No fewer than 1,440 hopefuls are in grueling training at talent mills in Korea, and the vast majority want to be pop singers, according to a study by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism out on Tuesday.
More boys at 750 than girls endure the punishing regime, three younger than nine and one-third not bound by any contractual agreements.
The number of wannabe stars has, if anything, increased in recent years due to the popularity of talent shows on cable channels like Mnet. Since a similar study in 2015, their numbers have swelled by 240.
Only 775 are adults over 19, but 529 are between 16 and 18 and 118 between 13 and 15. It is the late-teens bracket that has increased the most.
Talent mills spend W1.18 million a month per trainee, with more than half of the amount, or W782,000, being spent on foreign language and deportment lessons rather than singing and dance skills.
Many talent agencies place importance on “character-building” so their charges can seem perpetually bland in the face of the media onslaught that awaits them in the unlikely event that they become famous.
The ministry estimates the monthly earnings of top-rated teen idols at W40 million.
The Korean culture and arts industry generated W5.37 trillion in revenues last year, up W861.6 billion from the previous study. The main reasons behind the increase are more players entering the market and higher earnings for the 14 listed talent agencies.
The total number of working actors, singers, comedians and models stood at 8,059, up 732 from the previous study, but on average they earned just W1.83 million a month, down W20,000.
Some 34.8 percent earned less than W1 million a month, while 35.9 percent said they had other jobs. Production staff fared much better with average monthly salaries at W2.16 million, though 23.5 percent said they have sometimes not been paid on time.