Way, 28, used to be part of Crayon Pop, a five-member girl group most K-pop fans would remember for their 2013 hit single “Bar Bar Bar.”
“First, I had to suddenly change the way I acted,” she recalled. “And secondly, I had to go on a diet. I wasn’t allowed to eat snacks or late-night snacks.”
Way was the last member to join Crayon Pop, which debuted in 2012 under Chrome Entertainment, a small record label founded by photographer Hwang Hyun-chang.
While fellow members Gummi, Ellin, Soyul and Choa — her twin sister — trained for “over a year,” she only trained for two months — and it was brutal.
“All of a sudden I had to do dance practice all day,” Way said. “My legs would get bruised or completely swollen, which was the most difficult thing.”
“And since we were about to debut as idols, during dance practice, we had to put sandbags weighing 5 kilograms (11 pounds) around each of our legs.”
The sandbags supposedly helped in their dancing later.
“They said, ‘That way, when you take those off, you’ll be lighter on your feet when dancing.’ So that was really tough for me.”
However, Way pointed out that the lack of sleep was the most challenging hurdle she had to endure.
Weeks before their debut, they had to come to work at 4 a.m. and return to their dorm past midnight.
Way also confirmed that her label banned dating, a policy that appears to be common in Korean entertainment companies.
As a result, Way shared that most idols would have small, easy-to-hide phones, which can then be used to contact the outside world.
Way’s label was so strict that even her own father, who visited her on her birthday, was turned away.
If anyone gets caught, the label would threaten to remove that member from the group.
Making money as idols did not come easy for Crayon Pop too, especially since they “were expected to pay back the costs to form the group.”
“Usually, the company takes about 60-70% of the profit, while the singers take 30-40%,” Way claimed. “But the expenses were split 50-50.”
Way added that their income was never stable, and at times, they even incurred debts.
“Sometimes we’d earn some money. Other times we’d actually owe money. It really fluctuated a lot. But the first time we got paid, each of us got about $12,250 for three months of work. We got that amount a year and a half after we had debuted. Until then, we were paid nothing.”
For Way, Crayon Pop’s biggest break happened when the group was invited to perform as the opening act for Lady Gaga’s “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball” concert tour.
Unfortunately, the experience also incurred them debts from their company, as they missed time doing local promotions.
Way now describes herself as an “independent content creator.” While she never lost her love of performing, she does not see herself returning to the idol life.
“When it comes to sharing good songs, dancing and energy with the fans as a musician, I would love to do that any time. But I don’t want to go back to that idol lifestyle because I think I’ve gotten my fill. So I don’t hold onto that, or miss it.”
She now tells aspiring idols to look beyond the glamorous side of K-pop.
“I know a lot of people want to become idols, but many times, people only see the good side. There’s so much sacrifice and hard work that you don’t see. I want people to know about those things more. I hope they don’t aspire to be idols by just looking at the glamorous side.”
Check out Way’s full interview below: