What do you think of when someone mentions K-pop?
The catchy music? Dazzling concerts? High production value music videos?
Well, there’s all those and the image of the rich and famous. Just look at how Blankpink’s Lisa paid off a S$8 million house in cash! Crazy!
It’s no surprise that many young people all over the world dream of becoming one. In Singapore, it has become prominent enough that K-pop companies have come over to host auditions and boot camps.
But how viable is it to become a K-pop idol financially? Does every K-pop idol become instantaneously rich?
TL;DR: How Much Money Do K-pop Idols Make?
The Famous & Top Earners: Blackpink, BTS
Let’s start with what most of us are familiar with, BTS. According to Forbes, the group makes an income of 60 to 70 million U.S. dollars a year! Meanwhile, Blackpink brings in US$24 million annually, according to Wealthpersons.com, which is still an absurd amount of money.
K-pop idols, much like other famous personalities, have multiple income streams. Apart from album sales, they also generate an income through brand endorsements, commercial films (CFs), appearances on TV shows, etc.
While we can’t say exactly how much K-pop idols make as it is dependent on their popularity and a whole multitude of factors, industry insiders claim that established idols can make US$2,000 to US$4,000 per hour on average from the above, including all the preparation and rehearsal times. Idols are also paid on a three month cycle but aren’t paid if they are not actively promoting.
But of course, we’re only talking about the creme of the crop. They are like all famous people, rich beyond our imagination.
The Rest of the K-pop Industry
When it comes to the vast majority of idol groups that aren’t as popular, things are very different.
A big factor that determines a K-pop idols salary is the contract they have with their parent company. While the big companies like SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment can afford to pay their artists from the beginning, other K-pop companies have a “break-even” standard where idols don’t earn anything till they pay off their debts.
The Cost Of Being a K-pop Trainee
For any K-pop idol, they’ll first have to go through years of training under a “slave contract”, in which they aren’t earning any money but raking up debt instead. Think of it like a university loan but instead of paying for a course, you’re paying for singing, dancing, and modeling classes, on top of expenses for accommodation, food, and other living expenses. The expenses of a K-pop trainee typically add up to about US$50,000 a year. This is all before they even debut in a group!
When preparing for a K-pop debut, there are even more costs that will be incurred such as the production of the songs and music videos. These includes paying the music producer, make-up artists, fashion stylists, choreographer, songwriter so on and so forth.
Just look at the number of people involved on one music video set!
According to a former idol named Song Jaeho, just debuting alone will cost at least US$470,000. For his group of seven members, that US$470,000 debt is split evenly. so each member would owe the company they are under US$65,000. The problem then lies in if their earnings can pay back that debt. For unpopular idols, earning that amount is tough. Assuming they have a 50:50 contract with the company and the group makes US$100,000, only US$50,000 goes to the group. The group then has to split their earnings among its members and hence, each member only gets about US$7,000, which all goes back to paying off their debt to the company.
When it comes to performing concerts, the split is often a whopping 90:10. No, not the idol getting 90 per cent of the revenue, the company gets that and the idol group only makes 10 per cent! Not to forget, you’ll again need to split it with your other members.
In a way, K-pop companies are much like Venture Capital (VC) companies. Instead of investing in companies, they invest in their idols hoping that they will generate good profit for them in the future by supporting them financially at the start.
Even after debuting however, life isn’t a bed of roses for K-pop idols.
One example would be AOA, a once average girl group who became one of the most famous after a few years. For the first two years, they weren’t making any money. It was only after the third year that they said they broke even. It’s crazy to think that even for a famous girl group, it took them three years just to break even!
Now imagine what it would be like for the not so famous K-pop groups.
Last but not least, many K-pop companies aren’t transparent about how much things cost and how much money was made. Which is why we see a lot of news about lawsuits between idols and their companies. Some ex-idols have claimed that these companies could just bill you basically whatever amount they want as you have no way of knowing how much things really cost.
So, how much do K-pop idols make on average? For most K-pop idols, the sad truth is next to nothing and you’ll most likely end up in debt (unless you have rich parents to support you throughout).
But if you manage to make it big and have cleared your debt from your trainee days, the sky’s the limit!
If you had the chance, would you chase your dreams to become a K-pop idol despite the financial risks? Share with us in the comments below!