The Disturbing Truth Behind K-Pop Music

People all over the world dream of being pop stars, but perhaps nowhere else more than South Korea. While their northern neighbors are wondering where the next meal is coming from, South Koreans are obsessing over every detail of their K-Pop stars' lives and striving to be as much like them as possible. This regularly leads to really weird and creepy incidents, but those "lucky" enough to actually be an idol are still expected to appreciate it, no matter what hell they're put through.

The music might be groovy and the dance moves peppy, but peek under the surface and the K-Pop world is swarming with all kinds of metaphorical maggots.

Slave contracts are normal

When a contract you sign is colloquially called a "slave contract," you might want to think twice. One of the major problems with K-Pop contracts is that stars basically sign their lives away. According to the pop star Prince Mak, you might sign a contract that says for the next seven to 15 years you have to stay with the group and do exactly what you're told. Maybe that doesn't sound so bad; after all, it's less than what you'd get for murder, right? And this contract comes with the perks of being famous.

Except not really. The catch is that the contract years only start "counting down" once you have your "debut" as a star. And that could take a while. You might be trained for up to ten years before you ever set foot on a stage or in a recording studio.

Even once you become a household name, things don't get better because that long-term contract you signed probably didn't leave room for you to make any money. No matter how famous you get, slavery doesn't pay. When members of girl band Stellar told No Cut News about their rise to fame, the four girls said they regularly split one meal because they were so broke. In one bright spot, the BBC reported that boy band Dong Bang Shin Ki won a court case over a 13-year, low-pay contract. But they're one of the biggest K-Pop bands of all time, so don't the rest of you get your hopes up.

Getting pimped out is common

Like other areas of entertainment, K-Pop has a casting couch. Because of your slim chances of success and how much power management has, you might find yourself at any moment bartering sex for fame. In K-Pop it might be called "sponsorship" or "transactions," but at the end of the day it's selling your body for success. Seoul Beats said one girl was even asked to marry a powerful guy she had no interest in.

Being a K-Pop star can also be an in-road to an acting career. In 2010, Korea Joongang Daily reported that 60 percent of actresses were expected to sexually pay for roles in some way. Actresses have even been known to kill themselves over the expectation of prostitution.

Even if you haven't ever sold sex for favors in your life, that doesn't mean you're safe from suspicion. According to LA Weekly, the eight-member girl band Oh My Girl was held for 15 hours at LAX after customs officials mistook them for prostitutes in 2015. Part of the problem was they referred to themselves as "sisters" (a normal term of endearment in Korea) when it was clear they were not blood related and they had a lot of sexy clothes in their suitcases. This sent up red flags to the officers and it took a while until the problem was sorted out. Young, hot Asian chicks, beware: There's obviously no reason you'd be coming to America except to sell your bodies.

Plastic surgery is rampant

Stars getting plastic surgery isn't exactly a breaking news headline, but K-Pop stars take it to another level. According to The Atlantic, one in five Korean women have had plastic surgery, as opposed to one in 20 American women. And part of this comes down to the fact that idols in pop groups all get stuff done, especially to their face.

If they think their face is too round, for example, they can get that fixed. All it takes is an unbelievably painful procedure in which the jaw is broken and shaved into a V-shape. This is intended to make them look more like an anime character. No joke. It would be like having some ribs removed so you could look like Jessica Rabbit.

K-Pop's female stars all tend to look alike. It isn't that they look white (that fell out of style a while ago), but they alter their features just enough to give a nod to looking Caucasian while still being Asian. They have small faces, large eyes, and button noses while their chins are pointed and their cheeks are wide. These sorts of changes aren't always subtle and some of stars advertise plastic surgeons, so while no one really admits to getting surgery, fans know otherwise.

And it might not even be their choice. K-Pop bands are highly manufactured, and if your manager says you need to go under the knife to be beautiful enough to be a star, you probably do it.

Anti-fans might try to kill you

Once you make it to the top in Korean pop, you might think you're set for life. And you might be ... if that life is really short. People who don't like you might set out to kill you. K-Pop stars don't just have fans like most groups. They also have anti-fans. That's right! Just liking your own pop stars of choice isn't enough; you have to actively hate the other ones. This can lead to some scary situations.

The actions of anti-fans can range from the relatively innocent to the possibly deadly. According to All K-Pop, one group had their lights switched off during a concert by anti-fans, while another was sent bouquets of flowers that symbolize death in Korea.

Then there are the kind of middling incidents. One star decided to go solo and this resulted in a petition for him to commit suicide which got 3,000 signatures before being taken down. One member of a girl band started dating another famous guy and was sent an envelope with razor blades and a death threat.

But then there are the times anti-fan really tried to hurt people. One boy band member was given a drink by what he thought was a fan, then gave the drink to his mother, who was hospitalized and had her stomach pumped because the drink was poisoned. Another was given a drink with glue in it and started vomiting blood. Lovely.

Real fans are insane

When you become a K-Pop star you're expected to look the part, nail your complicated dance routines, and be perfect in every aspect of your life. And if your fans see you slip just a little bit, they'll probably go crazy.

According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the group TVXQ had fans tapping their phone lines so they could hear the calls of their idols, and some even broke into their apartments so they could "kiss them in their sleep." Unless you're a princess in a tower under some evil queen's spell, that's never going to be appropriate.

Then there are the really extreme "private fans" known as Sasaeng. These people go as far as installing cameras in their idols' homes and sending them love letters written in menstrual blood. They have also left urine and poop in the homes of stars they like. (Pausing for a minute to let you get those images out of your head.) And they aren't afraid to get violent. The Sasaeng have been known to attack stars they don't feel are paying them enough attention, or other fans that got too much affection from their idols.

But not everyone thinks they're crazy. You can now get a specific taxi service in South Korea that will chase your favorite star at speeds of 125 mph, putting everyone involved (plus innocent bystanders) at risk.

The hours are nuts

You'd think that the work hours of a pop star are better than, say, those of a lawyer. Isn't it part of the whole "being famous" package that, yeah, you have to work nights but at least you get to sleep in? Maybe in some countries but not when you sign your soul over to become a K-Pop star. Say goodbye to sleep for the next decade.

According to Seoul Beats, you can forget money or fancy cars because sleep is a pop star's greatest luxury. SBS Pop Asia says that an average workday can be 20 hours, leaving just a few hours for sleep. That might be possible to pull off once or twice in a row, but this is all day every day. And in between those precious few hours you constantly have a camera in your face, so you better be peppy and look gorgeous. That's probably why being hospitalized for exhaustion is just par for the course when you're a K-Pop star. Krystal, of f(x), has fainted on screen so many times it's almost become a kind of trademark. At one point she was doing a gig and passed out with the mic still in her hand, because that is professionalism.

KpopStarz reports that one over-worked individual, SHINee's Minho, finally got some time off and fell asleep at a friend's house -– for 48 hours. Yeah, he was so tired he didn't wake up for two days, and it wasn't even in his own bed.

You're forced onto crazy diets and weight checks

In K-Pop both guys and girls need to be thin thin thin, which encourages extreme diets in order to lose weight in a couple of weeks or even just in a few days. And these aren't just rumors. Hello K-Pop says that many stars have actually admitted to doing insane things just to lose some pounds (or kilograms, since this is South Korea).

One of the favorites seems to be pick a low-fat, low-calorie food and just eat that all the time. There's the watermelon diet, the lettuce diet, and the cucumber diet. They don't need much explanation. You take the food from the name and only eat that until you're happy with the number on the scale.

Then there's the paper cup diet. Apparently one girl group, Nine Muses, is "well-known" for this one. You take a tiny paper cup and fill it with whatever you want, as long as it is healthy. So you only eat food that is good for you in unbelievably small servings. How do people not lose it and shove a whole chocolate cake in their mouth after a few days on these diets?

According to All K-Pop, being skinny is so important that no less than the CEOs of record companies supervise weigh-ins. If the number is too high, stars are told to lose weight immediately. And they do.

Racism is everywhere

SBS Pop Asia reported that Fei from Miss A said during an interview that during her early days on the pop scene she was tormented by people who thought she only showered once a week because she was Chinese. The singer Shannon was repeatedly called a foreigner and had negative comments written about her, even though she was actually half Korean. And good luck if you're half-black. Many mixed-race K-Pop stars have talked about how people consider them "dirty" because of their heritage. One performer on the reality show Kpop Star made it to the top five but failed to find her audience almost certainly because she was half African-American. South Koreans seem to want their pop stars to be pure Korean and nothing else.

Even the groups themselves have fallen afoul of overt racism. Refinery29 said one girl group, Mamamoo, had to issue a lengthy apology for putting on blackface to portray Bruno Mars and his backup dancers in a video they made. Spin found that G-Dragon, the lead singer of boy group Big Bang, blacked himself up not once but twice. He posted an Instagram snap of him looking like Trayvon Martin shortly after his shooting. While he claimed that incident was a "HUGE misunderstanding," he had blacked up before in a video while trying to look like Andre 3000. Meanwhile, Asian Junky reported that Hwasa of Mamamoo covered a Beyonce song and seemingly ad-libbed the N-word.

You're expected to perform while injured

The machine of K-Pop doesn't just stop because you hurt yourself. In fact, you better be ready to work through the pain.

According to SBS Pop Asia, one of the members of girl band Stellar once came onstage wearing a neck brace. That might sound like the kind of thing you didn't get out of bed with, but she assured the fans watching that she was fine and proceeded to perform the energetic dance moves necessary to slake the mob's thirst for pop. Similarly, a member of boy band EXO once performed despite his obvious ankle brace.

Even if you hurt yourself while performing, you better be ready to keep going. GFriend's SinB dislocated her shoulder while dancing but carried on. BTS member Jungkook cut his hand and was obviously bleeding but didn't get help for his wound until the number was over. And Big Bang's G-Dragon (pictured above) was performing a solo show when he actually fell in a hole in the stage. Despite some "small scratches," he kept going with the concert.

But what if you're really hurt, to the point performing would be impossible. Well, you still better show up. Amber, of f(x), hurt her ankle too badly to dance, but she was still there for numerous concerts, sitting on a stool on stage, singing her heart out while her group performed the routine around her.

There's little creative freedom

If you joined a K-Pop group not just to get famous but to express all the music and creativity you have in your soul, good luck. K-Pop groups are cookie-cutter in general and your taste in music or what you want your band to be about isn't as important as selling a product.

Not familiar with the K-Pop genre? According to The Guardian, you should be thinking Britney Spears, J-Lo, and Jessica Simpson because the same people who wrote hits for them are writing hits for the biggest K-Pop groups. The writers tend to be Scandinavian, and they're very good at what they do ... if what you want is mindless pop.

Unfortunately, not all band members or even fans are interested in that anymore. Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that some bands have ditched their management in the hopes of writing something a little more heartfelt on their own. And some listeners are crying out for Korean music written by Koreans.

One group that was conceived through a television show is fighting back against its pop-star/idol image. According to K-Pop Starz, the boy band Winner has been vocal about wanting to be known for its singing and not just the members' status as "idols."