Is NewJeans Too New to Debut?
BY JULIA XIAO '24
Being a K-pop idol encompasses many elements. From singing, rapping, and dancing, to attending activities like TV appearances and concerts, their responsibilities are never-ending. But despite the weight they carry, the industry has debuted younger idols each year. Young idols lack the maturity to join an industry with high standards; furthermore, they tend to experience psychological struggles and won’t have life skills after their group disbands, leaving them unprepared for the future.
Emerging in the late 1900s to early 2000s, K-pop was initially much simpler. Choreographies were more basic, music videos were less expensive and flashy, and the field was not globally famous. Overall, the career’s uncertainties caused parents to prevent their kids from entering such a risky path. Those who debuted were generally older because they had more freedom in choosing their careers. In contrast, the average age of recent debuting groups, who are dubbed the “Fourth Generation,” is much younger. One such group is NewJeans, a girl group that debuted in July of 2022. As updated on Kprofiles, the five-member group’s ages range from 14 to 18 years old. Additionally, the training period prior to debuting makes the idol’s entry to the industry even earlier. For example, NewJeans’ old member, Minni, joined a company to train in her second year of middle school, which extends her start in the industry to even earlier than her age of 18. Nowadays, K-Pop is more mainstream and parents are more likely to allow their children to train, giving rise to younger idols.
Unfortunately, the loose age limits have consequences as young kids should not have to commit themselves at such a young age. Their lives are filled with training, which is highly stressful because of the pressure to earn a spot in a group. Close friends are also competitors, which adds more stress. One example of a young trainee going through all these issues is Bangchan from Stray Kids, a boy group that debuted back in 2018. After becoming a trainee at age 13, Bangchan trained for 7 years before debuting. He stated the hardest thing was “when the other trainees who were with me would leave the agency…some have gone on to debut under other labels and others have changed career paths,” which furthers the uncertainty and stress. Likewise, the young trainees either miss school or are not well dedicated to it. Some might not even graduate middle school. Without higher level education, idols have a lower chance at getting good jobs after their group disbands. Kids are educated in order to survive once independent, but idols have a reversed situation in which they peak in fame in their youth and struggle as adults.
Other problems young idols face are related to the audience. Having to appeal to much older fans is disturbing, yet it is expected. Second, the vast amount of information on the young idols that is published on the internet is unsafe and scary. Young idols like NewJeans’ members become public figures with their lives on display before they fully grow up and understand the ramifications their decisions have. Further, idols must have “perfect” physiques or else face criticism, which is especially harmful because they are still growing and have not created their own self-image yet.
Youth is not an ideal quality for a healthy debuting K-pop idol. Companies wanting to pump out the next viral group have created the trend of younger debuts, but the well-being of their marketed idols is not maintained. The young idols face a variety of mental struggles as well as losing touch with the skills needed to move up in life. This conflict needs to be addressed to protect the young trainees. Rather than an age maximum, an age minimum can be enacted to end a further lowering of age in K-pop.