[Paparazzi Corner] Breakeven – What Is My Oppa Earning?

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(Image Credits: Stardom Entertainment, now Hunus Entertainment)
(Image Credits: Stardom Entertainment, now Hunus Entertainment)

Being a Kpop star is a dream job to many people, be it openly or secretly. As the Kpop industry grows and expands, it is known to the fans that before debuting, there is a period of hardship that they have to go through as trainees. The selection process is tough, with companies mostly looking for people with strong visuals or well-developed talents. They definitely want to scout sustainable money-makers, not just people who are potentially just a flash in the pan.

This is why many celebrities still struggle to get by even after they’ve debuted and some even struggle long after their debut. These celebrities start their career with a heavy debt and work long and hard after their debut in order to pay back these debts. You must be wondering, what kind of debt takes them so long to pay back? Well, here’s an example of a simple breakdown of what they might be paying for.

Dormitory Rent + Electricity & Utility Bills + Meals + Vocal Training + Dance Training + Acting Training + Musical Lessons + Album Production + MV Production + Music Royalty Fees (if the songs aren’t self-composed & produced) + Recording Costs + Advertising & Public Relations Costs + Distribution Costs (for the album) + Physical Image Managing (Make-up, Styling, Hair, Gym, Dermatologist Visits, Dental Care etc.) = Debt

Physical Image Managing is such an important part of becoming an idol.

To turn yourself from this:

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To this:

(Image Credits: FNC Entertainment)
(Image Credits: FNC Entertainment)

You must be thinking, “Well, that’s a hell lot of stuff you have to pay for.” I’m pretty sure there are many little nitty gritty costs that I haven’t included but these are mainly the costs that are involved and all these start accumulating immediately on the day you step foot into the company and train under them. These costs are beared by the company until you successfully debut and have the ability to pay the money back, in which it’s automatically deducted from your first “salary” that comes with inverted commas because technically, you earn money but you’re still deep in the debt that you’ve accumulated in your trainee years. Most of the time, these exact figures are not even made known to the artists themselves. Imagine yourself in their shoes, you’re probably kind of paying a debt without knowing how much you have left to pay.

Of course, whatever I mentioned above applies to probably the smaller companies that do not even have enough to begin with to pay the artist a salary or companies that are still operating under the Breakeven Point (B.E.P) system. Currently, it is known that SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment do not operate under such conditions and are assumed to be paying their artists as soon as they debut. Although it does seem like SM Entertainment only turned the tables recently and used this B.E.P system in the past as shown from various legal controversies with its artists for its so-called “Slave Contract”.

The B.E.P system is presumed to be mentioned in the contract that soon-to-be trainees sign when they first enter the company, with the main problem lying with the fact that they sign and agree to split “net profit” between the company and the artist instead of signing to split “sales”. For the former, you have to first pay back everything you owe the company and whatever is left while for the latter you split the amount of money that was earned without subtracting the cost of the fees that were used, ensuring that no matter what, there is SOME income.

That being said, idols who are still under such B.E.P systems are known to have entered an unfair contract. Although it is fault on their part that they signed themselves into an unfair contract, it’s also a sly move the company played on their part, considering that when most idols signed these contracts as trainees, they were only teenagers or sometimes kids and most of them sign it without their parents’ consent. Which also meant that they had to process all of that information as a 12 year-old.

As long as you are under this contract, all the costs that go into your subsequent albums even after your debut have to be earned, before you can even be paid for an income.

To put it simply:


If the company spends $100 on your next comeback, and you earn $101, your income is $1.

It is definitely heartbreaking to see companies care more about profit-making than actually bothering to discuss exclusive and individual contracts with artists to ensure a fair share of talent building, talent sharing and also taking into concern of the business needs of the company.

Although the bigger companies are stepping forward and abolishing the B.E.P system altogether, I believe that there are many groups that are still suffering, silently or not. And with every slave contract exposed is hope that the other groups who are still under this contract may one day be free from it.

I personally feel that even though this was a dream of theirs and it was a choice of theirs to pursue it, ensuring that they themselves do not get shortchanged is something that’s very important. On the bottom line, it definitely is deserving to be considered a “Slave Contract” since it’s humans actually torturing other humans.

What are your thoughts about this issue? Leave your comments in the comment section below!

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Article by: Cass Zheng @ KAvenyou

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