As K-pop sweeps the global music scene, young musicians are increasingly vying to rise to the top of the genre — and too many of them look exactly the same, according to South Korea’s government. Over the weekend, officials gave local TV producers and broadcasters new guidelines that suggested restricting the number of K-pop singers on a show at any given time, in order to curb the pressures of plastic surgery among viewers in the country.
“Are the singers on TV music shows twins? They seriously look identical. Most are [K-pop] idol group members,” wrote South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, adding that the “uniformity among singers” promotes a narrow view of beauty, according to the Korea Times. The organization called the appearances of K-pop stars “exceedingly similar” (“skinny, similar hairstyles and makeup with outfits exposing their bodies”) and also said that “overt concerns for how one should look on TV” can negatively affect teens and children, many of whom are already raised in a culture that encourages plastic surgery. Some K-pop acts openly promote surgery themselves: All four members of girl band SixBomb, for instance, underwent multiple operations and documented their transformations in light-hearted videos.
Many K-pop music fans weren’t keen on the government recommendations. After an online petition circulated to protest the guidelines and a politician from the opposing party called them totalitarian, the ministry said on Tuesday that it did not mean to cause “unnecessary confusion” and will revise some of its recommendations. The suggestions are intended to prevent media from negatively influencing people’s daily lives, it said.
Yet more broadly, the whole affair is also another example of how closely K-pop stars are regulated. Last fall, the government-sponsored South Korean entertainment industry — which oversees all K-pop acts in meticulous fashion, assembling groups and often requiring singers to hand over control of their entire public personas — drew attention when it fired two singers for dating each other. Former stars have detailed extensive management contracts that dictated how they could look, dress or act at all times. There’s a bit of irony, then, in the government’s broadcast recommendations now trying to curtail the very situations that it helped spawn.