Lawmakers and music critics wrestle over new bill to prevent exploitation of underaged idols

Korean lawmakers and music experts have been in talks about putting a time limit on underaged idols’ working hours.

The suffocating system of the K-pop industry has brought a long-term concern about the development of young idols against an intense working time. From 2014 onwards, Korea set a time limit on long teenage entertainers’ working hours. However, legislators want to continue adjusting and regulating the time limit.


Representative Yoo Jung Ju pushed for the new bill to revise the Popular Culture and Arts Industry Development Act aiming to reduce adolescent entertainers’ working time and ensure their rights.

According to the bill, it limits working hours to six hours a day, 25 hours per week for those under 12; seven hours a day, 30 hours per week for those under 15; and seven hours a day, 35 hours per week for those under 19 — the legal age in Korea.

At present, artists under 15 years old have 35 hours per week to work, whilst those under 19 have 40 hours per week. If the bill passes, underaged idols will have lesser time to practice choreography, take vocal lessons, get makeup, and perform on stage.

Meanwhile, underage is the norm for 4th generation artists: Most of NewJeans members are minors, except Minji (she turned 19 last month), half of FIFTY FIFTY and IVE are underaged, and six out of seven members of BABYMONSTER are not of legal age.


In response, the bill is under backlash from Korean associations (Korea Music Content Association, Korea Entertainment Producer’s Association, Korea Management Federation, Recording Industry Association of Korea, and Record Label Industry Association of Korea).

They said in a joint statement on May 17, “The proposal that arbitrarily subdivides work hours based on age is a Popular Culture and Arts Industry ‘Underdevelopment’ Act that disregards the reality [of the industry].”

They claimed that the new law would prevent teen stars from being on their way to stardom and undermine their opportunity to reach their full potential. Moreover, it would affect producers’ and broadcast stations’ choices. They would skip over underaged talents due to this restriction.

Nonetheless, the part on transparency of accounting settlements – with or without the artist’s request every year – is unanimously agreed. It would also allow the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism to inspect K-pop agencies for unfair conduct.

This is a positive sign especially after the controversies surrounding EXO-CBX and LOONA. On June 5, three members of EXO – Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin – filed a complaint to the Fair Trade Commission to sue their company for coercing them into signing “slave contracts”. They claimed SM did not disclose full details and articles about their payment when they first debuted in 2012.

Since December last year, LOONA filed for injunctions to suspend their exclusive contracts with Blockberry Creative. They were subject to unfair profit distribution and severely overworked.

The new bill also aims to ensure young idols’ right to access education and protect them from verbal and physical abuse. It also contains clauses on the prevention of idols from being excessive beauty standards from their managers and agencies.

In discussing the working-hour limit on young idols, various, contradictory opinions poured in.

Music critic and author Park Hee A said, “Idols easily spend two to three hours just for makeup and transit. Reducing the working hours of adolescent members requires multiple follow-up changes, such as more choreography practices for other members on how they move in a stage without them.”


Park Hee A appreciated the effort of lawmakers to protect underaged idols; however, this change ignored the “situation on the ground” and would invariably affect the entire line of personnel.

Nonetheless, others showed support for this change. Seo Jeong Min Gap, another music critic, thought change is necessary.

Intensive working hours did contribute to the success of K-pop, but we are at a point where we should ask whether such aspect in the industry should remain imperative and permanent,” adding, “The associations expressed regret over the fact that lawmakers haven’t discussed the issue with the industry, but I want to ask them if they had ever talked to the parties concerned — the teenage idols and their parents — before releasing the joint statement.”


Seo Jeong urged for a radical shift in the industry that reconsiders its current view on success and factors in the wellbeing of idols – especially of those in their developmental ages.

Source: Korea JoongAng Daily 

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