K-Pop’s Mob Rule

A recent feature in Japanese weekly magazine Aera purports to outline the role that organized crime plays in the current K-pop boom.

The article profiles a former state prosecutor who was instrumental in rooting out mob control over the Korean show business world in the early 2000s.

However, once the government decided that K-pop would spearhead South Korea’s greater presence in international consciousness, the crime fighter found it difficult to carry out his mandate and has since quit to become a private attorney.

The article implies that most of Korea’s main talent agencies are headed by current or former gang leaders but, because the entire showbiz industry is so reliant on talent, they are given a pretty long leash by the authorities.

Their background is nightclubs, which in the ’80s and ’90s were controlled by organized crime syndicates. In terms of money, nightclubs were the center of the show-business world at the time.

Eventually, these groups expanded to become talent agencies, extending their grasp into television where the money is now.

Though a number of recent high-profile cases have seen talent sue their management over punishing contracts, Aera says the majority of South Korean talent accept such contracts because their agencies protect all their interests, and not just those associated with their particular art.

Through mob affiliations, the agencies can quash scandals and take care of competition.