There has been a lot of attention given to the contracts of celebrities in Korea, particularly contracts of idols or girl bands and boy bands. Although the most popular dispute has been that of JYJ vs SM, they were certainly not the first one to do it and certainly not the first one to win it. Shinhwa, the longest running boyband in history of Korea (so far) sued SM to get the rights of their songs and rights to use the name.
Shinhwa was wise enough to not go on a full on war against SM and SM didn’t have big enough of a reason to make it hard on Shinhwa. They were far from being the most popular band back then. DBSK/TVXQ was a different story. They were the biggest in Korea and, perhaps, the biggest ever in Asia.
The intention of this article is to determine whether the so-called slavery contracts entertainment companies have towards their artists may really be called a slavery contract or are these issues blown out of proportions? Is it a case of artists using the combative nature of entertainment fans and netizens so they could win over the sympathy of the public through media manipulation? Or is Korean entertainment really controlled by inconsiderate, money- and power-hungry businessmen who want nothing but money?
The Power of the Fans and Netizens
There is so much romanticism that is being attached to Korea’s entertainment industry. Celebrities are not just actors, TV personalities and singers, they are also supposed to be role models. Every little thing they do is scrutinized, from what they wear to who they date. This is not unique to Korea. Even US celebrities go through the same agony. However, US has a bigger market and the culture is so much more liberated. Hence, Korean celebrity scrutiny is magnified.
Idols as Products
There is also the constant criticism of idols being “products”. Elitists claim that real artists should not “sell out” their music. What sells out means is still up for debate. Many fans who that claim to know what is real music as oppose to the music that are created for commercial purposes also dismiss anything that is popular (root word of pop) to be crap. It is really hard to identify specific standards for something to be pop but generally anything with a beat that is easy to sing to is crappy.
If musicians really don’t succumb to commercialism, they should just refrain from selling their music and performances. They should just give away their music for free. Of course, they need to make a living, right? The objective is to for people to pay for their music in its purest form. The problem is that when something is given financial value, especially when it is given by the artist who created it, then it becomes a commodity, a commercial piece.
You can romanticize it in any way you want, the bottomline is that even the most elite of musicians sell their music, gave it a financial value and used the money they earned from it for whatever purpose they see fit. However, that’s another post.
The point is that it is the same for the owners and SM and YG. It is, first and foremost, business for them and singers and actors are their products. I know it is hard to hear but it is the truth. They make their money by getting commissions from movie and TV projects, sales from CDs and concerts and other revenues generated by the celebrities they invested on.
They put up the company to make money, don’t forget that.
That’s the keyword – INVEST
When a businessman puts money into something, he should have known how to make his money back and make profit from it too in the most efficient way. No, you cannot expect owners of SM, YG, JYP and others to “spot” the potential in an artist and treat them like superstars from the beginning. From a businessman’s perspective, potential is just a potential, not a revenue stream. Until it starts becoming a cash cow, it’s still an expense.
These entertainment company owners spend millions in building up artists.
Idols don’t become idols overnight. Entertainment companies study what kind of celebrities will be loved by Koreans enough to make them spend their money on the celebrity. There are some celebrities who are born with what it takes but most of them are “made”. Even those that are born with what it takes, they still need enhancements. GD’s hair won’t color itself. Dara’s clothes won’t match themselves.
Clothes, Makeup, Style
Entertainment companies like SM and YG pay stylists and designers to find the best look for a celebrity-wannabee. Aside from the coordinator that goes with the artist wherever he or she goes, there is a team of stylists that conceptualize, plan and execute the look of an artist so that each member gets a different image.
Choreographers and Trainers
They pay choreographers and trainers that train the celebrities in different forms of dancing. They are trained in different genre. Personality experts are hired to train the celebrities on how to bring out the best versions of themselves in every instance possible.
SM flew Taemin to America to be choreographed by Ian Eastwood, a world famous hip hop artist and choreographer.
Media Clout, Distribution and Partnership
The entertainment company utilize their media clout which took millions of dollars to set up and millions to maintain. They tap their distribution channel which took millions of dollars to set up and millions to maintain. They use their studios and offices which took millions of dollars to set up and millions to maintain. They wouldn’t have what they have now if they didn’t know how to utilize the money they have to make more money and make more of what makes them money. I hope that makes sense to you.
That’s the bottomline, it is business.
If you make an investment, the first thing you do is find the fastest route towards making your money back. You look at your assets and determine what’s making the most money from you and maintain that. Just get rid of the rest.
You cannot ask these businessmen to continue with an artist if they won’t make money from it as much as you cannot ask the idols to perform for free. Tit for tat.
How Does it Relate to Idol Contracts?
Given all the investments the entertainment company makes to their artist, the first several of years of an artist are a “loss” for the entertainment company. The company will continue to pour in money to the artist without making much in return, if they make any at all. Hence, it is natural and accepted for artists to get little in the first several years.
Idols are “in debt” to the company in the first several years
The same thing happens in the US entertainment industry. Many would remember that TLC, one of the most successful girl groups of all time, remain in debt to their company even after years of selling records and sold out concerts. Linkin Park, Oasis and U2 all talked about how it took them years before they actually started “earning big” and this is with them writing their own songs and an international market to buy their songs.
Earnings from Songs
The standard earning that a composer gets from a song is 7 percent, way lower than what Korean entertainment companies are giving. The original singer gets another 7 percent. When there are more than one singer, they divide the 7 percent amongst them and the same thing is true with the composers. This fee could go up depending on how big is the artist. The likes of The Beatles and Elvis get 25 percent. In Korea, TVXQ has renegotiated their contract to increase their royalties. Same thing happens in the US. Singers renegotiate their royalty fees when they get into a position when they can do so.