Here’s Why SM Entertainment Trainees Often Have Lighter Skin When They Debut

Fans have accused the company of forcibly “whitewashing” idols.

Recently, SM Entertainment has been the target of query and concern after fans noticed the company’s rookies seem to have much lighter skin than they did as trainees. But, believe it or not, there is a reasonable explanation—and it came from Red Velvet‘s Seulgi.

Alongside her unique, monolid eyes and cat-like facial structure, one feature Seulgi is known for is her naturally tanned complexion.

| SM Entertainment

But even though she still has a beautiful golden glow, her skin was even more caramel-toned before she debuted with Red Velvet.

Pre-debut Seulgi

Fans have noticed a similar pattern with stars from several other SM Entertainment groups too—such as NCT‘s new member Shotaro.

| NCT/YouTube

In his pre-debut photos, Shotaro’s skin tone looks noticeably darker than it does since he debuted.

Pre-debut Shotaro

Likewise, fans were surprised when the company recently revealed Giselle—the fourth member of their new girl group, aespa.

| SM Entertainment

Her old school photos had surfaced online shortly before her reveal, and fans say they showed a much more tanned complexion.

Pre-debut Giselle

However, while some have accused SM Entertainment of actively “whitewashing” their idols, there could be a more innocuous explanation behind the change in skin color. Seulgi explained all in an episode of her reality show with Irene, Level Up! Thrilling Project.

In a clip from the show, Seulgi and Irene were seen reminiscing about their old trainee days—and one thing that stood out to Seulgi was how her appearance changed. The main dancer mentioned that she used to be a “tan child“, but once she joined SM Entertainment, her skin “got paler“.

| SM Entertainment

This led Irene to instantly explain the funny reason why: “because we were in the basement so much!“.

| SM Entertainment

“In the basement” is a joking term fans often use to describe idols with few activities and comebacks, but in the case of SM Entertainment, it’s a real place. Many of the company’s practice rooms are located below ground level at the company’s headquarters, while the above floors comprise a public restaurant, store, and offices.

One of SM Entertainment’s basement practice rooms. | Red Velvet/YouTube

SM Entertainment trainees can spend six to seven hours a day practicing, six days a week. Some trainees (such as those with short training periods, like Shotaro and Giselle) even choose to stay behind and practice longer. With so much time spent in a basement away from natural sunlight, it’s no surprise that trainees’ complexions are so much paler by the time they debut.