30-Year-Old K-Pop Idol From A 4th Generation Girl Group Unveils The Harsh Realities Of Trainee Life
Jin Dojin is the oldest member of Ferry Blue, a fourth-generation girl group that debuted on September 6, 2021. The group has released a couple of songs, including their debut track, “Call My Name,” but their career has not reached the desirable stage where most idol hopefuls would want to see themselves.
Dojin sat down with Dong-A Ilbo to talk about her life so far, having spent 13 years as a trainee in the system. As a young student, she dreamed of joining musical theatre as a profession but then switched lanes for better opportunities. The 30-year-old idol got candid in the interview, stating that being considered “too old” for the industry doesn’t bother her anymore since she has been hearing these comments for years.
As someone who has experienced the K-Pop trainee life for a long time, Dojin had some shocking revelations about the standard industry practices, from how labels treat trainees to the grueling scrutiny they are under.
Dojin shared that auditioning for K-Pop labels is much harder than people might realize. You usually have only about a minute to make a strong impression, and if you fail, they won’t even bother to let you finish your performance.
There have been many instances where I worked very hard to prepare [for an audition] but not even a minute in they’d reject me and say, ‘You have worked hard, thank you.’
She finally got into a label during her second year of high school but had to change companies multiple times over the next six years.
Ruthless Practice Hours
In Dojin’s experience, trainees are always treated to grueling work hours, even though they are not working yet. She trained from 9 am to 10 pm without a single day off. The idol recalled that there were years when she got only two days off, once on New Year’s and another time during Chuseok.
The singer revealed that most agencies place multiple CCTV cameras in the practice rooms to ensure all trainees put in the hours. If the cameras caught a trainee taking too long of a bathroom break, they were called in by the higher-ups. The cameras also keep an eye on what the trainees are eating or if they are lying down to rest.
Trainees Treated As “Products”
Dojin shocked the interviewer when she referred to idol trainees as “merchandise.” She said that she understood the companies’ perspective, who had to keep their “products” ready in case a potential investor suddenly walked in. When the interviewer expressed shock at this, Dojin said it is very common in the industry to refer to people as “A product that needs to be manufactured and sold well.” She had people refer to her as a “product” to her face as well, but at that time, it was a very normalized expression to her.
I know it’s not right to treat human beings like objects but if you get stressed out by all that, you won’t survive in that world.
Since her debut at 23 years old, Dojin has done shows nationwide and remembers doing three to four events a day. But during those two years, she never received payment for her work except the ₩300,000 KRW (about $231 USD) she received from her company in the beginning as an allowance. She added that while she was actively performing and promoting, it was a luxury to eat a roll of kimbap in the car.
While all these experiences are more commonplace for most trainees, Dojin also went through a traumatic experience where a noted industry insider scammed her and three other girls out of their money. When her first group wasn’t doing so well, a person close to her, who was well-known in the industry, approached her with the idea of a four-member girl group. Putting her trust in this person, Dojin ended her contract with her first group and personally pooled money to sponsor the new group’s activities. The other three members contributed as well. Things got off on the right track, but after a while, this new boss started showing up less and less in the office and started demanding more money while treating the artists harshly. Eventually, things got even worse than the first group, and Dojin had to pay her boss even more, to get out of the contract she had signed with them.
Though her current group Ferry Blue is “nowhere near famous” even after three years of debut, Dojin said she is grateful to be a part of the group and pursue her passion.