It is no surprise that when you think of K-Pop you think of the glitz, the glam, and the unforgettable flair each and every idol emulates on the stage. However, some long-term K-Pop fans may be aware that a lot of our beloved idols had undergone some precarious situations due to the Slave Contracts imposed on them by their companies.
Slave contracts refer to long-term and unfair contracts between idols and management agencies. From SM to YG, stories of idols trapped by their companies and forced to work under ridiculous conditions became a norm of an idol’s background. Now, SM Entertainment is back in the spot light and not because of their investors and CEO changes but for their slave contracts with EXO; particularly members Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen. But what other precious idol groups suffered the same fate? Check out the list of K-Pop idols that spoke up about their slave contracts below and learn more about EXO’s situation at the bottom of the article.
A popular girl group that debuted in 2011. The girls found little success during their cutesy “Rocket Girl” debut days, so their company The Entertainment Pascal deceived the girls into filming risque MVs and taking seductive photoshoots claiming the photos were simply for testing the outfits and not for official album releases or marketing.
However, “Marionette” and “Vibrato” showcased the girls’ clad bodies that became quite the social media sensation back then. Member Gayoung spoke up about the traumatic experience and the slave contract during an interview with Insight.
In 2014, the boy group B.A.P sued their label in order to gain “freedom from their slave contracts.” The six members Bang Yongguk, Kim Himchan, Jung Daehyun, Yoo Youngjae, Moon Jongup and Zelo submitted legal documents to the Seoul Western District Court to nullify the exclusive contracts signed with TS Entertainment in March 2011.
The boys mainly had a problem regarding earnings and requesting clear documentation of their pay. Alongside this, the members’ contracts were requested to be re-signed in order to lengthen their time under the agency’s control when they were sick or taking health breaks. The contract appeared to only benefit the label as the 7 year contract was only in effect after their official debut date, not when they first signed under TS Entertainment.
Believe it or not, back in 2009 when the Hallyu Wave was at its peak and our favorite groups were debuting, TVXQ broke down the doors and exposed the malicious companies of K-Pop first. With their contracts lasting 13 years, almost double that of today’s standard contract, the group changed the way companies and trainees would work together going forward.
Former TVXQ members Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu, now known as JYJ, filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment on July 31, 2009. They reached a settlement in 2012 with the court case information being made public in 2015 due to a newly enacted law. Soon after, it was revealed the court sided with SM Entertainment but this doesn’t mean the group weren’t stuck in a slave contract.
Due to these conditions, in 2010, Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) established a rule that limited entertainment contracts to 7 years. You can see the full contract here.
In 2017, the KFTC restricted entertainment contracts following the lawsuit involving the financial penalties for entertainers that break their contracts early and made it more difficult for companies to force entertainers to renew their contracts through “immoral clauses.”
Just last year, Blockberry Creative’s girl group LOONA also went public with their lawsuit. Nine members, mainly Chuu, publicly claimed there were trick terms in the amendments alongside distribution of profit issues. In order to prevent further debt damages, they filed for an injunction and suspension of contracts.
Although the tables turned and there was a power-swap between Chuu and the label, things did turn messy for the group. Only 2 members, Vivi and Hyunjin did not sue and Chuu was removed from the group, and only 4 members had won their lawsuits regarding a cancellation of terms in their contracts. The 5 remaining members, Haseul, Yeojin, Yves, Olivia Hye, and Gowon, had their claims rejected and continued to operate under Blockberry Creative.
Believe it or not, EXO’s Chinese members Kris Wu and Luhan had previously sued SM in 2014 and reached a settlement regarding their contracts. Like others, the two members also claimed to be trapped in a “slave contract” that limited their overseas activities, an invalid length of contract, and had issues with profit distributions.
Despite reaching a final settlement, the members remained under contract with SM but were no longer allowed to perform or promote as members of EXO. Perhaps the same will happen for members Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen?
Lee Seung Gi
Without a doubt, the contract between Hook Entertainment and Lee Seung Gi is probably the most horrible contract to date. Evidence was provided by Lee Seung Gi himself and a company insider that showed CEO Kwon Ji Young reportedly withheld Lee Seung Gi’s profits for over 18 years, illegally used his earnings for personal expenses such as lavish vacations, purchasing name-brand products, and even hospital bills for CEO Kwon’s mother and housing loans for her brother.
But money wasn’t the only problem – CEO Kwon abused her power and would force Lee Seung Gi to privately perform at her own personal gatherings during late hours in the night, limited his expenses for food and services, and also abused him verbally and physically with death threats. It was the hottest scandal at the time and proved that the Korean entertainment industry still mistreated their artists behind closed doors despite the changes in laws.
What do you think of these idol slave contracts? Do you think there are more groups suffering from these deceiving companies? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
More about EXO’s current situation:
EXO was a nine member boy group that debuted in 2012 under SM Entertainment and is recognized as one of the most popular third-generation K-pop acts. They represent a whole generation as they paved their way to fame with hit songs such as debut song “Mama” in 2012, “Growl,” then “Overdose,” “Call Me Baby” in 2015 and continued to even peek in the 4th K-generation wave with “Love Shot” and “Tempo” around 2018.
However, songs like “Don’t Fight The Feeling” and “Runaway” were released in 2021 and the boys successfully celebrated their 10th anniversary and are still kicking! How are they going on this long? What happened to the notorious 7 year curse? Well, a well devised endlessly looping Slave contract will do the trick.
Members Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen claimed that SM Entertainment had made amendments to their contracts and also enforced earlier renewals in order to keep them under their control longer. The three members are currently seeking separation as well as claims for unfair wage distributions.