The world of trainees is one of the most mysterious parts of the K-Pop industry, particularly when it comes to major agencies like SM Entertainment. Luckily for curious fans, in an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit, one former SM Entertainment trainee spilled all on those topics you’ve always wondered about—from dieting to dating to discrimination. The identity of the trainee (who will be referred to as “X”) was verified by a moderator, so you can be sure this information is the real deal!
For some context, “X” is a Southeast Asian girl born in 1997. An EXO fan at the time, she joined SM Entertainment in 2015 (aged 18) after attending a weekly audition while she was vacationing in Seoul. She later chose not to renew her training contract, leaving the company in 2017.
How do you become a trainee?
“X” tried out for SM Entertainment at one of the company’s weekly auditions at the SMTOWN COEX Artium building. After queuing for two hours, she was sent into the audition room with a group of five other girls. The judges gave her 10 to 15 seconds to sing and asked her to look at the camera. “X” said she chose a mellow song and didn’t belt, instead showing off her vocal color. She also acknowledges that her visuals likely helped.
Since she was on vacation when she auditioned, she had to leave South Korea before receiving an offer in person. A month later, she received an invitation for a callback, but she responded saying she couldn’t travel to Korea just for another audition. After sending a sample singing video and profile pictures, she soon received a short trainee contract offer via email. It took two to four months for “X” to get her paperwork and work visa cleared so she could travel to Korea.
Do companies force trainees to diet?
According to “X”, while there was a very strict diet regime in place, SM Entertainment never forced anyone to follow it. Of course, since training is so competitive, everyone works hard on dieting to increase their chances of debuting.
“X” went on to say that SM Entertainment sends controlled food portions to all trainees every day (with no desserts). If trainees wanted to break their diet, they had to buy their own junk food.
“X” said she was recommended to lose weight to look taller, given that she’s just 153cm tall. She also said the company never provided trainees with nutritionists or dieticians.
What does a typical day for a trainee look like?
According to “X”, a typical day for began with waking up at 6:00am. Then, she would attend Korean language school from 8:00am for 4 to 5 hours. After lunch, she’d train until dinner time—around 6 to 7 hours total. Most trainees continued practicing after dinner too. The only day off trainees get is Sunday.
What do trainees get trained in?
Since “X” specialized in vocals, she received singing training almost every day. But on top of that, she was also trained in modern dance (including pop, hip-hop, and jazz), acting, personality, and camera testing. “X” said she received some lessons on songwriting, while male trainees received lessons on producing.
Personality training was mainly focused on etiquette (such as how to sit or hold your hands while standing) and erasing bad habits (in “X”’s case, touching her nose a lot). On top of that, trainees were also taught how to amplify their real personas. For example, “X” was seen as fun and bubbly, so she was told to always smile and never be seen angry. “X” said this personality training was the most useful part of the experience.
Do you pay to be a trainee, or do you get paid?
While some unscrupulous companies make their own trainees pay for the experience, “X” confirmed SM Entertainment is not one of them. Once you become a trainee, everything essential is paid for you—including schooling, housing, food, and beauty products.
“X” had already graduated high school before becoming a trainee, but the company paid for her Korean language classes. She was also given a “very small” allowance for transportation and coffee and occasionally received free clothes.
“X” said trainees who complete their contracts don’t have to pay anything back if they leave. Only those who leave mid-contract are asked to pay back all the costs incurred.
Are trainees banned from dating?
Some companies definitely have an explicit dating ban, but “X” said this wasn’t the case at SM Entertainment. However, she did say it’s “implied”, so trainees likely didn’t date just to stay on the safe side.
What other rules are imposed on trainees?
“X” said none of the rules were unreasonable. Trainees weren’t allowed to use their phones except at night and on Sundays. They also weren’t allowed to go out at night.
Did anyone ever get kicked out?
“X” said she never heard of anyone getting kicked out for falling behind, but that it’s possible some trainees don’t get contract renewal offers if their performance is low. She also said it’s possible that SM Entertainment kicked out trainees who stirred up drama online.
How many trainees are there?
“X” said there were 30 to 40 female trainees, including models and actresses. They also said there were definitely more male trainees than female.
Do Korean trainees racially discriminate against others?
Since “X” is from Southeast Asia, many Redditors were curious as to whether she ever faced discrimination during her trainee days. “X” said that while she believes many Koreans look down on Southeast Asian countries because of lack of knowledge, she was never discriminated against maliciously by other trainees.
Instead, she said she was treated differently because she was a foreigner, not because of her ethnicity. “X” noted that Korean trainees born overseas faced the same experience.
Are you forced to get cosmetic surgery?
In “X”’s case, SM Entertainment asked her to whiten her skin. She said they didn’t pressure her about it, but that they probably would have if she debuted.
What are the craziest things trainees do?
“X” said the craziest thing she did as a trainee was fake being ill so she could skip training and watch movies in bed—pretty crazy in such a competitive environment.
Outside of trainee life, “X” said she also went underage drinking with strangers. She was 18 at the time, and the legal drinking age in Korean is 19.
Do trainees get depressed or sick from being overworked?
Sadly, “X” said that some trainees did self-harm or go on extreme diets. She went on to say that there were probably people who trainees could reach out to, but depressed would be seen as a weakness and reduce your chances of debuting. On a personal level, “X” said she always felt tired and experienced eczema flareups.
What are the best things about being a trainee?
“X” said her fondest memories were doing well in evaluations, receiving compliments from people she respected, and being glammed up. Ultimately, “X” said she doesn’t regret being a trainee at all, and if anything, she wishes she’d stuck it out longer.
What are the worst things about being a trainee?
In “X”’s case, she felt like the lifestyle wasn’t for her. She wanted to become a rich and flashy celebrity, but it was harder than she expected. Since she was older than the other trainees, she couldn’t match their energy and stamina—plus, she was already a weak dance. And, given the language barrier, she wasn’t able to get close to any other trainees.