Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg
Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

How K-Pop School Turns Young Singers Into Music-Making Machines

Korea’s pop music machine churns out stars to the tune of $4.7 billion a year. Step inside a tough-love boot camp.

Endless repetition, tear-inducing critiques from coaches, smile practice, and psychological counseling are plot points in an 11-week reality TV show documenting the creation of a teenybopper singing “Idol School,” which began airing in July, is part of a corporate push to turn Korean pop music into a global phenomenon.

Contestants (from left) Yoo Ji-na, Jang Gyu-ri, Cho Young-ju, and Tasha walk through the grounds at Yangpyeong English School. 

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

They practice dance moves during the production of “Idol School.”

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

A dance instructor (left) watches a practice session.

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Viewers vote during every episode to determine the contestants’ “grades.”

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

An instructor (center) and contestants watch a video during dance practice.

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Contestants fetch food in the cafeteria set during production of “Idol School.” 

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Contestants dine during production of “Idol School.”

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Contestants stretch before a dance practice session.

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

A dance instructor (right) watches a practice session.

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Of 41 contestants, nine will be chosen to perform in the winning group. 

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg