There is the top solo artist La RiMa (played by T-ARA's JiYeon) who has the industry in the palm of her hand.
There is also a top boy group SHAX made up of members Kwon Ryuk (played by U-KISS's Jun), Hyuk (played by ATEEZ's JongHo), DoJin (played by Park YuRi), LeeHyun (played by SF9's HwiYoung), leader JaeWoo (played by Ahn JungHoon), and former member EunJo (played by SF9's Chani). They are at the top of their game but have the pressure of keeping it that way.
We also have a rookie boy group, SPARKLING, made up of members SeYoung (played by ATEEZ's SeongHwa), MinSoo (played by ATEEZ's San), HyunOh (played by Boys Republic's SuWoong), and YuJin (played by ATEEZ's YunHo). They are trying desperately to hit the big time after being active but unpopular for a couple of years.
Finally, we have a rookie girl group, Tea Party, including members MaHa (played by Jung JiSo), Ria (played by MinSeo), and HyunJi (played by ex-Pristin member Lim NaYoung). They are on the rise from their debut and need to secure success to prove themselves.
But how do these idols fair along in the world of "Imitation?" The drama has done a good job of showing how difficult their world can be. This list compares some of the drama plots to the real-life realities of being a K-Pop star.
Warning: This article may contain spoilers for Episodes 1 to 6!
1. Competition and beauty expectations
Even though it is entirely possible for fans to love more than one group at a time, a lot of Korean entertainment companies do not see it that way. Their group has to be the best and their idols have to be the most successful. This might lead to a lot of comparisons that are intended to be encouraging but could potentially be damaging.
For example, in the drama, YuJin compares himself to Kwon Ryuk and tries to outdo him as a way to prove his worth. As much as it pushes him to do better, it is a bit sad to see.
On top of that, the K-Pop industry is infamous for unrealistic beauty standards and the unhealthy diet practices that come with them. Many idol groups have a weight that they have to maintain to keep up appearances. In "Imitation," we saw it when SPARKLING had their routine weigh-in and 3 of the members (excluding YuJin) got scolded for gaining weight. You can see their sheepish reactions at the realization and how they immediately promised to get their weight down.
However, their manager went above that and ordered them to get their weight back to 'normal' (at 55kg) within 2 hours. It is a shame that K-Pop idols have to be subjected to this kind of pressure when their fans think they are perfect regardless.
2. Back-to-back schedules
“Imitation” shows how intense idol schedules can be, sometimes only allowing them rest whilst traveling to the next engagement. In Episode 6, Kwon Ryuk complains about his lack of sleep and not even having time to change his clothes because his schedule is so tight. We can only imagine how exhausting it must be to have a jam-packed schedule when your job requires constantly being in the limelight.
3. Group member relationships and dynamics
One can imagine that there is a fine line amongst idol group members when it comes to being supportive versus keeping each other accountable for their actions. Because idols spend so much time together, they develop close friendships and want their fellow members to be happy, but sometimes that means having difficult conversations if their happiness affects the group.
Both boy groups in “Imitation,” SHAX and SPARKLING had this kind of conversation with Kwon Ryuk and YuJin, respectively, about their sneaking around and in regards to MaHa. Whilst some members were supportive and trusted them, other members obviously didn’t want their actions to bring harm to their group or fans.
The same happened with Tea Party when they caught Kwon Ryuk and MaHa together in their neighborhood.
Ria and HyunJi had a serious conversation with MaHa reminding her that their debut wasn’t easy to achieve and they would appreciate it if she could consider the impact of her actions on their potential future, especially when dealing with a fandom as scary as FINS (SHAX's fandom). For the sake of the group, MaHa ended up changing the number that she was contacting Kwon Ryuk on and purposefully avoiding him.
4. Dating bans and restrictions
It is well-known that some K-Pop idols sign contracts with strict dating bans. This is to protect idols from scandals and entertainment companies from the accompanying damages. It can be a huge hit to a group’s reputation depending on their fan base. There are also restrictions on the types of friendships or interactions that can be had between members of the opposite sex.
An example was at the beginning of "Imitation." Even something that seems as mundane as giving another person a ride somewhere is not allowed depending on who they are. In the case of Kwon Ryuk, he wanted to give MaHa a ride after she was abandoned by her manager at a drama filming location, but his manager said no because if anyone saw her in the car it could cause problems for them both. As a result, he ended up walking with her and his manager followed closely in the car. YuJin later came to her rescue, borrowing his manager's car. It was still a risky move for YuJin but he pulled it off because nobody knew where he was going.
Both Kwon Ryuk and MaHa continuously get in trouble for their developing relationship. Kwon Ryuk holds the risk of losing his loyal fan base’s trust and MaHa risks ending Tea Party’s career before it even takes off. Even a simple exchange such as MaHa returning Kwon Ryuk’s jacket to him caused such a scandal that Kwon Ryuk had to formally apologize to his fans.
5. Fan culture
Fans are essential to the success of a K-Pop idol. They are like a community that acts as a support system to their SHAX's career. Each fan base has its own fan culture that even idols need to take note of. Some fandoms are less forgiving than others, which can put a lot of pressure on idols to be perfect.
In “Imitation,” FINS essentially control some elements of their idols’ lives. For one, if they don’t like something (like Kwon Ryuk and MaHa’s association with each other) then they hold protests until SHAX apologizes.
The fans even go to extreme lengths to protect their idols by guarding their hotel room against sasaeng fans (over-the-top obsessive fans). Although they show an extreme portrayal of what K-Pop fans are like, a lot of it is true to an extent.
Fans also play a big part in promoting their idols. In the drama, FINS made goodie bags to give to the cast and crew of Kwon Ryuk’s drama. Fans in real life do the same with birthday café events and sending coffee trucks to their favorite idol or actor's set. There is one thing that both fictional and real-life fans have in common, and that is their love for their idols.
Although "Imitation," is a work of fiction, it is based on the reality of life as an idol. K-Pop idols have to go through a lot to become successful and be adored by their fans. As much as their lives may seem glamourous, it's important for fans not to take their idols for granted and remember that they are human, too. What do you think of the K-Drama "Imitation?"