K-Pop stardom lures Japanese youth to Korea despite diplomatic chill
SEOUL (Reuters) – Yuuka Hasumi put high school in Japan on hold and flew to South Korea in February to try her chances at becoming a K-pop star, even if that means long hours of vocal and dance training, no privacy, no boyfriend, and even no phone.
Hasumi, 17, joined Acopia School in Seoul, a prep school offering young Japanese a shot at K-pop stardom, teaching them the dance moves, the songs and also the language.
She is one of an estimated one million other K-pop star wannabes, from South Korea and abroad, hoping to get a shot at super competitive auditions by major talent agencies that will take on just a select few as “trainees”.
“It is tough,” Hasumi said in Japanese, drenched in sweat from a dance lesson she attended with 15-year-old friend Yuho Wakamatsu, also from Japan.
“Going through a strict training and taking my skill to a higher level to a perfect stage, I think that’s when it is good to make a debut,” she said.
Hasumi is one of 500 or so young Japanese who join Acopia each year, paying up to $3,000 a month for training and board.
The school also fixes auditions for its candidates with talent management companies that have been the driving force behind the “Korean-wave” pop culture that exploded onto the world stage in the past decade with acts such as global chart topping boy band BTS.
The influx of Japanese talent that is reshaping the K-pop industry comes at a time of increasingly bitter political acrimony between the two countries that has damaged diplomatic ties.
That the tension has done little to dent the K-pop craze among Japanese youth, and the willingness by Korean agencies to take on Japanese talent, speak to the strength of the ties between their people, according to one long-time observer.
“They’re nuts about BTS over there in Japan,” said Lee Soo-chul, board member of Seoul-Tokyo Forum, a private foundation with members of diplomats and business executives from both countries.
K-pop groups, and veteran Korean musicians, are selling out concert halls throughout Japan, said Lee, a former head of Samsung Group’s Japanese operations. “There is no Korea-Japan animosity there.”
Sex, lies and video: K-pop world rocked by sex scandals
The allegations against the boyish stars who epitomize an industry that has put South Korean pop culture on the global stage has triggered a blame game with accusations the business has neglected morality in the lust for fame and fortune.
Singer Lee Seung-hyun, 28, better known by the stage name Seungri, is suspected of paying for prostitutes for foreign businessmen to drum up investment in his business.
He denies any wrongdoing and said he would cooperate with a police investigation when he arrived at Seoul’s Metropolitan Police Agency.
“I am sorry to the nation and everyone who has been hurt,” Lee told reporters. He did not elaborate.
Police have said Lee, a member of the group BIGBANG and nicknamed South Korea’s “Great Gatsby” for his lavish lifestyle, is suspected of what is known as “sexual bribery”.
Lee said on Monday he was leaving the entertainment industry to fight the accusations.
Another singer and television celebrity, Jung Joon-young, is also in trouble.