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Visual Essay Project “Idol Factory”

Thesis: Idol Factory

by Sherlyn M. Choe
OCAD University

Double-sidedness of Asian music industry, the underlying ugliness beneath the perfect and glamorous image. “Idol Factory” reveals the exploitative practices behind Asian Idol culture and its effects on young people’s lives. I pay attention to the contemporary cultural phenomenon among the mass, the media and the contorted humanity in between. Inspired by the modern philosophy concept “Idol”, meaning the false images of the world, this thesis project aims to point out the masses’ biased recognition of the world. I got the first spark from “Idol of the Theatre” from Novum Organum (1620) by Sir Francis Bacon and “Morality of Taming” from Twilight of the Idols (1889) by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and made a connection to the cultural terminology “Idol”. 

Throughout this series of illustrations, I intended to show the negative aspects of Asian Idol culture while still showing the refined appearance of Idols. In other words, this project enlightens the consumers on the double-sidedness of Asian Idol culture so that the viewers can bring their attention to this biased “false” image. This project also implies how capitalistic or economic authority can manage people’s way of seeing the culture. Several types of duality of the society, such as ‘beauty versus sadness’ and ‘seduction versus restricted freedom’, are illustrated in this project. These create a somewhat uncanny balance in tension, and this is the visual method that I chose in order to express how industrializing young people’s lives is unethical in contrast to their attractive images.

My project includes 10 different themes: life under surveillance, slave contract, double standards for female Idols, graduation or ejection, forced plastic surgery, early retirement in 30’s, endless audition competition, anti-fan terror, fan clubs with balloon culture, and fascistic fandom.

Illustration #1 Life under Surveillance
Several camera viewfinders surround the woman figure and her embarrassed facial expression illustrate that Idol stars can’t enjoy their private time because they are always under surveillance by the mass.

Life under Surveillance, 2018 Gouache on Paper

Illustration #2 Slave Contract
Idol singer’s contract is unfair in terms of profit sharing and lasts for about ten years. Their personal schedules are seriously restricted, including dating or going to school. The human figures locked in a spotlight on stage imply their lives are trapped by the fame given through their contracts.

Slave Contract, 2018 Gouache on Paper

Illustration #3 Double Standards for Female Idols
In Asia, female girl groups are supposed to look innocent, while their music and dance show extremely sexualized concepts. These conflicting desires of Asian Idol fans are illustrated through a young female singer’s costume and gesture.

Double Standard, 2018 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #4 Graduation or Ejection
When Idols reach their 20’s, the singers have to leave their groups because some Asian Idol groups have a “graduation” policy, and this is to maintain the group members’ age as only teens or early 20’s. This illustration shows only legs of girls, and the girls’ gestures and costumes represent the process of “graduation”. A young girl walks into a group of dancing girls, while an older girl is kicked out from the group on the other side.

Graduation or Ejection, 2018 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #5 Forced Plastic Surgery
Idols are forced to get plastic surgeries and some of them get their floating ribs removed in order to have slim body shapes. The singer on the conveyor belt shows that she is handled like a manufactured product, and the robot arms wearing medical gloves suggests that the plastic surgery is also a type of mass production in Asian Idol industry.

Forced Plastic Surgery, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #6 Early Retirement in 30’s
When Idols stars stop their career, they often make wrong decisions in their life, such as gambling and drugs, because many of them can’t concentrate on regular education at their early age and don’t understand normal people’s lives. This illustration juxtaposes a retired Idol star’s face reflected on the mirror with his past photos on the wall through differentiated degree of colour saturation.

Early Retirement, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #7 Endless Audition Competition
When Idol singers are registered in entertainment companies, they still need to compete in auditions and they don’t know when they can be on stage. A girl actually committed suicide in South Korea because her company didn’t extend the contract after she failed at the final stage of audition. In this illustration, the endless staircase with impossible structure symbolizes the competitive process that Idol hopefuls have to endure. Numerous young people suffer from the irregularity of Asian Idol industry, and the mood and atmosphere are expressed through washed colour in the background. A Victorian era style picture frame is used in order to cohere the singing stage in 18th Century, shown in illustration. This is the period of Francis Bacon’s philosophical idea, which is where I got the first spark for this thesis.

Endless Audition, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #8 Anti-fan Terror (3D sculpture)
This illustration is based on the incident that a girl group member received a fan mail written in blood, including razor blades. Obsessive Idol fans often attack their dislikable Idols in both physical and psychological ways. This 3D work includes 1/16” Acrylic laser cut sculptures and a painted envelope, and they are installed together in a clear display box. The laser cut sculpture is designed like a razor blade with “Your FAN” as negative space. This connects the negative connotation of old style razor blades and Idol anti-fans’ violent behaviors.

Anti-fan Terror, 2019 Mixed Media

Illustration #9 Fan Clubs with Balloon Culture (Diptych – Left)
In Asian Idol Culture, each fan club has their own balloon colour, and Idol fans bring the specific colour balloons and sit together with their fan club members in concert halls. This makes colorful waves of balloons in stands. Joyful and vivid colour balloons are illustrated to show a positive aspect of Idol fandom, cheering their loving Idol stars.

Fan clubs with Balloon Culture, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar

Illustration #10 Fascistic Fandom (Diptych – Right)
Asian Idol fans sometimes fight against another Idol fan club members. One light gray balloon is surrounded by many other dark balloons and visually isolated. In order to juxtapose this illustration with illustration #9, these illustrations are presented in a diptych style. By applying visual strategy from Andy Warhol’ Marilyn Diptych, they are respectively mounted on two hardboards and hinged together so that they work as a pair of illustrations showing the contrast of positive and negative sides of Asian Idol fan clubs. Also, I was inspired by religious diptychs in mid 15th Century as products for personal belonging of god, which is another cultural authority.

Fascistic Fandom, 2019 Mixed Media on Mylar