An (Un)helpful Guide for Creating the Perfect K-pop Group

Adél Mihályi

Section 0: Introduction

The term k-pop means Korean pop music. It is influenced by many other genres, such as dance-pop, rock, hip-hop and R&B. Since the 2000s, it is getting more and more popular worldwide. Nowadays the k-pop fan community consists of about 100 million people and its culture influences even more. With this, the idols and groups have to reach more and more expectations; the purpose of this guide is to showcase and explain them.

Section 1: Members

When creating a new group, agencies want to find people who are spotless in every respect. They must have a past without any scandals or issues that could become a scandal in the future—so far, it is understandable. No workplace wants to hire someone who is or could be problematic, and with k-pop having an extremely critical audience, this becomes even more crucial.

Of course, applicants have to be talented in singing, rapping, dancing and even acting, and improve these skills during their training period. Out of multiple hundred trainees, only a few make it to debuting, and even fewer of them become successful.

Another important aspect is their age and visuals, but these will be mentioned in later sections.

Section 2: Concept and music

So, we have our members, now our task is to give them their concept and debut album. This usually makes it and breaks it at the same time. It is safe to go for the girl crush concept, since many groups have done it before, but many fans have already got bored of it. We can try experimental, futuristic concepts, maybe mixing multiple genres in one song, and some will like it, but some will despise it.

You could try any concept, and still not everyone would approve of it.

Section 3: Choreography

Many groups want to stand out with their dance skills, especially nowadays. K-pop songs usually come with a choreography to create an astonishing performance with complicated moves. So amazing, right? Well, people tend to say that many groups lack singing skills, so this is their way to make up for it…

On the other hand, mainly older groups tend to come with an easier dance every time, which can go viral by creating a TikTok dance challenge for the fans to join. This is a great tactic to make the music more popular and reach more social media users, even the ones who otherwise do not listen to k-pop. However, some fans complain about this, saying that idols are starting to become TikTokers instead of singers.

Section 4: Idol personas

When debuting a new group, most agencies give each member a role, a persona to which they have to adapt. This is how we get the parent figure, the funny middle child, the cute youngest, the boyfriend, the rebel, and so on—and this is how many fans get misled into thinking that their idols are also like this in real life, and that is when scandals start. To avoid such scandales, many idols are not allowed to drink, smoke, date or even drive.

Instead, they are often forced to do fanservice, either with other members (hugging them, giving them a kiss on camera, anything to demonstrate a picture perfect relationship with their coworkers) or with their fans. The latter contains smiling and nodding even when someone tells them not to date anyone because they belong to their community forever.

Many fans are lonely, and it is the idols’ task to fill that hole, even if it comes with sacrificing their own personal life; this is how being an idol becomes a lonely job.

Section 5: Comebacks and live performances

K-pop groups release new music averagely every 6-7 months, but this can be anytime between 1 month to several years. They usually come back with only 1-5 songs. Most groups do not produce or write their own songs; everything depends on the agency’s production team, from the concept to the final music video.

Labels have to be careful even with the time intervals between two comebacks, since fans complain about the lack of new content after a while, but if a group produces too much music, the agency gets the blame for overworking their idols.

After they release the album, they perform 1 or 2 tracks on music shows for around 4 weeks, which can be a very tiring period. This is why many groups only sing live for the first 1 or 2 times and use playback afterwards, creating another topic to argue about. Should they always sing live since it is their job, or only focus on dancing so they do not get exhausted, if they are not already?

Section 6: Visuals, culture, and other queasy topics

K-pop fans come for the visuals and stay for the music. This is why the general public, who is not interested in the latter, has put so much pressure on the idols in terms of looks. The basics of Korean beauty standards are slim body, pale skin, double eyelids, high nose bridge, small nose, heart-shaped lips, but the list goes on forever. Even if someone has the features mentioned above, it definitely does not mean that the audience would consider them pretty. No one is even close to perfection, but idols have to try hard to achieve it. The base of this is going on extreme diets to lose weight. Fans of course do not like that their idols are starving, but they dislike idols who gain weight even more.

This urge to have no visual holes in a group is why idols and even trainees are forced to have plastic surgery in order to increase their chances of success. Almost no idol looks like what they look like on camera. Some of them were even caught editing their photos, but honestly, can we blame them? The fans set high expectations, so idols reach even higher standards, urging their fans to follow. This is why many of them struggle with body image issues, which often get reflected back onto their idols.

Another issue about looks connects to the idols’ origin. Foreigners can also apply for auditions, they can even debut in k-pop, but of course they have to deal with a lot of discrimination, from both the agency and the audience. K-pop somehow became a privilege, and sometimes it is not even the Korean public who has a problem with foreign idols debuting. Fans tend to gatekeep the Korean language as if the groups didn’t have English lines in their songs, and the whole k-pop genre were not a mixture of many other music styles. Fans are oftentimes racist towards idols, but are offended when they do something racially ignorant.

Section 6+1: Final words

So, how to create the perfect k-pop group? Avoid all the mistakes mentioned above.

…If it seems impossible (because it is), just let the fans project their insecurities into the idols—or at least their personas.