In a recent interview with The Korea Times, a K-Pop researcher and a Korean music critic weighed in on why they believe living in dorms is a bad idea for trainees and budding idols.
For as long as most K-Pop fans can remember, idols have been living in shared apartments together from their trainee days onwards. Keeping all members of a group in the same dorm makes it easy for agencies to look after them and get them to schedules on time, and many groups look back on their dorm days fondly long after they’ve moved out. However, that isn’t always the case.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and most psychology professionals agree that any healthy relationship needs personal space and time apart. For idols living in dorms, however, that can be impossible. They live together, often sleep in the same rooms, eat together, and work together. On top of that, idols are often restricted from socializing outside of their groups, be that down to lack of free time or company dating rules.
As such, some professionals think it’s high time that companies abandoned the dorm system—or at least made it non-mandatory. Communications professor and social studies researcher Lee Jong Im and IZM Magazine music critic Jung Min Jae weighed in with their thoughts.
According to Lee Jong Im, who wrote the K-Pop training system exposé book Idol Trainees’ Sweat and Tears, the dormitory system isn’t essential for K-Pop stars. In fact, she believes that dorms can lead to high stress levels and cause conflicts like bullying—a problem that’s recently become very apparent in the K-Pop industry.
However, if companies really do feel a need to keep stars living together, Lee says those idols “need a place where their privacy can be properly protected.” She went on to explain that they need to be given more freedom to go to school, see their families, and develop relationships with people outside of their groups.
Company officials should not put the singers under around-the-clock surveillance… I believe they should also be given sufficient time and space to go to school and build rapport with people other than their bandmates.
— Lee Jong Im
Speaking on the knowledge she gained from writing her book, Lee Jong Im stated that trainees have to “suppress themselves to a great extent” if they want to make it through and reach debut stage. The Korean native explained how Korean society tends to put collectivism above individualism, and that many Koreans believe those with aspirations must “sacrifice everything” to achieve success.
In most cases, even after their debut, [trainees] are asked to solve their personal problems on their own (without seeking help) or just tolerate difficult times.
— Lee Jong Im
Ultimately, Lee Jong Im believes that company rules like dating bans and confiscating mobile phones infringe on the rights of young trainees and that more opportunities to build relationships are crucial to their wellbeing.
The singers should not be deprived of the opportunities to learn to make their own decisions and they need more chances to socialize with others.
— Lee Jong Im
Music critic Jung Min Jae shared similar sentiments in an interview with The Korea Times. Citing the example of popular British boy band One Direction, Jung explained that the members had solid teamwork despite not being forced to live together in one dorm.
Of course, Jung Min Jae acknowledges that some groups have enjoyed greater success because they lived in dorms together. Many acts have chosen to live together in a dorm longer than required—such as Red Velvet, who only recently began moving into their own apartments in their 7th active year as a group. Others, such as Apink‘s Chorong and Bomi, chose to live together even after leaving their dorm.
But, that’s not always the case. Jung Min Jae cited Fin.K.L as one example. Despite being one of the most popular girl groups in the late 1990s and early 200s, several members later confessed that living together was difficult. Despite maintaining very close friendships with his fellow members, SHINee‘s Key once joked that his first dorm with his members was “a disaster and hell.” The star went on to say that they became best friends after moving out of the dormitory four years into their career.
When it comes to K-pop, the dormitory culture contributed to the success of certain groups, but it also strained the relationships of some members
— Jung Min Jae
Wrapping up, the music critic shared his belief that the recent influx of bullying scandal stories show that K-Pop agencies are focusing on the wrong thing. Groups are easier for agencies to market than soloists, he explained, because the idols “can work together as a team that has everything fans would want.” However, Jung Min Jae says agencies should focus more on character-building to create long-lasting relationships that support success.
[Launching a group] is efficient for the companies, but it comes with costs. The recent bullying scandals show that talent management companies should focus more on developing the characters of each of their singers so that they can be more considerate and collaborative.
— Jung Min Jae