If you’re an idol, it is a well-established fact that you will more than likely do something outside of performing. Idols are inescapable in the Korean entertainment industry. While they do everything from host to model, most try their hand at acting at least once. Even though we often take them to task, we have accepted it, begrudgingly or not, as part of their role as idols.
But idols aren’t the only ones crossing industries. If crossing industries was a race, Goo Hye-sun of Boys over Flowers fame would probably beat out even idols. She started off in the acting world but has since branched out extensively. To date, she has sung, composed music (for Seo In-guk most recently), written a novel, directed films, and started her own company.
Goo Hye-sun isn’t alone either. Many actors dip a toe or ten into singing and modeling. Jang Geun-suk may have made his name through acting, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting a foothold in the music industry. He has released albums in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, starred in countless dramas and films, modeled and endorsed many brands, and even written a cookbook.
And actors aren’t the only ones trying on different hats. Some of the biggest actors on the scene started off as models. KBS’ hit drama School 2013 received high ratings, and the two lead roles were played by Lee Jong-suk and Kim Woo-bin, both of whom started off as models. The two have received awards for their performances and continue their acting careers. Both have actually signed on to make their individual film debuts later this year.
Even acting veterans So Ji-sub and Song Seung-heon started off as models. They actually modeled for the same jeans brand STORM. Both have also released music. So Ji-sub in particular with his professed love of hip-hop has recorded multiple EPs and collaborated with other musical artists as well. He even released his own book, a photo essay titled The Journey of So Ji-sub.
Since so many celebrities besides idols blur the lines between industries, why don’t we take them to task the way we do idols? Some might say it’s because they are actually good at what they do. Goo Hye-sun has won awards for her directing, and her novel Tango was a bestseller. Lee Jong-suk may have the perfect body to model, but he has proven that he also has the talent to act. While they are arguably skilled in their respective industries, there are others who should maybe stick to their day jobs.
Daniel Henney started out modeling and broke out into the Korean drama scene when he appeared in My Lovely Sam-soon despite not speaking a lick of Korean. He has since gone on to star in other dramas and pick up some Korean along the way. While I unabashedly admit that the man is beyond gorgeous, I don’t like him because of his acting abilities. They are not what I would consider his strong suit.
And what about Kim Ok-bin? The actress had her breakout role in the 2009 film Thirst and has since gone on to star in multiple dramas and movies. With her acting stardom in one hand, she picked up the microphone in 2012 and decided to start a punk rock band OK PUNK! with questionable success. She tried to garner a following by covering 2NE1’s “Ugly,” but where the band’s talent shone, hers left much to be desired.
But it all might simply come down to numbers. Entertainment companies are continuously churning out more and more idols, and while not nearly as many as debut end up successful, they still greatly outnumber the amount of actors, models, entertainers, and other celebrities crossing over into other industries.
Plus, we can’t deny the fact that the entertainment industry runs on K-pop idols like a commodity. It’s much more noticeable to us when an idol like Yubin of Wonder Girls makes her acting debut on a drama than when a former model like Sung Joon acts alongside Lee Seung-gi in a sageuk because of press. Idols’ names call for more media attention, which only makes us pull out our magnifying glasses and study — and, by extension, criticize — their each and every move. Is that fair? It’s hard to say.
What do you think, readers?
(KBS, Goo Hye-sun Film, MBC, CJ Entertainment)