In the past few years, the conditions under which our favorite Korean entertainers have been working have become more of an issue. We don’t know what happens backstage or during practice; all we see is the final product. It isn’t until someone pulls a Han Ye-seul that we pay attention. Questionable working conditions has long been an issue, especially with K-pop. Usually, groups or solos leave their company or disband because there are issues with working conditions.
Take the DBSK debacle for example. Was it money? Maybe — there was speculation about the JYJ members and their investment in a cosmetics company, but the ultimate question is: why can’t they invest their money where they want? Oh, right: SM Entertainment owns them and they can only spend their money on whatever is “SM approved.” It really just comes down to issues with the working conditions imposed by their companies.
But does their expression of unhappiness mean that they are ungrateful for what the company has done for them? Absolutely not. Even with KARA and their incident, the main issue was about the members’ unhappiness with their working conditions. Both groups were forced to fulfill schedules in which they had no say. Sure, they’re getting paid, the company’s getting paid, it’s what they love to do, blah blah blah — but being forced to do what you don’t want to do just sucks for everyone, celebrities included. Should they have to suck it up more than normal folk? No, they shouldn’t. They’re people too.
Ultimately, K-pop stars should be able to openly discuss their working conditions with their companies without fear of group disbandment, lawsuits, fandom wrath, or industry politics. A lot of the comments that came with the Han Ye-seul’s fiasco was that she was ungrateful. She was unhappy with her working conditions, and no one cared. Was it the best to fly to LA in the middle of filming? Probably not. So why didn’t she just have an impromptu press conference and talk about it? She was bold enough to leave the country anyway, right? But this all goes to show exactly how desperate she was. Just because you want the best conditions to do your job does not make you an ungrateful person.
As long as businessmen are the ones in charge of entertainment management companies, there will always be issues. Of course, it helps if your boss was once a star himself — you never see artists leaving from YG Entertainment. But nevertheless, let’s not be critical of celebrities who speak out against their companies and call them ungrateful people. Chances are, they just have issues with their workplace and want those issues addressed. Just like everyone else.