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Health issues plague K-pop girl groups

Pressure to stay thin, brutal schedules blamed for growing number of female artists taking breaks for health reasons

June 17, 2024 - 16:54 By Kim Jae-heun
Illit (Belift Lab)

An increasing number of female K-pop artists are taking time off due to injuries and health problems caused by the strict diets and schedules they maintain that leave little time for sleep.

Woonhee of Belift Lab's rookie girl group Illit halted activities due to a foot injury last week. On Friday, her agency posted to an online fan community that while the singer showed a strong desire to participate in all of the group’s musical activities, Wonhee’s recovery is their top priority and her schedule will be run flexibly.

Yet just a day later, Woonhee was up on the stage of the Weverse Con Festival in Incheon, where she sang while sitting on a chair.

Ning Ning of aespa also pulled out of a concert earlier this month due to dehydration and exhaustion. SM Entertainment announced on the morning of the June 2 concert that she would be unable to perform later that day, posting “Ning Ning was dehydrated and exhausted during a rehearsal and immediately went to the hospital, where she was told that she needed to rest and stabilize.”

K-pop girl groups’ intense dieting and arduous training are pointed to as likely culprits for the health issues.

“Maintaining good health while working as a female K-pop idol is almost impossible, especially if you have just debuted. You have to maintain your weight at under 47 kilograms and the manager is always checking your diet," a former K-pop girl group member who wished to remain anonymous, said Monday.

"Popular girl groups sleep less than five hours when they are on a promotion campaign. This was during my time 10 years ago and I am sure K-pop groups these days are even busier due to overseas schedules,” she continued.

aespa (SM Entertainment)

Ning Ning's bandmate in aespa, Winter, also underwent surgery for a collapsed lung in April. She had just more than a month to recover before the band returned with a new EP this month.

Meanwhile, Hyein of NewJeans is taking time off while the group promotes its new EP “How Sweet” due to a foot injury sustained during a rehearsal in April.

The pressure to make money and gain fans’ attention plays a crucial part, too, in female idols' health problems.

“K-pop bands from small agencies are under intense pressure to generate profit instantly from the moment of their debut. Their companies invest millions of dollars to foster a K-pop group, and if they don’t become successful with their debut album, there is no chance for a second one," a local entertainment company official said.

"They have to participate in every musical activity or festival event to make money and promote themselves while they can,” the official said.

"Companies tell them to rest after they succeed."