The Brutal Reality Of Non-Korean Idols That Aren’t In The Big 4
The K-Pop industry has spread its reach globally in the past decade or so, attracting idol hopefuls even from outside the country. The competition to become a successful K-Pop artist is fierce, as it is among Korean nationals, but when it comes to trainees from foreign countries, the hurdles are even higher. And the struggle gets harder when these trainees don’t have the fortunate opportunity to belong to the more systematic and comparatively fair organization of the Big 4 entertainment companies.
What happened to SKY GIRLS is a living testimony of it all. The group debuted in 2019, consisting of an all-Japanese lineup. It was managed jointly by a Japanese management agency called SKY Entertainment and a Korean agency called ONE TOP Entertainment. Members Runa, Mirai, Saya, and Karina signed a 10-year contract in October 2019 and debuted in Korea the following month. But not even a year into their debut, all four members requested to terminate their contracts, citing the agency’s abuse as their reason.
What went down
Soon after their debut, the pandemic hit the world and took a huge toll on the entertainment industry. While most industries could make do with working remotely, artists found it challenging to adapt. But that was the least of SKY GIRLS’ problems.
The members claimed in court that the agency subjected them to exploitation, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse constantly. They stated that the agency’s representative would refuse to leave the waiting room while they changed clothes and inappropriately touched their bodies while making crass comments like “You should grow out your butt more.”
More so, the management was over-controlling the members, who had to report their every single movement to them every day. They were called “pigs” for not losing weight fast enough, constantly yelled at during practice sessions, and even pressured to undergo plastic surgery, according to all four members.
I had to report where I was going every day from the time I woke up. I had to report that I went to the supermarket and if I was on the subway. I had no personal private time. I also couldn’t sing because I would have panic attacks because I was afraid I would get in trouble again.
Luna also told the media that she had to endure severe health repercussions from an unhealthy diet. “I had nosebleeds and dizziness every day due to an extreme diet, but they didn’t give me time to rest,” she recalled. On top of this abuse, the management also deprived them of their wages.
The legal battle
Initially, the members tried to negotiate the terms of termination, but in vain. So, they decided to go down the road of a legal battle. All four of the members filed a lawsuit demanding the termination of their exclusive artist contracts from the agency, stating power abuse and withholding wages as the reason.
SKY Entertainment refused these accusations, and the management responded with a lawsuit. They claimed that the members’ voluntary withdrawal is in violation of the ten-year contract and filed a complaint with the Tokyo District Court demanding compensation for damages amounting to JPY 15 million Yen ( about KRW 148.5 million Won), including the cost of canceled activities and penalties.
On March 28, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the agency’s claim for damages and acknowledged the contract termination. But the claims of sexual harassment and power abuse were not addressed in the ruling.
Where are they now?
The former members of SKY GIRLS have all returned to Japan and are currently working at regular day jobs. But the opinions about their next move after contract termination were divided among them. While Saya was quoted saying she “wanted to continue as SKY GIRLS” and is disappointed to halt activities, Runa felt that she would not want to go back to the stressful environment again. The only consolation in the matter is that the court’s ruling in their favor has allowed the girls a proper closure.