Just to start, though, I would like to stress that I am not, and never have been, an expert in this field. I am just a fan who has done a little extra research on this sort of thing. I could very definitely be completely wrong about some of the things I'm saying, but I just wanted to write something about this world that so many people I know actually don't know anything about. I will try to list sources as I go, so that you can check them out if you'd like to :)
Okay! First of all - what is meant by the term 'slave contract'? Basically, this is the document that rookie KPop idols sign when they first register with a company. So, companies like SM Entertainment will scout out talent, and then sign them on for the long haul. These contracts have been rumoured to go for up to about 14 years or so, but that could just be conjecture. They do seem to be in it for a decent while, though.
The company will then invest a certain amount into the artist and their group (it's pretty much always a group) - they will get them training, stylists, vocal coaches, food, accommodation, all that jazz - and this is called their 'Break Even Point' or BEP. The thing is, though, the artist themselves hardly ever knows what their BEP is, and they have to pay it off (like students in Australia do with HECS, or you would pay back to a loan shark or bank, but with (hopefully) more of an idea of what you owe) as they work. Many artists are beginning to come out (particularly in 2014) saying that they don't get any of the money that they have earned - it's all going towards paying the salaries of their company and towards paying off their BEP.
The clincher is here, the company can add debt to the BEP at any time. Have you seen how often KPop idols are reinvented for a new 'look'? Each time that happens, their company just loads the debt onto the artist's BEP. The artist themselves is stuck in a cycle of debt, and they don't even have the ability to see a way to dig themselves out. Some artists do get an allowance, but it's nowhere near what they're actually earning.
This is why so many artists - and even entire groups - have been taking their companies to court to demand better conditions for them to work in. In 2014 alone, members from Super Junior and EXO have left, while members from f(x) and SNSD (Girls Generation) have either taken 'long vacations' or been booted out for unknown reasons. Block B sued and left their company for not paying, shortly after joining up with a different company that we can only assume is paying them better. AOA, Boyfriend, and BAP have all said similar things, and BAP is currently in a battle with their company about money.
The first example of all this goes back to 2009, as far as I can tell, with TVXQ. There were originally five members, but three members are now in a separate group called JYJ, while the remaining two have stuck with TVXQ. Apparently there are still tensions between the two groups.
It seems like these contracts that young artists are signing are a lot more than they bargained for, leading them to feeling trapped and worked to death. With a schedule like the one I talked about last week, don't you think you ought to be getting paid for it? Of course, this is just the bad stuff I'm talking about. There could be plenty of companies out there that treat their artists really well - we just keep hearing about the bad ones lately.
For an easier (and better) explanation of everything I just said, I definitely recommend checking out the video below from Eat Your Kimchi. They are an amazing group of people that I love to watch. Much of what I've said above comes from their knowledge - I am still doing my research and am a bit of a newbie to the whole thing.
Next week I will talk a little bit about 'fan control' over idols - and no, I'm not talking about cooling equipment.