols in a different, complex process in comparison to other foreign entertainment industries. Many foreign countries have accumulated artists through shows like The Voice and American Idol, youtube, and self-recording artists, but the K-pop industry primarily uses the train and debut system. To make this easier, I’ve made a diagram.

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So, essentially what aspiring K-pop artists do is audition, move to Seoul, train in various skills, prepare for their first stage appearance, and debut as a new idol. This course can take about 1 year to, more commonly, 5-7 years. And even after debut, many uncertainties still remain. Will they be received well? Will they gain popularity?

One of these aspiring artists was Sojin Ahn. She was a trainee under the Korean idol company, DSP. The company produced famous girl group, Kara, in 2007, but the band partially disbanded in 2013. The three remaining members that renewed their contract needed an additional member to further promote their music, so DSP female trainees were given a rare opportunity to possibly debut and be a part of a respectable and well-established senior group. Baby Kara, a variety show made to showcase these competing DSP trainees, allowed viewers to see the process of finding this new replacement member. Sojin was the oldest and, clearly, one of the most talented trainees featured on the show. Despite her abilities, at the end she was not chosen. Soon after her suicide, her fans from Baby Kara, learned that her contract was terminated a month prior to her death. Along with the tedious show and the many years of training, the terminated contract that resulted in no debut had to be her breaking point. DSP’s problem was not the idea of finding a replacement for Kara, but rather the sick approach and execution in publicizing the trials through the show. They promoted and gave Sojin the light, but took all it away from her at the end.

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This was a comment in response to SR15B’s pre-debut video, and it’s very honest.  For reference, YG is a part of the Big 3 Korean entertainment companies that produce idols. Source: youtube.

Unlike Sojin, there are established artists that still face other tragedies after debut and gaining popularity. Another case occurred at the end of the last year, when two members of Ladies’ Code were killed after a car collision. Eventually the manager, that was driving the group home from an event, admitted fault. But was it really his? Obviously, he didn’t intentionally endanger his life and the group’s. Sometimes the companies overwork the artists and the people that work with them, making accidents like these prevalent.

And like any other entertainment industry, there have always been civil disbandments similar to Kara’s. But lately, disbandments have stemmed from the mistreatment of the artists. One case involved with Korean/Chinese boy band, EXO. Two Chinese members filed lawsuits against the company for promoting the Korean counterpart more than the Chinese and declining potential solo activities for the Chinese members without consultation of the group, and left the band. Another lawsuit was made by B.A.P, a group consisting of all male Korean members, to nullify their contract due to unfair profit distribution. Both boy bands debuted around mid-2012 and peaked in success in 2013, but they weren’t able promote as an entire group for even 3 years.

K-pop has a great international fanbase that is aware of the mistreatment of idols, but there are also many non-K-pop fans with “Gangnam Style” as their ringtone that have no idea. Hopefully this made a couple more individuals aware of this insane “survival of the fittest” system these companies have put in place and how detrimental they can be on an artist’s mind and body. These idols continue to endure emotional and physical hardships because they want to share their love for music.

And my credibility? I’m just a regular international fan saddened by this news. We’ve lost one more talented soul in this world, and I thought I’d share this piece of news with a few individuals that may not have been aware of this tragedy or how the K-pop industries work (it’s just a glimpse, obviously, there’s a whole lot more to it). Anyway, thank you for reading. I’ll end it here with Sojin Ahn’s words of wisdom: “Enjoy life.”

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Sojin Ahn talking about her path to her dreams was enjoying life on Baby Kara. Source.

Sojin Ahn talking about her path to her dreams of becoming an idol was her way of “enjoying life.” Source. Gifs by Hanbins-mic.

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42 thoughts on “The Death of Sojin Ahn and the Industry of Korean Pop Idols

    • sumlynnnguyen says:

      Please do, I would be grateful if you did, Cassandra! Hopefully reblogging will make more aware of this. Apparently, even a lot of K-pop fanatics didn’t know about Sojin’s death. It didn’t even make it as Breaking News for most K-pop news outlets, probably because she was only a trainee.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. ddarii227 says:

    she was really beautiful. and honestly i think that 2014 was the year the truth behined k-pop industry began to reveal. we learned that its not as perfect as it seems and its much more cruel and selfish. i have another example, soo jung or Krystal as shes known to k-pop fans, fell unconscious after a performance and was carried like a rag doll. it absolutely sickens me. and as a dancer,singer and actress myself i know how much devotion it takes to earn your title. but id never enter a contract with a k-pop company. i do not want to be used as a rag doll.
    thank you for the post the information was really interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lydiaek says:

    I agree, the mistreatment of kpop idols is a big issue at hand. I think a lot of this has to do with the companies wanting to expand the kpop industry and gain a bigger audience, and to do this, they feel the need to treat their idols like products that they can easily dispose of or in some cases refurbish to fit into a certain mold. I guess its not always a bad thing when its improvement, but it does carry its own weight in cons. I appreciate how you began your argument with a situation analogous to this topic, such as the dress and which color we see, I wish you had elaborated a bit more about the similarities between the two issues though. It would help people that have no prior knowledge on this subject understand the situation a bit more easily.

    I’m really glad you brought up this subject though, its got me thinking a lot about life in general and how we beat ourselves up over not reaching a certain level of perfection in fame or just musical talent. Its even more ridiculous because these two things are totally subjective in nature, and there’s no way you can be completely satisfied with either, because how can you truly succeed? A true artist is never satisfied with their work and always manages to see their minuscule flaws no matter how perfect they may seem to us.

    But veering back to the topic at hand, whether it was suicide, or a death by human error from being overworked, I also find it truly sad that such young artists had to die before their time. They had so much potential to show the rest of the world, and I wish I could’ve heard some more of their music..

    Liked by 1 person

    • sumlynnnguyen says:

      Thanks, Lydia! I appreciate the constructive criticism! You make a valid point about how artists are virtually perfectionists. Continue to read, I look forward to seeing how your blog goes! ^.^

      Like

  3. ashleighanne says:

    I’ll admit, I’m one of those ‘Gangnam Style’ people (though I do also adore Crayon Pop, so does that count?), but I think regardless of knowing who this girl was, it’s still an incredibly tragic story. It makes me sick thinking of all those big bosses *cough* Simon Cowell *cough* that continue to make money by abusing peoples ambitions and then drop them as soon as the next ‘big thing’ comes along.
    Really eye-opening and a brilliant read!

    Like

    • sumlynnnguyen says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Ashleigh! I’m so glad you had Crayon Pop as your other reference, they’re a real cute group! 🙂 And you’re right, ambition drives us to pursue our dreams, but it also makes others crave money and adopt greed. :/

      Like

  4. babyruthbeer says:

    I’m interested on stories like this one even though I’m not that into k-pop. (I’m more of a k-drama addict.) And from everything I’ve read online, it really seems like the Korean entertainment industry is harsh. This is a nice post, Summer! 🙂

    Like

  5. Sara says:

    This was such an eye-opening article. I don’t know much about k-pop but you provided a really insightful perspective on this side of the korean music industry. This is a really good post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. solaner says:

    I really wonder, if you women really know, what message you bring to men with the words on your clothes. Do you understand the German words on the girls shirt? Flittchen (= a female how is easy to have and jumps from one guy to the next just a minute later), Tussi (similar to the english word bitch, but also describes an easy to have girl, but a stupid one), Schickse (= a woman, who spends all of her and others money in expensive clothes but is too stupid for a job on her own; derived from the word chic ) or Verführerin (a smart woman, who is able to persuade and seduce a man, who isn’t interested in having sex with her).
    Don’t be personally offended. That’s not my intention. But, here I found a really good example.
    You’Re a young woman, too. So, please explain this to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sumlynnnguyen says:

      I’m not offended, thank you for taking the time to actually teaching me more about some German terms. I think the way a person dress really defines them for the rest of the world (like how we unconsciously judge people by their appearance), but it doesn’t really show their true personality or a true representation of who they are. To clarify “defines them,” I literally mean how you appear to others and their impression of you. For both men and women if you dress more professional, you appear more credible and put together. However, if you dress scantily or vulgar, it does give the impression that you’re “easy.” But back to your question, yes, I think most women know the message they send when they wear certain clothes. But then there’s others that show more ignorance, like Sojin Ahn, and wear graphics with foreign words they just doesn’t understand. I was pretty ignorant as well for depicting her in clothes that doesn’t flatter her or make others easily sympathize with her. And speaking of misunderstanding words. I’ve been taking Latin for about 5 years, and it’s crazy how I just learned the true meaning of “seize the day” or “carpe diem.” It’s like watching disney movies, there are innuendos everywhere. Anyway, I guess that’s how we grow as bloggers, learning from mistakes that is. 🙂 Thank you for visiting my blog, and enlightening me. I really enjoyed your submission of this week’s “wall” prompt (it was gorgeous)!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Anna Huynh says:

    I watched an episode of “Producers” starring Gong Hyo Jin and Kim Soo Huyn today. What shocked me was the scene in which a manager of an artist management company pressurised 4 teenage girls aged 9-11 to diet by eating ONE SWEET POTATO a day. I’m not sure if this is 100% reflection of the reality but if so I’m not surprised if these girls would grow up experiencing anorexia and bulumia. This is really sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      That is so ridiculous! Also, from what I’ve heard the idea of a skinny body image being the more preferable body type isn’t really helping these girls’ mental state as well. Thank you for sharing and commenting, Anna!

      Like

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