With the K-Pop industry accelerating faster than ever, more and more companies are striving to debut new groups as quickly as possible. However, some major agencies have kept their trainees in the proverbial “basement” for a remarkably long time. Now, two former K-Pop idol trainers are explaining why.
Through the course of his career, Dragon J (author of How to Become a K-Pop Star) went from K-Pop road manager to girl group training manager to the head of strategy and business development at a Korean entertainment company. In a new “Comment Defenders” interview with AYO on YouTube, he explained one little-known reason why trainees (and their fans) can spend so long waiting for their debut.
Why does my idol’s agency not debut their trainees? Are they still training?
— AYO commenter
Whether they appear on survival shows or gain attention through pre-debut programs, trainees can attract a lot of fans before they even debut. So, when the years pass by without those trainees debuting, agencies find themselves with a lot of frustrated fans on their hands. SM Entertainment, for example, took six years to debut aespa after Red Velvet, much to the dismay of SM Rookies fans.
Likewise, TREASURE debuted five years after iKON despite appearing on YG Treasure Box in 2019.
But such debut delays aren’t necessarily what their agencies want. Dragon J explained that from the start of a training contract to their debut in a group, each trainee can cost a company around ₩1.00 billion KRW (about $881,000 USD). These fees likely include vocal, dance, and rap lessons as well as private schooling, housing, food, and more.
As such, Dragon J says it’s always better for the company if they can debut a group quickly to recoup their investment. So, when debuts get delayed, there’s usually a complication reason behind that. One reason Dragon J noted is all down to concept.
For example, the K-Pop strategist and business developer proposed an example where a company decides to create a girl group with a sexy concept. In such a situation, the company will select trainees who fit the sexy concept and train them for several years. However, when their debut approaches, the company may come to realize that the industry has already changed a lot in that time and that cute concepts are now booming instead.
In such situations, Dragon J explains that companies have no choice but the delay the group’s debut—likely either to redesign their concept or wait until the industry changes again.
Choreography director and former idol trainer In Ji Woong, who joined Dragon J in the interview, says this is why he always tells trainees, “Being an idol is pure luck.” Becoming a trainee and making it into a debut team, he says, can be achieved with hard work and talent. However, actually making it to debut and becoming popular, relies on many external factors.