Dani Soto(Mexico)&Thao My(Vietnam) editor
The K-POP industry, as many people know or imagine, is very competitive and very wearisome. Idols train to be flawless artists and they are expected to be role models for society, which is to some extent a lot for them without taking into account that they are humans as well and they can make mistakes. Also, to be able to be in the industry you have to have a strong mentality and mindset to be able to not give up halfway through it. As years go by, the trainees chosen to debut are increasingly young. This is nothing new, we have seen before some examples are Taemin (Shinee) who debuted in 2009 at 14 years old; BoA, who debuted at 14 years old in 2000; and Jisung (NCT) who debuted in 2016 at the age of 14.
Idols who debuted at 14 were usually the youngest of the group, but now the future idols that are 14 are usually or get to be in the middle age members. With the auditions going back to normal after 2 years of pandemic, companies and TV shows auditions are looking for trainees in between 2002 to 2009, we are talking about 19 to 12 years old. Some of the groups that have debuted in the last 2 years that have members that don’t pass the 17 years old are BAE17, Afterschool, Enhypen, Iz*One, Treasure, Rocket Punch, P1Harmony, and many more.
Two of the cases that drew Korean public attention are a participant in the TV program "LOUD" where trains were looking for ready-to-go trains under PNation or JYP Entertainment, and the latest case is the youngest member of the new Starship Entertainment girl group.
In the case of the LOUD program, we are talking about the smallest competitor in the whole program, a Japanese boy born in 2009, who made the final debut lineup. At the age of just 12, Koki is set to debut in the much-anticipated boy group produced by PSY’s PNation. In a country completely foreign to him, Koki will brave the K-Industry all before entering his very first day at high school. Before friends, he will have fans. This has raised concerns about how an early entry into the industry can stunt social skills and a slew of other potential concerns.
Starship Entertainment's new group, IVE, drew the Korean public's attention to something very simple. Two of the members of the group until a year ago were the youngest members of the well-known IZ*ONE group. An Yujin (2003) and Jang Wonyoung (2004), who participated in a survival show debuted as the second and the youngest of the group suddenly became the older side of their new group. IVE’s youngest member was born in 2007, making her just 14 years old.The problem with literal kids debuting in the Kpop industry is concerning, you have children that are going to have adults stanning them. It is no secret that there is a dark side to debut, which comes in the form of hate comments, malicious threats, and even stalkers. Being a minor does not and has not exempted young idols from this treatment.
Recently, BTS’ Jin has given his own opinion on this controversial topic. On Weverse, an artist-fan communication platform, an ARMY expressed her frustration that she has been told she is too old to become a trainee despite only being born in 2003. This may be particularly resonant to Jin, who debuted as the eldest member of BTS himself in 2013. Replying to this comment, Jin said that “I started at 20 years old, but I think nowadays kids start (training) too young”.
This is no surprise, seeing as Jin’s very own bandmate Jungkook is someone who started training and debuting at a very young age. At only 15, Jungkook was thrust into the limelight and the exponentially growing success of his group. So much so that Jungkook has stated that “he doesn’t know how to be anything but BTS’ Jungkook”. When your entire developmental period is encased in being an idol, it is hard for these youth to forge their own independent identity.
Another problem is when it comes to the concepts that companies choose for the groups and the type of activities or “fan service” that they have to do to appeal to their fans. This just creates a more toxic and dangerous environment for those kids in the industry, putting them in the spotlight from a young age and introducing them to a type of behavior that eventually will harm or pressure them to an extent that we will have no idea until it is too late for them to ask for help.
This topic has been a concern even for some Idols that are currently in the industry. Recently on Weverse, BTS’s Jin replied to a fan comment about getting into the K-pop industry. Currently for many Kpop companies, being born in 2003 and trying to get into the industry is considered late, despite being only 17 or 18 years old.
Jin’s response to her concerns about being rejected on auditions for this reason shows how he feels about the huge decrease in age that kids are allowed to start to be trainees and in some cases debut in the industry.
“I got in at 20 years old. But I think that kids these days do start too young”- Jin
This comment sparked a huge conversation among BTS and even other fans about the age of some trainees and even the age of debut, especially since this includes the struggle to make some friends and the lack of real-world experience, the possible exploitation, and not being able to have a “real” childhood.
People on different platforms have different reactions and emotions towards this topic.
“Younger trainers do not equal better. It opens the door to more exploitation, and abuse because a child isn’t going to be able to stand up for themselves.”
“I also think that kids under 16/18 shouldn’t be in training either seeing how gruesome and unhealthy some companies treat these kids. I mean, dieting, losing weight, skipping meals, and excessive exertion during your early teens is bound to have a derogative mental and physical impact on the kids' bodies as well.”
“If that’s their dream, just let them pursue it.”
“They aren’t doing anything but pursuing their dreams, people are just jealous that these kids are more talented than what they are ever going to be.”
Dani Soto(Mexico)&Thao My(Vietnam) editor