The rising popularity of Korean entertainment has meant that there is an incredible spotlight shone on Korean artists. From actresses to idols, the enormous Hallyu wave that crashed Korean culture onto the screens of people all around the world has exposed audiences to some of the best artists of our lifetime.
As fans, we’re always looking to engage and learn more about our favorite artists.
With Korean celebrities, fans have a much more unique connection than western celebrities. The nature of this has been coined “parasocial kin”, and it essentially means that fans develop a more familiar bond with their idols. This is vastly different from many western artists, whereby the relationships are more the “look-from-afar” type.
With the more ‘intimate ‘type of relationships with idols comes the hunger to learn even more about their lives. In turn, when people learn more about the lives of idols, the eventual question on everyone’s tongue is: do I have what it takes to become an idol myself?
Idols always look like their lives are perfect. They’ve been trained at young ages to look, speak, and present themselves in a certain way so that the public adores them. They always dress pretty, have enviable bodies, and have friendships with other idols that we mere mortals can only dream about.
However, is it all worth it?
The rumors of K-pop idols earning much less than ideal with dire work conditions started years ago when curious Redditors and quora members asked the question: what’s life like as an idol?
Over the subsequent years, ex-K-pop idols took to interviews and YouTube to openly speak about their salaries as K-pop idols and turns out, it’s not that pretty.
Let’s take a deep dive into how much K-pop idols earn.
Firstly, How Much Does K-Pop Idol Training Cost?
To understand the structure in which K-pop idols are paid, you must understand how much it costs to train them.
From initial training until their debut, idols rack up a lot of debt to their company. The average cost of training a single K-pop idol is around 25,000 USD. Their company will pay for their training, dormitories to live in, clothing, initial promotions, and all debut activities.
This average figure does not take into account the varying years in which someone can be training at a company. Some idols will train for over 10 years with a company and will ultimately rack up a much larger sum of debt. Other idols might train for 1-2 years and accumulate a much smaller debt.
After a K-pop idol debuts, they will need to pay back their debt to the company, and hence their salary for their first couple of years will be relatively low.
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How Much Do K-Pop Idols Actually Earn?
Whilst there is no straight answer as to how much a K-pop idol earns, we’ve gathered information to give you guys a ballpark figure.
Let’s cover some groundwork first on how K-pop idols earn money.
K-pop idols earn money in several ways. Of course, their concerts would be one of their biggest sources of income, hence why sold-out tours are always the golden standard.
They also earn money through variety show appearances, as guests on radio shows, brand endorsements, social media posts, album sales, advertisements, and event appearances.
Depending on the contract that the trainee initially signs with the entertainment company they’re under, much of their initial earnings post-debut will go into the pockets of the companies. The remainder will be split amongst the members of the group with which they debuted.
Henry Prince Mak who is a former K-pop idol (from JJCC) openly spoke about his K-pop idol experience. In his explainer YouTube video, he speaks about how the entertainment company kept 80% of the group’s earnings, with the members splitting the remainder 20%.
However, that’s not all.
The member’s earnings would then be calculated to repay their debt to the company, and thus their actual in-pocket earnings would be close to nothing. He surmised in a later interview that he was earning about $1-$2USD a day. That’s rough!
Mir from disbanded K-pop group MBLAQ has also spoken out in a YouTube video about how transparency with idol income was an issue and he earned much less than what people thought.
His salary was about $12,400USD for the first three months, and then $0 for the subsequent three months. This was due to the group’s commission fees going straight to their company.
The group’s album, ‘Y’, was a big hit, and it earned him around $42,000USD. It sounds like quite a big sum of money, but considering how popular MBLAQ was at its peak and how many hours they were pouring into their promotions, it probably should have been more.
Overall, the glitz and glamor of being a K-pop idol is often shattered by the dollar amount that most K-pop idols pocket.
Of course, there are a few exceptions such as Big Bang, Girl’s Generation, BTS, BlackPink. All of these supremely successful K-pop groups have gone on to perform on global stages, major musical events such as Coachella, and have had many sold-out concerts worldwide.
These types of K-pop idols would have paid off their company debt in a relatively short amount of time. They’d be considered cash cows for their entertainment company, bringing in millions every year.
In reality, most K-pop idols should expect a salary range anywhere from $42,000USD to $900,000USD. The huge disparity is because of the varying contractual obligations that they have with their entertainment companies.
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Do K-Pop Idols get paid monthly?
The standard cycle for K-pop idols is every three months, although this can differ depending on the entertainment company. The reason for this is because on average, groups will make a comeback every three months. K-pop idols will not get paid during the months that they don’t promote (unless they have such things as copyright income).
When they’re not promoting, you will often see them guesting on variety shows and radio shows as well as hustling with brand endorsements. Social media is a growing platform where idols can charge a rate to post about a brand based on their number of followers.
Who Are The Richest K-pop Idols? Net Worth
Here are the top 5 richest K-pop idols.
1. Kim Jae-Joong (JYJ)
Kim Jae-Joong was an original DBSK member (from SM). After some controversy, he and two other members separated and formed their own group called JYJ. He is a singer, songwriter, actor, director, designer, and real estate and business mogul.
Net Worth: $70,00,000
2. Choi Siwon (Super Junior)
Choi Siwon’s handsome face is recognizable anywhere. He is an original member of the Super Junior K-pop group who had sold out stadiums worldwide. He is a singer, businessman, and actor who is rising to prominence with his incredible acting performances in dramas such as “She Was Pretty”.
Net Worth: $65,000,000
Everyone knows PSY as the artist behind the ever-popular ‘Gangnam Style’, but did you know he is also a rapper, songwriter, actor, and record producer? PSY also boasts Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager, as his manager. He continues releasing funky eclectic music today on top of all his other activities.
Net Worth: $65,000,000
4. G-Dragon (Big Bang)
G-Dragon should need no introduction. He is a member of the prominent K-pop group Big Bang – a group that was credited with being a huge influence and the reason why the Hallyu wave took off the way it did. He is a rapper, songwriter, producer, model, and fashion business owner.
Net Worth: $55,000,000
Since his debut in 1998, Rain has continued to be a treasure in the Korean entertainment industry. Even though his K-pop group, Fanclub, disbanded, he continued as a solo artist and just kept smashing records.
He is a singer, songwriter, dancer, music producer, and actor. He is also married to one of Korea’s top female actresses, Kim Tae Hee.
Net Worth: $45,000,000
What do K Pop Idols do with their money?
K-pop idols, like all of us, have hobbies and interests that they like to spend money on. For example, global stars like Super Junior’s Heechul or Monster X’s Minhyuk are avid gamers and spend their time and money at PC cafes on games such as League of Legends and Overwatch.
However, before all the fun and games, there are many financial responsibilities that K-pop idols have to take care of.
Please note that the majority of contracts that K-pop idols sign are for an average length of seven years. Dubbed “the seven-year curse” by fans, many bands will, unfortunately, disband after this period.
Disbandment could occur for several reasons. It may be because negotiations fall through, members and management can no longer find common ground, or idols simply lose passion.
Whatever is the case, it’s inevitable that the majority of K-pop idols simply can’t pursue this career forever. You will hear about many K-pop idols who, once they start making money, start investing in their own businesses and real estate. Securing their future is a smart move that idols are aware they must do during their prime.
Let’s delve into detail the things that K-pop idols do with their money.
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Pay Back Debt
First and foremost, once they start making money, they must start paying back their companies. As we’ve mentioned before, how much they pay will depend on the contractual agreements with their company.
Unfortunately, some idols will work their whole career and still not have the ability to pay off their debt.
Pay for Hair, Make-Up, & Clothes
For most K-pop idols, paying for their own hair, make-up, and clothing for appearances is the norm. This is quite the struggle during their debut, as this is the period when they are making the least amount of money but it requires a substantial amount of effort.
Former K-pop idol Grazy Grace is now a YouTube star, and her video about how much she made as a K-pop artist in 3 years went viral because of the shocking amount.
In 3 years, she earned $0 from the music itself, and less than $500USD in total for all other activities. She was getting paid less than $100USD for each variety show appearance, and less than $70USD for being a guest on radio shows.
After paying for hair, makeup, and nails for the shows, not only was she not making money but she was accumulating greater debt.
Once K-pop idols overcome the huge hurdle of paying back their debt and start earning a proper high-income salary, some will start investing in businesses and real estate.
For example, former Miss A K-pop idol Suzy purchased a building in the Gangnam district of Seoul. It is estimated to bring her around $13,400 a month in rent. Not bad!
For many K-pop idols, the money brought in by their successful K-pop careers is a means for pursuing even greater creative interests.
K-pop idols such as G-Dragon and ex-Girl’s Generation member Jessica Jung have always been fashion-minded. So much so, that at some point in their career, they decided to open up their own fashion brand. Both businesses continue to reach new heights even today.
G-Dragon’s peaceminusone famously boasts continuous exclusive collaborations with Nike which sell out in seconds every time. Jessica Jung’s Blanc and Eclaire has boasted revenue surpassing USD 18 million at its peak in 2019.
You should now have a better idea on how much K-pop idols earn!
As you can see, the life of a K-pop idol is not something set in stone. There is lots of glitz and glamour involved, but it depends on many factors.
K-pop idols can debut, repay their debt in one year, and be making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. They can also debut, struggle to gain success, and forever be in debt to their companies.
Does any of this information surprise you about how much K-pop idols earn? What was the most interesting thing you found out? Let’s discuss it in the comments section!