Young Koreans Chase Dreams of K-Pop Stardom
Kim Si-Yoon and Yoo Ga-eul, left, dance for their mothers at a playground in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 15, 2014.
Kim, a nine-year-old aspiring K-pop star, has no time to throw tantrums. She wakes up at 7:30 a.m. for school, followed by hours of voice training, dance lessons and cram school before crashing into bed at midnight.
Kim Si-Yoon, 9, and Yoo Ga-eul, right, sing during a lesson at DEF Dance Skool in Seoul.
Thousands of Korean children dream of becoming household names like rapper Psy, whose 2012 "Gangnam Style" video was a global YouTube hit, often putting up with punishing schedules in the hope of one day making it big in the music industry.
Kim Si-Yoon and Yoo Ga-eul, left, take a selfie at a restaurant in Seoul.
A recent survey of South Korean pre-teens shows that 21 percent of respondents wanted to be K-pop stars when they grow up, the most popular career choice.
Kim Si-Yoon and her mother pray before dinner at their house in Seoul.
Kim's mom drives Kim around Seoul each day, determined to see her own thwarted ambition of becoming a singer fulfilled by her daughter.
"Competition is very intense, and there are so many good kids," said Park Sook-hee, who spends around 700,000 won ($639) each month on Kim's voice and dance lessons.
Kim Si-Yoon plays a toy guitar at her house in Seoul.
Kim is training for auditions to get into reputed talent management companies such as YG Entertainment or S.M. Entertainment. Success would bring a tougher schedule, perhaps even leading her to drop out of school.
Kim Si-Yoon dances in a class at DEF Dance Skool in Seoul.
Kim, a third-grader at elementary school, said she recognized the sacrifices needed to realize her dream. "It is tough. So I am trying to have fun and when I make efforts, I can perform better," she said
Members of the girl group Gfriend rehearse in Seoul on Dec. 23, 2014.
K-pop is the rage in Asia, especially in China and Japan, and the industry is eyeing new audiences in the West.
Members of GFriend watch a recording of their stage performance during a dress rehearsal for their debut performance on "The Show" in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2015.
GFriend performs during "The Show" in Seoul.
Overseas sales revenues garnered by the "Korean Wave" pop culture industry, which includes music and TV dramas, nearly doubled to $730 million in 2013 in just five years, Bank of Korea data shows.
Members of GFriend take a 'selfie' after their performance in "The Show" in Seoul.
A member of GFriend signs her autograph on their album before their performance on "The Show."
Sowon, a member of GFriend, said she was more happy than tired, despite not being able to see her family or hang out with friends anymore.
"I am thinking only one thing - our song keeps being played," said the 20-year-old starlet, who spent five years training for her debut. "I hope to perform anywhere, anytime, even if I can't sleep or I am tired."
Jang Ha-Jin, a fomer performer-in-training at S.M. Entertainment, picks out a book at a university library in Daejeon, South Korea, on Dec. 18, 2014.
Jang made it to S.M. Entertainment's coveted training program a decade ago after winning a talent contest.
She stuck to a seven-day regimen for nearly three years, before giving it all up to return to a more sedate life.
Now an engineering major, Jang remembers being trapped in an energy-sapping timetable that included lessons in Chinese, since many K-pop bands were trying to make inroads into China.
Trainees had no access to mobile phones and each week, about 40 pupils were assessed on camera for their star potential. Jang constantly compared herself to her peers, and felt pressured to impress heavy-handed instructors. Worse, there was no guarantee she would be picked for a K-pop debut.
"The most difficult part in fact was when I saw myself and felt like I didn't grow up," said Jang, 23, remembering her stressful teenage years