We can all breathe now that an actress was cast as Noda Megumi in Korea’s remake of NODAME CANTABILE, instead of an idol. Though the furor that met all that casting drama made me wonder if there would be anyone acceptable for the oddball role of Nodame if it wasn’t Shim Eun-kyung.
“I don’t get why it’s more common for Japanese idol to play in a drama than Korean idol to do the same.”
I wanted to know myself and posted it on Twitter and got very interesting answers.
I only realized then that there is a hierarchy in Korean entertainment and that no matter how famous idols are, they would always be second-rate to actors/actresses. This is a puzzle to me, and a relief, because imagine if there was the same discrimination in the Japanese entertainment industry, Arashi wouldn’t have been given a chance to try acting.
I’m sure there is also hierarchy in the Japanese entertainment industry, as there is anywhere else in the world, but idols have greater acceptability in Japan. Of course there would still be people scoffing “ugh, it’s an idol”, you can’t please everyone.
But why is it easier for idols to be more accepted in Japan than in South Korea?
“I think it has something to do with the different connotation of idols between the two countries.” – Mariae Montero
Let us take a look at some of the possible reasons why.
1. J-pop idols climb the ladder, they don’t parachute to the top.
Johnny’s talents would be the best example to use for Japan.
“there is a tradition that juniors take a part in drama as brother of female lead/comic relief” – Riris
I do remember Nakajima Yuto (who was in Ninomiya’s YOWAKUTE KATEMASU recently) playing Kame’s younger brother in NOBUTA WO PRODUCE. Aiba himself was in Nagase’s drama MUKODONO! as his TOKIO senpai’s young brother-in-law.
“Japanese idol started as supporting actor but a lot of Kpop idols got main role unless they’re from small agency” – Riris
Of course there are certain roles that depend on the suitability of age. Nino did STAND UP! when he was 20 (I’m surprised though he was already 20 when he did this role, #forever17 brat looked like he was only 13, no kidding). It was his first starring role but it took him years and several dramas too. And that’s Ninomiya Kazunari, in my book, one of the best actors among his generation (just ask Clint Eastwood).
Matsujun, on the other hand, was only 18 years old when he had his first title role in a drama, the third installment of THE FILES OF THE YOUNG KINDAICHI, but the role suited his age and this drama is like a launching pad for many Johnnys.
I don’t know much about K-pop idols but I do get the impression that they focus more on singing than acting in the early parts of their career to establish themselves. Perhaps part of that too is how K-pop’s market is more international while J-pop idols focus on their huge domestic market instead. Perhaps, that alone makes it difficult for K-pop idols to juggle singing and acting at the same time when they have to go overseas a lot of the time.
Perhaps when J-pop idols finally get their chance to take on lead roles in dramas or films, the Japanese have become quite used to them and have gradually accepted them. It’s not difficult to extend acceptance and support to someone you know has been through a rite of passage. Everyone likes the notion that a person has climbed every step of the rung before reaching the top.
2. Idols are just second-rate to actors
“Koreans view acting as a more prestigious career. They think idols aren’t “worthy”. J-ent doesn’t have this complex” – rainiebing
Koreans perhaps equate and associate idols to singing and dancing, not acting. While Hallyu is more encompassing even though it had in mind dramas at the forefront, K-pop is limited to idols.
Koreans also take their film festival prestige very seriously, not to say the Japanese don’t. But one just needs to look at the coverage of their media on Korean films in international festivals, no matter how obscure, and you’d see why. Not to say that’s wrong but actors are just given a different media treatment, as if it was some fine art, while K-pop idols are treated as pure entertainment.
It does not help also that most idols get embroiled in scandals of the dating kind, which gives the whole lot a lightweight effect. Actors dating are not that big a deal and that is obviously because of their fandoms. Idols are marketed as heartthrobs and thus attract the younger market who are just going through puberty and harbor fantasies including marrying their idols, while actors cater to a more mature demographic who can differentiate the films and dramas they watch from real life (oh, I take that back; not all though).
There are a few exceptions, however, like Lee Joon, who was even invited to judge an independent film festival. But it really depends on the idols and how much they want to explore the craft and not just treat acting as an extension of their fame and another platform to attract more fans.
On the other hand, many Japanese idols get their feet wet in butais (theater plays), a much more difficult medium than films or dramas, and definitely, concert stage. Ohno Satoshi, Arashi’s leader, was trained on this before he debuted.
It is this mindset towards acting that brings us to the next factor.
3. Roles that K-pop idols get are limited
Blame it on image marketing. K-pop idols are marketed as “perfect” from the poreless skin to the flawless complexion and legs, perfect face (thank you, doctor), to the fine as potato puree personality. It’s a tragedy if you don’t read the sarcasm between the lines but what’s an even bigger tragedy is that fans actually buy the whole image so that when their idols fall from the high pedestal they have been placed on, disappointment sets in, chaos ensues and fandom exodus begins.
Because of the limitations that their image imposes on them, they can’t get out of the box and try roles that would force the audience to take a closer, more serious look at them as actors.
“They tend to get roles based on their idol image. Not many of them break their image to play more challenging roles.” – Riris
This may be one reason why KBS thought Yoona would have been perfect for the lead of NODAME CANTABILE or why some other fans of girl groups were pushing for their own idols to get it because they did not see it as a serious acting role. They probably thought that since the manga-based J-drama was so popular, it’s the perfect vehicle for an idol. They are wrong of course, just look at the public backlash Yoona received. On the other hand, it would have been a good opportunity for an idol like Yoona to try her hand playing Noda Megumi and break through her image, but that would have depended on her acting ability and KBS’ treatment of the drama (which remains to be seen).
But we haven’t seen the end yet of idols playing high-profile roles in dramas that would be marketed abroad because that’s a very successful export for Korea. It already assures them of $$$ when selling the rights, and along with it comes the soundtrack and endorsements (look at how Kim Soo-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun are still riding high from the success of MAN FROM THE STARS in China with their endorsements there). It’s a huge, serious business for entertainment companies indeed.
But whether it will gain idols more acceptability as actors depends on changing the audience’s mindset and bolder experimentation among idols.
Speaking of mindset…
4. Lifestyle vs job
“Koreans view being an idol as a lifestyle. In Japan, being an idol is a job. ” – Riris
I find rischansan’s comment very interesting and also brings us to the conclusion of this post.
I have never thought this to be more true as when I started paying more attention to K-pop because of an interest in a particular group.
Japanese idols tend to have more freedom to live their lives–including even the simple joy of buying CDs at an actual music shop and NOT online on their off-days without being bothered by fans–whereas Korean idols are followed everywhere including to the doorstep of their homes and even INSIDE their homes, their photos snapped with some at uncomfortable close range.
Looking at it from a bigger picture, the K-pop POV that being an idol is a lifestyle seems to imply that their lives are for everyone to gawk at and not only when they are performing onstage, but even when they are eating and sleeping (creepy I know). On the other hand, once J-pop idols finish their work, they’re no longer their public selves and thus their privacy should be respected (though try telling that to Japanese rags like Friday).
In effect, a J-pop idol’s work ends after the cameras and lights have been switched off, while a K-pop idol’s life in the limelight never ends.
So unless there’s a change in mindset, perhaps K-pop idols will never be taken seriously in the acting business because their status as an object of fan obsession and the image that they have to keep are seen as detrimental to their growth as actors and a distraction to the prestige of the craft.
But like everyone else, idols deserve a chance to be actors, in the same way actors are given the chance to try their hand at acting and singing. The playing field should be level ei.
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