Dance Dance Arbitration: Why China’s Idols Want Out of Their Deals

A recent spate of contract disputes has cast a spotlight on one-sided contracts and cutthroat competition in the country’s idol industry.

“I think she’s ugly, don’t you?”

When Xu Mingchao, founder and CEO of JC Universe Entertainment, unleashed a torrent of abuse against the captain of his agency’s now-disbanded idol group, Rocket Girls 101, he did so knowing she was nowhere in the room. So it may have come as a surprise to him when the invective’s target — Guo Ying, also known by her stage name “Yamy” — published a three-minute excerpt of Xu’s rant to her 6 million fans on microblogging platform Weibo in earlier July.

Yamy isn’t the only young Chinese idol mired in a high-profile dispute with her agency. Wang Ju, a “gay icon” in China who like Yamy started as a trainee on reality show “Produce 101,” ended her contract with her agency not long after the show finished, in part because she felt it was more interested in monetizing her career than managing it. Two cast members of “Idol Producer,” a similar show dedicated to forming a boy band, are also currently in the midst of an acrimonious split with their agencies. Then there’s Kong Xue’er, who sued her old agency immediately after striking it big on another talent show: “Youth With You 2.”

As a lawyer specializing in entertainment law, I’ve handled a number of similar cases myself. China’s trainee idol industry has exploded in recent years, in part thanks to a boom in reality and variety shows that all need fresh faces. But when powerful, often unscrupulous agencies start competing over access to naïve young performers, problems are bound to ensue.

China’s entertainment agencies can be split roughly into two categories. Established contenders, like Xu’s JC Universe Entertainment, offer so-called trainee idols access to professional teachers, or even the chance to move to South Korea to enroll in that country’s world-class training academies. They pay for dance studios and vocal classes, provide accommodations, and even give their trainees a considerable monthly living allowance.

On the other end of the spectrum are the “lottery agencies.” Rather than trying to create well-rounded artists, these companies act like idol factories, signing up youngsters, giving them minimal coaching, and sending them off to compete on various talent shows in the hopes that one will hit it big. Continue to read the full article here


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.