Sick of K-pop Cult by Adeline Chia of Straits Times

For those of you who can’t find the Straits Times article/are curious about it, here’s the full article!

(cr: Straits Times, of course)

Title: Sick of K-pop Cult
Subtitle: Hally Wave is no more than clone-like stars, manufactured sounds and weepy fans.
Author: Adeline Chia (,

This is the article:

“In David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, there is a futuristic segment set in Korea where a corpocracy rules the land. Advances in bioengineering have allowed human creatures called fabricants to be bred as workers. Physically, they are perfect specimens – with identical, beautiful faces but without any higher consciousness. When they run out the course of their productive lives, they are destroyed.

I found this section of the book particularly disturbing. It is a chilling study of how a capitalist totalitarian society exploits the weak and turns humans into robots for money. Everything looks happy on the surface but beneath, it’s maggots and rotten meat.

Recently, I got a taste of Mitchell’s dystopian view – at a K-pop fan meet of super-band TVXQ.

What’s a fan meet? It is a shrunken version of a concert, with only a handful of live performances. Interspersed with the song-and-dance numbers are screenings of music videos and sanitised Q&A sessions.

To any disinterested observer, it was a blatant rip-off. To the fans, it was like communing with the gods. It was a uniquely depressing experience but during the show, I couldn not put my finger on the reason.

Could it have been the dead-eyed way the pop princes answered questions from stuttering fans about their favourite Singaporean food? Or the well-choreographed dance moves they executed, without a glitch, to songs scientifically engineered to stick onto your brain like a leech?

Then, it dawned on me. They are fabricants. Singing, dancing fabricants.

But I am being unfair on TVXQ. They are not the only K-pop group to have infiltrated the consciousness and fantasies of teenagers in Asia and beyond.

A lot has been made about the Hallyu Wave, the unstoppable South Korean pop culture tsunami that has washed up on the shores of the world, conquering music charts, television ratings and the wall space of adolescents’ rooms.

I am heartily sick of it. Every bit of it. The manufactured sounds, the ersatz emotions, the clone-like stars, the cult-like, weepy fandom.

My more moderate friends point out that teen idols from the East and the West were never the vanguard of musical experimentation. Neither did they inspire devotion from level-headed people.

Before your Super Juniors of 2AMs, there were cheesy boybands such as Backstreet Boys in the noughties and the Partridge Family from the 1970s.

But of all the decades of cashing in on teenagers’ hormonal urges, the K-pop phenomenon seems the most coldly cynical and formulaic. Compared to the uniformity of the Korean stars, Backstreet Boys seem like veritable bastions of individuality.

Part of the reason is because the Korean record labels have gotten their star-making formula down to a T.

This seems to be the drill: Train some nice-looking kids in a star factory. Assemble a group of them. Give them a name that is an abbreviation for something or just a random collection of letters and numbers.

The girls must have stick-thin arms and legs and the boys must look a bit like girls. Next, produce a song that is the demon child of lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas. Throw in Autotune, hip-hop beat and strong synth lines. Make a video that is a mini movie, featuring the stars doing synchronised dance moves while the back-up dancers gurn at the sides.

Voila! You have a viral hit.

For the record, I have nothing against pre-packaged happy, shiny music. In fact, I think there is something heroic and wonderful about the wilfully plasticky and fake.

But my quarrel with K-pop is not only with the aesthetic aridity of its products but with how nasty it can get. For one thing, the Mafia-like way the record companies exploit their stars and audience is chilling.

The industry has long been stalked by controversy around ‘slave’ contracts that tie trainee stars to long exclusive deals with poor pay and little control.

Incidentally, three of TVXQ’s five members took their record label to court because their 13-year contract was too long, restrictive and gave them little profit. The boys won and left to form their own group, JYJ.

Admittedly, it is hard to feel sorry for pop stars (‘It’s sad to hear that being adored by millions prevents you from taking public transport’), but in my rare maternal moments, I worry about these starlets who are worked to the bone and whose careers last as long as their good looks. Then they are discarded like rag dolls.

Then there is K-pop’s effects on listeners. It turns functional people into crazed addicts, acting in robotic idolatry.

Recently, watching a sea of red lightsticks keeping beat to a song made me and my companion grab on to each other. Eyes wide in terror, we communicated wordlessly for fear of persecution. Our faces said this: ‘Are we at a cult gathering?’

K-pop is also unique in inspiring extreme behaviour from fans and generating psychosis. Cyber-bullying and online smear campaigns are common practices by anti-fans who target a certain entertainer they hate.

Sometimes, anti-fans turn into stalkers or criminals. Yun Ho from TVXQ famously had an anti-fan spike his drink with super glue and had to have his stomach pumped.

Those are just the haters. There are those who profess love by cutting themselves and writing letters in blood, before sending their bloody epistolary packages to their idols.

Admittedly, these are the extreme cases. But I also wonder if anti-fan behaviour is encouraged by the record label to generate more publicity for their artists.

Who knows? Still, it is undeniable that K-pop exerts a hypnotic pull. It is unstoppable. It is a virus that spreads like fire over the radio, on television and in ringtones.

I know this because I had to do research for this article and listen to a lot of fabricants perform their music. Before I know it, the melodies have wormed their way into the folds of my grey matter, made my synapses misfire, caused me to lose control of my wrist on the computer mouse – till I am clicking on the same video in YouTube again and again, staring glassy-eyed at my screen, alone, at four in the morning.

‘Resist!’ the sentient part of my brain cried softly. To which Super Junior cheerily replied: ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…’


1) Corpocracy = where a corporation or a company is the governing body of a country.
2) Cult = a religion of fervent worship of something

Fun challenge! 😀 Pick one or do both, up to you.

1) Amongst her profound sentences with astounding vocabulary are typo errors. Spot them.
2) Name all the bands that she insults, whether blatantly or subtly.
Thanks to @_oppalovesyou for typing it out 😀

About Saranghaey

Hey its Candy! Full time Hotelier with part time Beauty Blogger and Korean fan :D Welcome to my little hiding place where I rave about my latest beauty finds as well as bits & pieces of my life.

17 thoughts on “Sick of K-pop Cult by Adeline Chia of Straits Times

  1. Interesting and true article, yet my question to the beginning of her article is: Why are you at a TVXQ fan meet if you don’t even know them? You are the fool for going for it, as much as it may be “for your friend.”

    Still, interesting, but more persuasive/balanced only if it had come from a K-Pop fan. The biasness in her article is very evident. I used to think like her, but I eventually turned over to “the dark side.” THis apparently means I believe in the genre of romance she calls “fake.”

    1. You obviously need lots of information to be an anti-K-Pop. Because if you don’t, K-Pop fans will accuse you of not being exposed to ANY K-Pop and then saying it sucks. So obviously you would need to be exposed to it first-hand, the more the better, and still come out hating it in the end. Therefore, I think this person is right for doing so. I agree with every statement,

      1. i agree with her statements; every statement actually. But this is a newspaper article, and she’s a hired writer, hired to evaluate THE MEET. But she turns her evaluation into some melodramatic experience in hell. Honestly, if I were her, in a stadium full of waving red lights, I’d be scared as shit too. But her writing was not very professional, judging on the nature of her attendance at the meet and her writing style. I had information about K-Pop too (thanks to friends and their love for K-stuff. They said there was some “sorry sorry” joke in an episode and I had no idea so I had to search it up) and I wasn’t a fan either (but now I’ve gone over to “the dark side”), but I didn’t hate on them, and in an editorial nonetheless! She’s daring to risk a billion people’s hate. Yes, I’m aware an editorial has a side that the editor leans on. duh. But her language is quite unprofessional. She shouldn’t sound so horrid about a subject, even if she doesn’t like it. And is she wanted to, do it on her blog or something.

  2. I admit that there is some truth in this article too, according to my opinion, such as when Miss Chia mentions how formulaic K-Pop is. Also, although I am very aware of the fact that she uses TVXQ! as an example in this article, I can’t help but still sense that, through her tone, she is subtly criticizing TVXQ! as a group and TVXQ!’s fanmeet in Singapore. This is neither intellectual nor objective writing anymore. It is pure bashing, albeit in a high-handed manner. I expected more from a Straits Times journalist. Fanmeetings and concerts are for fans only. Hours of blood, sweat and tears are put into presenting perfect performances, and dancing and singing simultaneously for a vigorous dance number is no mean feat. No outsider nor onlooker would understand what is truly going on unless they are a fan of that particular artist, right? And aren’t these K-Pop artistes making music that appeal to everyone? If not, how could they have full houses for their concerts and love calls to hold even more concerts in Europe and USA? I hope Miss Chia would snap out of her heavily biased mode and come to see the good that K-Pop has contributed to the global music scene as well. Miss Chia may have been right about fans being overcrazed, but who is she to criticize what the K-Pop artists are doing, and the events that they are holding to connect with and thank their fans?

    1. I agree with everything you say! FInally someone who critiques her job and not the subject. I don’t know about the “good that K-Pop has contributed” part though. I thought the global music scene contributed to their scene.


  3. @Sarah That’s not even a genre of music in the 1st place, it’s just sounds that brain washes and brain controls people, people teens or younger like yourself, and what the writer said was fake is the music as it has no emotion and the singer is just a slave to a korean music company. Etc Really learn to read.

    1. 1. some songs are written by the artists themselves, and they write because they like to. nobody gave them a quota of original songs to complete; they wanted to write one. If you want to talk about “no emotion” then I think you should refer to every artiste in the world. Who sings for the 300th time with the original emotions from the 1st time? Young or old, K-Pop or not, all artistes are singing for the sake of career. Why take it out only on K-Pop? Go bash Bieber or something.

      2. aren’t all music the same?(brainwashing and brain controlling) Why did children like BEP’s “Where is the Love”? It’s not that they knew what the CIA or the KKK were back in 2005, it was the beat and the words they could make out in the song. Music brainwashes everyone no matter what type it is.

      Personal preference is personal preference, but what the writer her does is write her own criticising article about a type of music she had only researched for how long? A day or two? Personally, her task for the TVXQ fan meet was to evaluate the meet, not end up writing some judgemental opinion about the K-Pop world.

      I agree with her, to be honest, that their dances are too synchronised to be real, and their answers are too generated. It kinda puts me off that they seem too thoughtless and care-less.
      And I agree that the music is irritatingly, brainwashingly catchy. But that’s the way with Gaga too. Her music is irritatingly catchy too, yet millions listen to her. Don’t get me started on Bieber’s songs.

      I guess my point is: don’t hate; just ignore. Nobody asked you to hate on them or listen to them. You wanted to. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, just pretend you never heard that “annoying piece of shit” before. Ain’t a K-Pop lover, just a music lover.

  4. Before things get out of hand here, I will write out what happens before the papers are printed. I got this information from someone I know who used to work in Mediacorp and therefore knows how things work in SPH.

    The writer (in this case Adeline Chia) writes out the first draft of the article. The writer then sends the draft to the direct boss, who will proofread and tell the writer which parts to change. After the writer has changed the article to the supervisor’s liking (this can take 5 or more revisions), the supervisor sends it on to another person above the supervisor, who will also proofread and ask for changes.

    When all the other superiors are finally satisfied with the edited article, the article is finally sent to a final chief editor. The chief editor proofreads and makes the final changes. Bear in mind that by the time the chief editor actually sees the article, it is already late at night (usually 10pm to 12am). The chief editor usually makes the final changes all they way till 2am. The final newspaper (a.k.a what is delivered to households) is only sent for printing at 3am, in order to be printed by 6am so that they can be delivered.

    Based on that knowledge, I am inclined to believe that either 1) Adeline Chia wrote a piece that started out neutral but got changed by the chief editor to what everyone saw in the Straits Times to boost sales (bad news sells faster and better, after all), or 2) by the time the article reached the final stage, the chief editor was too tired to notice that the tone of the article was not neutral.

  5. This is exceptionally biased and generalized. Not every K-pop artist abuses autotune. You forget to mention that K-pop is meaningful to its fans, NOT because the idols are fake or whatever your opinion may be, but because it represents hard work, dedication, and it makes people happy. If you can base your entire opinion of K-pop on TVXQ and Super Junior, then you clearly aren’t qualified to make this judgment, just as no one is qualified to base American music on Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Pay attention and try to put the bias aside because you insult an entire fandom for a few adolescents and your shallow interpretation of a FEW stars.

  6. Aiyah I think she could have been biased, as any article would be with their argument. But her words are too harsh. She doesn’t show both sides well and equally. I’ve seen other Straits Times articles that write against K-Pop, but they’re way better researched and less harsh than hers.

  7. Wow and this was posted by a female somemore.. nice, im a guy and just like u i used to like kpop as well but was(still is) grtting too much till i find it annoying now. I agree with everything u say

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