Here Are 8 Times K-Drama “Imitation” Got Real About The Dark Side Of K-Pop

It looks at all aspects of the K-Pop industry!

Content Warning

This article includes descriptions of suicide or self harm that may disturb some readers.

Spoiler Alert

This article reveals plot details of a current movie or series.

KBS2 recently started airing a new K-Drama called Imitation, which tells the story of what it’s like to be an idol in the K-Pop industry. The series has a star-studded cast with idols from groups like ATEEZ, SF9, U-KISS, and other solo artists.

Although the show recorded low ratings in viewership, many fans have praised the series for its realistic portrayal of the K-Pop world. Within the episodes, the writers touch upon all aspects of the industry.

Here are eight times Imitation got very real about the darker side of K-Pop.

1. Suicide

One of the darkest themes in the K-Drama is looking at idol suicide. It is a topic spoken about a lot more in the industry, but it still needs more awareness. In the first episode, when the rookie girl group OMEGA-3 is about to debut, they are told that their former member has died by suicide.

This storyline emphasizes the idea that the life of an idol can sometimes be seen through rose-tinted glasses. Yet, more realistically, it can be challenging and take a very strong toll on an artist’s mental health. It was an evocative scene in the first episode and reinforced that the drama wasn’t just made for entertaining fans but also to inform them about the harsher sides of the industry.

2. The stigma against idols having romantic relationships

There are strict rules on idols dating each other in many K-Pop companies because many fear it could negatively impact the artist’s career. In Imitation, the story centers around the romantic relationship between the two main characters Maha (Jung Ji So) and Ryoc (Jun Young.) When the couple is discovered by one of the companies, they are forced to break up.

It also showcases that, for most idols who choose to date, how important it is to keep it a secret from those around them, even if it means meeting in secret or having a burner phone. For many idols, they either are not allowed or have to hide their relationships in fear of it impacting their career, and Imitation perfectly showcases what dangers they can pose.

| Viki Global TV/ YouTube

3. The harsh realities of being a K-Pop trainee

Although the life of a K-Pop idol is challenging, the real work starts during trainee life. With hours of practice, constant scrutiny, and endless lessons, it takes a lot of work to create a polished K-Pop idol or group. Yet, Imitation perfectly shows how that work does not always pay off for everyone.

Since realizing her dream, Maha auditioned for several companies over a number of years and was a trainee for several years before she even had a chance to debut. Each time they announced a new line-up, she would wait and then failed to be called. The idea that only a tiny percentage of trainees get to debut is a reality seen within the series.

| @shaemultistan/ Twitter

4. Strict diets

Many former idols have spoken out about the strict diets and lengths artists will go to ensure they lose weight or maintain this perfect image. Although the series did not directly deal with the issues, they were present throughout.

During an episode, the members of boy group Sparkling are scolded by their manager, and he refers to each member’s weight as playing a pivotal role in their lack of success. Because of this, when two of the members buy chicken, they quickly hide it when they think their manager is coming. Although it seems excessive, it is something many idols have to deal with.

| KBS2

5. Internal group rivalries

In many K-Pop groups, there are a large number of members who are all extremely talented. Yet, there will be times when not everyone can have leading roles in songs and performances, which can sometimes cause jealousy amongst members.

During one of the episodes, Sparkling is preparing for their latest comeback. During their rehearsals, Yujin (ATEEZ’s Yunho) is given the central role for the performance and takes it off his member Hyunoh (Lee Su Woong). After his spot is taken, Hyunoh takes it personally and becomes very stand-offish with Yujin. Although it seems like a small detail, it can have a huge impact on idol’s careers.

| Viki Global TV/ YouTube

6. Obsessive “fans”

In the show, the leading group SHAX has a loyal army of fans called fins. Throughout their careers, these fans have stayed loyal, supporting them both musically and personally. Yet, the show also showcases the more extreme side to this and how obsessive some fans can be.

In the episodes, the story looks at the extreme lengths fans will go to for their groups and how quickly they can turn against them. For example, when the fans think the lead singer might be in a romantic relationship, they threaten to boycott the group. They also intimidate those fans they see as “stalkers” by ensuring they know the group’s schedules and are around to “protect” them.

| Viki Global TV/ YouTube

7. Idols being overworked

For many K-Pop fans, the constant worry is that their favorite idols are continuously being overworked, whether through promotions, variety show appearances, or filming schedules. Idols can sometimes work on various projects for months on end, with no real breaks.

Lead singer Ryoc is seen as the most popular member of SHAX and has moved into the world of acting. Yet, after seeing his success, his company continues to give him script after script to capitalize on his popularity. After they suspect that he might be dating someone, the CEO and the manager particularly try to ensure that he has no free time to allow this to happen.

| KBS2 

8. The hierarchies of companies

In K-Pop, there are many different K-Pop companies varying in size, history, and influence. Although these agencies all have the same desire to promote their artists, their reputations can either help or hinder their idols.

In Imitation, the show shines a spotlight on how much these differences can impact idols. The smaller companies have to work a lot harder to get their artists noticed. Yet, when the leading agency NOG asks one of the music shows to make more time for SHAX, the other groups are sacrificed to meet this demand. They also abused their power to try and take down other groups, which is a harsh reality that does happen in K-Pop.

Source: FI and FI