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[Exclusive] Nearly 30% of Hybe K-pop trainees are non-Koreans

By Ng Naomi Garyan

Published : July 31, 2023 - 14:54

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Hybe's headquarters in Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Hybe) Hybe's headquarters in Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Hybe)

Close to a third of K-pop idols-in-training at Hybe, the company behind boy group BTS, are non-Korean nationals, The Korea Herald has learned.

Roughly 28 percent of trainees under Hybe’s domestic labels are of foreign nationality, the firm said in response to a media inquiry from the Herald.

“Although we don’t have a particular strategy aimed at increasing the proportion of foreign trainees, Hybe supports the selection and development of trainees irrespective of country or region, as we need talented artists who will be active globally under the multilabel system,” a Hybe spokesperson said by email.

It did not provide the number of trainees or proportion by country.

Two members of Hybe's Le Sserafim -- Sakura (first from left) and Kazuha (second from left) -- are Japanese. (Source Music) Two members of Hybe's Le Sserafim -- Sakura (first from left) and Kazuha (second from left) -- are Japanese. (Source Music)

Hybe has eight music labels and is home to K-pop powerhouse acts such as NewJeans, Seventeen, Zico and Le Sserafim.

The three other major K-pop agencies -- SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment -- declined to disclose the proportion of foreign nationals among their trainees, citing confidentiality.

Lee Gyu-tag, an associate professor at George Mason University Korea specializing in the globalization of K-pop, said Hybe’s proportion of non-Korean trainees was significantly high.

Agencies have been seeking far and wide through global auditions for new talent, he explained, to expand their reach and appeal to a wider audience.

Hybe's Seventeen has four foreign members. (Pledis Entertainment) Hybe's Seventeen has four foreign members. (Pledis Entertainment)

“These days there are many youngsters who want to be K-pop stars, and the industry has seen that it can be some kind of successful business strategy when they include certain East Asian members in their band, such as Blackpink’s case, or EXO’s case,” he said.

One member of the quartet Blackpink, Lisa, is Thai, and at EXO’s debut in 2012, four of the then 12-member group were Chinese.