Too young? A 14-year-old Thai girl is debuting as a K-pop idol after 2 years of training.

That's the age of a secondary two student.

Fasiha Nazren |
February 15, 2023, 5:12 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

YG Entertainment, the South Korean entertainment agency behind some of the biggest K-pop bands like Big Bang and Blackpink have teased the debut of a new girl group.

BabyMonster, as they’re called, is set to debut in 2023.

The girl group has been in the works since 2018.

The septet consists of members from South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Touted to be an “all-kill super rookie” group, the group will embrace a high school teen image when they make their debut.

They are also among the most anticipated artist, according to a survey by entertainment magazine JoyNews24.

YG Entertainment is also notoriously known for its low success rate for auditions, with only one successful idol for every 1226 participants.

“Think of them as a baby that has genes of YG,” the company’s CEO, Yang Hyun-suk, said.

And “baby” isn’t an overstatement.

YG has introduced all seven members, with the youngest being a 14-year-old Thai girl with the stage name Chiquita — Spanish for “little girl”.

She is believed to have been recruited in 2021.

As she turns 14 in February 2023, she is set to be one of the youngest idols in the industry right now.

Screenshot from YG’s YouTube channel.

The other members are also relatively young, ranging between 14 and 21 years old.

Seeing a prepubescent girl trying to break into the South Korean entertainment industry, of course, didn’t sit too well with a lot of netizens.

Screenshot from Reddit.

Screenshot from Reddit.

Screenshot from Reddit.

Screenshot from Reddit.

Screenshot from Reddit.

Debuting as a young teen, however, isn’t a shocking new concept in the Hallyu wave.

Other idols that made their debut under 16 include Lapillus’ Lim Hae-un, SHINee’s Lee Tae-min, and soloist Kwon Bo-a.

Photo from Hae-un, Tae-min and Bo-a’s Instagram pages.

And have you listened to OMG, Ditto or Hype Boy?

Yeah, these popular earworms are performed by K-pop girl group NewJeans, whose members’ range from 15 to 19 years old.

So why are people concerned?

Mainly because of the infamously harsh training idols have to go through.

The training process can range anywhere from months to years.

BTS’s Park Ji-min debuted after six months of training, while Big Bang’s G-Dragon trained for 11 years—five years under SM Entertainment and another six under YG Entertainment.

Both Ji-min and G-Dragon were 18 years old when they made their debut.

Photo from Ji-min’s and G-Dragon’s Instagram accounts.

On top of living in typically tiny dorms away from their family, trainees spend hours each day intensely practising their singing and dancing.

It is also common for trainees to not have access to their smartphones, even a few years after they debut.

In 2021, rookie girl group STAYC revealed that they’re not allowed to have personal smartphones, as their CEO apparently told them that the “phone ban” will only be lifted after they win “#1 on a music programme”.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Unhealthy relationship with food

In a BuzzFeed News interview, former K-pop idol hopeful Kathy Lee talked about one of the many dieting processes idols have to undergo.

Then only 14, Kathy said that she had to go to a “diet hospital” that would give her a herbal medicine meant to be consumed before meals.

The medicine is said to “suppress [her] appetite and increase [her] metabolism”, she said.

The weight loss package also includes carboxy shots, a fat-loss procedure that uses needles on one’s body to “break up the fat so it’s easier to lose”.

Former f(x) member Amber Liu told People that she had “the worst relationship with food”, sometimes only drinking a can of Coca-Cola a day.

She added: “We honestly talked more about diets than music… We were taught to starve.”

Photo from @amberliu on Instagram.

How will it affect young idols?

Experts have also expressed concerns over the potential setbacks of entering showbiz at a young age.

In a report by Korea JoongAng Daily, pop culture critic Ha Jae-Keun said: “In the worst case, if they fail to succeed as celebrities, they are left with limited career options since they’ve most likely missed a significant portion of their education due to idol activities.”

Lim Myung-Ho, a Dankook University psychology professor argued that the lack of socialisation is a bigger issue than skipping school per se.

“The isolation and lack of peer interaction are bound to affect a child’s psychological development and coping mechanisms later as an adult. Even if they do rise to stardom, there’s a high possibility that they will find it difficult to handle their emotions or be resilient when faced with stress.

They may also be greatly affected by hate comments, then become unable to cope and spiral into self-destructive behaviour, which we’ve seen many celebrities do.”

Sexualisation of idols

K-pop is a diverse genre with idols performing a myriad of concepts from the cute, the quirky and of course, the sexy.

Examples of sexy concepts include Son Ga-in’s Bloom, Miss A’s Hush and Girls’ Day’s Expectation.

Screenshots from YouTube.

While all the idols mentioned above are of the appropriate age (18 and above), it can be questionable when younger idols embody the sexy concept.

Take, for example, when IVE’s Jang Won-young performed Ariana Grande’s Side to Side — a song that is definitely not suitable for work — in idol survival series Produce 48.

Won-young was only 14 then.

As part of the performance, she had some questionable dance moves including squatting suggestively and gyrating her hips.

Won-young on the right. Screenshot from YouTube.

It’s an issue that others have pointed out as well:

Screenshot from YouTube.

Won-young isn’t the only idol to have performed concepts that are deemed too mature for her age.

NewJeans’s Cookie has been criticised for allegedly suggestive lyrics like:

“(Keep) looking at my cookie

Take it, don’t break it, I want to see you taste it

If you want it, you can get it, if you want it”

Cookie, according to Urban Dictionary, can be slang for female genitalia.

Toxic fandom

As it is, K-pop is notoriously known for its “toxic fandom” and sasaeng fans.

Sasaeng fans are those who are overly obsessed, often going overboard by infringing their idols’ privacy. So a stalker, essentially.

Common acts include somehow having their hands on idols’ personal data, including their phone numbers, emails and home addresses.

In 2019, during a live-streaming session, BTS’s Jeon Jung-kook received a phone call from a sasaeng fan.

He revealed that he gets a lot of calls from sasaeng fans, whom he blocks immediately.

As idols are constantly in the public eye, this also means being subjected to negative comments from online users, who put the idols down for their behaviour and even body shame them.

In February 2023, some Twitter users left negative comments comparing 2PM’s Ok Taec-yeon’s body to a fridge.

Taec-yeon responded to such comments with humour, saying “fridge is out” during an Instagram live session.

Tragic outcomes

These comments, however, can and have caused tragic outcomes.

In October 2019, f(x) member Choi Sulli was found dead in her home. Media reports suspected that the cause of death was suicide.

Sulli was a child actor-turned-idol, having been in showbiz since 11 years old.

Sulli was a huge advocate for anti-cyberbullying and had appeared on shows to discuss the hate comments that she receives.

In one of her final Instagram lives, she responded to the slew of hate comments: “I’m not a bad person. Why are you talking bad about me?”

Following her death, many have pressured the South Korean government about the repercussions of cyberbullying, demanding users register their real names before leaving comments online.

A report from October 2019 said that a bill coined the “Sulli Act” was proposed by lawmakers in South Korea to counter malicious comments.

However, as of July 2020, the bill is reportedly no longer in talks.

Idols will continue to debut young

Unfortunately, experts have said that the trend of debuting young is unlikely to die out.

Therefore, experts say it is necessary to come up with a response plan.

Myung-ho said:

“If we can’t do anything about that (young debut age), the second best thing management agencies must do is prepare a support system for their young artists’ socialisation and mental health. It’s absolutely necessary for the idols’ success, especially in the long-run.”

Top image screenshot from YG’s YouTube channel.

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