[blog] from idols to actors, the difference between J-pop and K-pop

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.

Kinanti Hundra, who commented on my post [NOOOO!!! DAME! DAME! DAME!!!], made a very interesting point:

“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.”Β  – 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.Β  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.

Thank you to Riris, rainiebing and Mariae Montero for the valuable inputs for this post!

Β© Orange Jasmine Purple Yam (blogging since 2001). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the contents in this site without permission from the author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Orange Jasmine Purple Yam with appropriate link to the original content.


23 thoughts on “[blog] from idols to actors, the difference between J-pop and K-pop

  1. Perhaps it is one of the reason Kpop idol goes n debut in Japan, work in Japan, stay in Japan, since..well, idol is second rate to actor/actress. That’s what I thought immediately after I read the 4paragrapgh.


  2. How about the quality of acting that shown by the idol in Korea? I don’t know much about korean actor and actress since i don’t watch them. Is they good, great, or average in general. In Japan, idol member can be awarded by best actor like every member of Arashi got for their role in dorama.


    • well like anywhere else, including J-pop, there are good actors and there are ham actors among K-pop idols. I am no expert on the acting since I don’t watch K-pop-idol-centered dramas except when I like them, and there’s not many lol I’m more familiar with actors when it comes to K-dramas.


  3. I revisited the question posed on your NC post to see whether there you posted a response, not knowing that an article would be devoted to it.. πŸ™‚

    I was also curios what would be the answer. Number 1 was also the immediate answer that came to my mind. Another was that most of the jdramas that I have seen that had idols are mostly ensemble pieces, so despite them being named as the “leads” of the show, there are other story lines that are explored.

    This one I’m curious about though, does the presence of idols on jdramas play a big factor on ratings? I have this perception that it is not.


    • thanks for your comment btw!

      I posted the question on Twitter as soon as I read it and was pleasantly surprised to get answers that were very interesting.

      I don’t think idols have an impact on J-dramas. I’d use as an example Arashi since I follow them and it’s common knowledge that their recent dramas have not been rating as well as expected. They’re no Kimura Takuya though whose dramas always churn in the ratings. but then again, KimuTaku is an idol himself… so I don’t think it’s written in stone that if you have idols in your cast, you’d rate high.

      but in terms of K-pop, having an idol in the cast has an appeal for overseas market. I don’t see that as a consideration when casting idols in Jdramas. it’s more for exposure and in the case of Johnny’s, maybe as a quid pro quo to the company, which has under its stable among the top male stars in Japan.


      • Agree with ojpy.
        One of the reason they use idol/kpop to star in Kdrama, probably is the high probability of buying/selling it to overseas audiences.
        We all know abt the Korean wave. All their drama are cheap to buy. (I read abt this from a Japanese production staff that being interviewed, and from my own country article)
        Since the fever is still high in demand, TV station will buy them rather than producing drama.
        That’s why, the theme of kdrama is monotonous. It’s appeal to the overseas audiences.
        I can just do a blind guess for the ending/events going.


  4. Hi, interesting post. I didn’t know most of these aspects.
    I was wondering if you could make a post about the ex-fan. I’m new to the world of fandom and I’m fascinated (and sometimes annoyed) by the whole thing.
    What prompts my request is some situations inside this particular fandom where some fans didn’t like the musical direction the group was taking (perfectly understandable) but they jumped from not liking the music to somewhat campaigning against the group they once loved. And there wasn’t any kind of misconduct, news, scandal, from the part of the idol.
    I’ve read you mention that you like to study group behavior. So, if I might bother you for it, what are you experiences with this whole falling-out-of-love-starting-to-hate Thing inside fandoms?
    I hope it makes sense XD Thank You!


    • hey, thanks for your comment! it made my day… because I have been planning a post on that for some time now.

      I’m still gathering insights but I should be writing it soon! XD


  5. Very intriguing and fascinating comparison. I don’t really know much about k-pop, but I’m fairly well-versed when it comes to j-pop. This is a good thing to know. Thanks for sharing!


    • thanks for reading! and thanks to my Twitter friends who gave their inputs too.

      I myself am not well versed with the dynamics in Kpop so it I learned a lot too writing that post. XD

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This post was great πŸ™‚ You made a good research and comparison. I only read once and the first time some members of Arashi commented about Kpop and Jpop’s artist’s popularity internationally. Yes, Sho mentioned that the difference was the marketing of the two. And it was more understandable when he reasoned out that way because there are artists who are really capable of doing many things. But then their management could possibly change the whole thing and shape the result. Now it’s amazing how Jpop and Kpop idols could have such big impacts on their fans by singing and dancing, but for me acting would really contribute to their popularity if they did very well of course. Maybe it’s time now to see the flexibility of each artists regardless the ‘idol’ and ‘actor/actress’ issue. And as you mentioned again, in JE, their talents were trained before their debut so it was easy to accept them as they already have done many things to cope up with the expectations of the fans… something that i don’t know in the case of Kpop’s management. I only know that they have workshops and thingy for singing and dancing but in other side of the world, i don’t know. Another example to that is Ohno Satoshi… he can dance, can sing and act and of course he’s rich in talents, he’s also good at drawing, painting and other things. It’s still a mystery for me where they’re getting their time, though.

    I’m a bit one sided, sorry.


    • hey thanks for dropping by and commenting! XD

      I’m sure Kpop idols are also trained in acting but maybe when they start out, it’s not their priority? Ohno trained in butai and was based in Kyoto as a stage actor before he debuted with Arashi. while most might wonder how he became Arashi’s leader (through janken thank you very much lol), he is worth being the leader. He is so talented in so many areas and has collaborated with Japan’s top artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Kusama Yayoi. but more than that, his personality has enabled the members to grow on their own. Ok… how did this become an Ohno comment when we’re talking about idols in general lol


      • Really? So maybe because they did not prioritize acting that’s why it didn’t prioritize them, too lol Why do i feel now like everything in Arashi is random? haha

        Maybe because riida is really a good example of an all-around artist. Wow, cool. ❀


      • Hi, really like your writtings, especially all stuff about Arashi πŸ™‚

        I have one question I don’t understand.
        I read everytime that Kpop Idols are very busy and don’t get to rest or sleep. I understand that they have training before debut. But after debut I often only see them perform for new song or concert (if they do have one), they do go on variety shows but these are also limited and some just sit their and listen mostly (like strong heart).

        So why are they so busy and don’t get to sleep?

        They really can’t be more busy than Arashi (especially Sho) but even Arashi get to sleep and have almost every week a day off if they don’t have dramas, concerts or other special stuffs (like Ohno Monday-day-off)


      • I actually asked my friends who know about K-pop and it’s also a puzzle. but it may boil down to organization.

        The Japanese are known to be very organized. For example, schedules of Arashi are already set months in advance, just to make sure there won’t be conflict. We just know that they will have a drama or a concert or whathaveyou once they are announced but these are actually planned in advanced.

        That’s also why Ohno gets to have Mondays off and have time to go fishing, or Sho can go to the music store, Jun to have a drink with his friends, Nino to vegetate at home with his games and Aiba to go shopping because they have decent work schedules. I’d like to think that if TV stations want Arashi to act in one of their dramas for the year, they’d send a notice in advance so J&A can check the schedule. If you notice, Arashi does have a routine schedule. Last quarter of the year will be devoted to a new album and concerts. The dramas are in the first three quarters, also films. Of course they have their regular TV shows and individual projects but it’s all clockwork. Credit too to their efficient staff lol


    • I know it’s like 1 year later, however this schedule talks makes me think.. how the heck did Nishikido Ryo survived before he left NewS. I mean come on, he had to juggle between two really popular groups (Kanjani8 started climbing popularity later than NewS but there was some few years when Ryo were still on both when their popularities, of both, were high, still are ofc) and all his dramas. He wasnt really the main actor and always got the supporting, but still second most prominent to the leads on those dramas anyway. And yet, i did read how he said everything was so hectic, esp since both groups based on different regions, however despite some lack of sleep he still managed to find time to have fun and to sleep himself? Heck i’m not even a big fan of him but i applaud him for it.


  7. I cannot believe my feed stopped updating your blog, no wonder it’s been radio silence -_- now i’m backtracking and you’ve written so many good posts I haven’t read T_T


    • oops I think my fault. I took out the RSS option LOL!!!! I didn’t know it’s how it’s going to end *putting it back*

      thanks for reading! I’ve been remiss reading my neighbors’ posts including yours though… Twitter is a black hole. XD


  8. Pingback: [blog] from idols to actors | orange jasmine purple yam

  9. hello dunno why i got stumbled upon your blog and since it is an comparison between Jpop and Kpop idol actors, I cant help not commenting..:D

    the first reason i think why the kpop idols isnt taken seriously is it is like a new trend to put idol in korea on drama project,,before they were only prioritize their job on singing and variety shows
    but then i think it was SM with super junior that put up the idea idols who not only singing but also doing variety, acting and so on and still hopefully being perfect on doing it πŸ˜€

    oh and i think SM entertainment modeled itself with Johnnys πŸ˜›

    while in japan, their idols are celebrities who doing almost everything, like singing, dancing, dj-ing, variety etc…so

    and i think for most of the K idol’s trainee they also are trained on acting now, not only on singingm dancing or playing instrument


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