Idolism Idolism In Korea, ‘celebrities’ is not a big enough word to describe the famous performers and artists of the K-Pop industry. ‘Idol’ is the term used for the extremely talented, physically perfect, morally righteous individuals who are present in nearly every aspect of Korean society from daily entertainment to global representation of the country. In the West, celebrities can essentially be anyone who is lucky enough to gain fame, regardless of their appearance or morals. On the extreme opposite end of the spectrum are Korean idols. Expectations for idols are unimaginably high, and yet, these standards are met. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people audition to try and earn one of the few spots in an idol group that debuts. A few of the well-known aspects of idol training include grueling practices, tightly-controlled diets, etiquette training, and bans on dating, alcohol, drugs, and socializing. Idols must appear flawless at all times, and popular idols receive more chances to gain fans, appear on shows or ads, and even represent the nation. Idols are considered great role models and excellent entertainers, but the downsides of idolism like harsh beauty standards, delusional fans, and scandals cannot go without being addressed. This video outlines some of the moral and physical expectations the public has for idols. It also briefly touches on topics of idol-fan interactions and cases where idols fail to meet the standards, both of which will be discussed later. Idols in the Public Eye Idols are adored by the public in Korea, and their presence is everywhere in society. Due to Korea’s lookism culture, idols are constantly praised for their ideal appearances. Idols are also respected as role models for their humble personalities and charitable actions. Throughout the year, fans celebrate their idols’ birthdays, debut anniversaries, comebacks, and much more. Many idols also endorse brands and franchises to spread their presence in the industry. Beauty Standards This video is a list ranking female idols who best fit the Korean beauty standard. Fair skin, small face, slim figure, big eyes, double eyelids, and high nose bridge are some of the categories they are judged in. This ranking may seem harsh, but it is actually very common in the K-Pop industry. In fact, idols are often asked to rank themselves against these standards, and some are even given official positions in groups as the “visual” member, or most attractive member. Because of their constant presence in society, idols help to solidify and maintain these strict beauty standards in Korea. Moral Standards This article is an example of one of the many charity reports that come out on a monthly or quarterly basis. It lists idols and their associated donations and charity work for a certain time period. Idols are expected to make time in their busy schedules to attend charity events, make donations, or volunteer. This boosts their reputation in the public sphere and helps idols maintain a humble appearance. Charity work, proper etiquette, no dating, no drugs, and no profanity are just some of the many aspects of the moral standard for idols. Public Opinion This video is a street interview in which Koreans were asked what they think is Korea’s national pride. A large number of participants claimed that K-Pop idols and BTS’s worldwide popularity are sources of national pride among Koreans. They explained how the popularity of idols has raised the Asian standards for celebrities to match the Korean standards for idols. Appearance and morals have become even more important for society, and much of this inspiration stems from Korean idols. National Importance of Idols Seeing how much influence idols have within Korea, it only makes sense that Korea would want to showcase them to the world. The Korean government invites some idols to partake in global events like the Olympics and the UN General Assembly to represent their country. This level of faith between the government and celebrities is not commonly seen in other countries. Korean idols are even included in domestic affairs such as welcoming international leaders and hosting ambassadors. North Korea Diplomacy Popular girl group, Red Velvet, were asked to perform at a special concert for Kim Jong Un and a North Korean audience in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2018. The concert was held to ease tension between North and South Korea, and to give the North Korean public a chance to experience the pop culture of the South. Kim Jong Un claimed he was “greatly moved” by the performance and underlying gesture of peace. Red Velvet also talked about how the performance was a national honor and how they felt grateful to receive that opportunity. UN Representation Kim Namjoon, the leader of BTS, was invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018 and again in 2020. Unicef and the UN recognize the BTS members as some of the most influential figures for young audiences around the world today. Kim Namjoon spoke about BTS’s underlying message in their music, which is to love yourself first so that you can love others and speak out for change. The speech was positively received by the assembly and the general public, helping to cement BTS’s role as a source of inspiration for the youth. National Events EXO, a nine-member boy group, often makes appearances at government events, such as their reception party for visiting US President Trump in 2019. They also headlined the closing ceremony concert at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics after their main vocalist Byun Baekhyun sang the national anthem at the opening ceremony. They have been featured in the Dubai fountain show, performed at the Asian Games opening ceremony, and hosted the Korea-China Trade Partnership opening ceremony, all earning them the deserving nickname of “nation’s pick”. Downsides of Korea’s Idolism Of course, for every good thing, there must be a downside. K-Pop idols provide unmatched performances, quality entertainment, and impressive role models for society. However, the delusional fan culture, scandals, and negative repercussions on young audiences cannot go without being addressed. In recent years, many of these issues have been addressed by entertainment companies in an effort to improve the reputations of their idols, but it is still a work in progress. Sasaeng Culture Sasaengs are fans that become so delusionally obsessed with their idol that they resort to stalking and invading the idol’s private life. This article gives some examples of extreme cases of sasaeng behavior, such as causing car accidents, stopping airplane flights, and attempting kidnappings. Most entertainment companies go to great lengths to protect their idols, but it is hard to prepare for the unexpected attempts of sasaengs. After a fan shows sasaeng-like behavior, they are no longer considered a fan and are typically blacklisted from events that the idol attends. Scandals Perhaps the most notorious idol scandal of all time is the Burning Sun scandal, which primarily involved Big Bang’s Seungri. As one of the directors of the Burning Sun nightclub, Seungri was forced to retire from the entertainment industry and face charges for his involvement in the sex trafficking ring scandal. Six other K-Pop idols were also found to be involved and faced similar charges. Although this event was unprecedented in the K-Pop industry, it showed an ugly side of idol privileges and forced society to re-evaluate their trust in idols. Unattainable Expectations This article explains how some idols have unintentionally glamorized eating disorders in the eyes of young audiences. As mentioned earlier, idols have set such a strict beauty standard in Korea that there is essentially only one ideal image. This often raises self-consciousness in young audiences, who have a hard time understanding why they cannot attain the idol image. Such insecurities lead to eating disorders, depression, and sometimes even plastic surgery. These days, the industry is making more efforts to diversify the idol population and show more inclusivity, but it is difficult to erase a beauty standard that is already so completely ingrained in society. After thoroughly analyzing different aspects of Korean idol culture, it is easy to see why the world has become so invested in today’s idols. Whether they are being adored by millions of worldwide fans, or scrutinized for being a part of a machine-like industry, there is one thing they refuse to be, and that is ignored. These days, it is becoming more common to see idols branch out and make appearances on news programs, television shows, and radio broadcasts all over the world. Korea has received much international attention in recent years due to the popularization of idols, and many other countries look to Korea as an example of how celebrities should handle fame and behave under the spotlight. As idolization spreads across the globe, society must prepare for a new type of celebrity that brings Korean ideals and culture into the mainstream.