Deep Dive: Fan Signs and Children - How NewJeans Short Career Has Raised Concerns About the Exploitation of Minors in K-pop

HYBE label ADOR's new girl group NewJeans has cause considerable controversy within the K-pop sphere ever since their debut.

The company came under fire for debuting a group where most of the members were minors (including fourteen year old Hyein), and ADOR CEO Min Heejin's past affiliation with underage idols was also called into question.

Many of the discussions regarding NewJeans and the exploitation of minors within the South Korean entertainment industry hit boiling point when the group debuted with a song entitled "Cookie", featuring many uncomfortable connotations with sexual innuendo.

Other controversies have also been raised regarding the group - such as the extreme toxicity that has already been prevalent within the NewJeans fandom, including false accusations of vote rigging by the fandoms of the groups they're competing against in music shows to fake accounts making unfounded sexual assault accusations against members of those groups in badly translated Korean.

But NewJeans latest promotional activity - a simple fan sign - has also managed to produce a lot of controversy and questions about the ethicality of debuting such young idols.

An image taken at NewJeans recent fan signing brought about international attention regarding the demographics of the fandom itself. The image features a presumably older man sitting in front of member Minji and speaking with her as a part of the fan sign.

Questions were raised on social media about why a grown man would be spending presumably large amounts of money to attend a fan signing event and meet underage female idols.

The image raise questions regarding not only of the man in the image or the NewJeans fandom, but of the South Korean and international entertainment industries as a whole.

The online K-pop sphere has been rife with conversation since the image went viral from both sides of the argument, with some people pointing out that older female fans also attend fan signings for boy groups with minors, and mentioning the double standard in practice.

Other fans mentioned that both situations would be questionable, and that idol groups with underage members shouldn't be doing fan signing events at all.

The controversy of the entertainment industry debuting underage members was also brought to the forefront once more. Rather than recommending age caps on those who can attend fan sign events, or recommending that groups not hold fan sign events until they are of age, some people recommend and recognise that idols should not be debuting into the industry at such young ages in the first place.

While there is no doubt that in the majority of cases fans only have the best of intentions when they attend idol promotional events such as fan signing events, people online say that in an industry so heavily sexualised - and especially and industry so heavily criticised for the sexualisation of younger people - it was going to be inevitable that the situation seen in the image above of a grown man interacting with a young female idol would be uncomfortable for many to see.

Check out our other "Deep Dive" articles:

What is the YG Dungeon, and Should Fans Be Worried About It?

The Environmental Impact of K-pop, and the Changes That Can Be Made by Fans and Companies

Why Do All the K-Pop Idols Have COVID?

Why A2K Is Causing Controversy Even Before the Auditioning Process Begins

How do you feel about NewJeans controversies? How do you feel about the debuting of minors in the K-pop industry? Let us know by commenting on our socials @KpopWise.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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