The increasingly contentious ’slave contract’ issue has grown to such proportions that even international companies are sitting up to take notice. After observing the cases of JYJ–SM Entertainment and KARA-DSP Media, many Japanese entertainment agencies have been voicing their confusion over why contract terminations are imploding into such a controversial issue.
Contract terminations are rarely seen in the Japanese music industry. Case-in-point, the idol group SMAP, who debuted back in 1991, are still going strong even after 20 years as one of the most popular groups in the idol industry.
Japanese agency representatives believe that the key ingredient to their idol group’s longevity is the fair and reasonable conditions of the contracts signed. “In TVXQ’s case, the main problem stems from the 13 year contract deal, whereas in Japan, a one or two year contract is the norm,” stated a representative of a magazine company affiliated with five major media companies in Japan.
In other words, the Japanese agencies utilize a system based off personal incentives – if a group attains popularity and earns a solid profit during their contract period, that group will receive a higher salary for the following year. Other methods include enforcing a monthly pay schedule, which in turn allows for less-popular celebrities to pay for their living expenses, and thus strengthen their loyalty with the company.
A special characteristic about Japanese entertainment agencies are the humane relationships shared between the company and their artists. A seasoned representative of Japanese celebrity management companies said, “It’s not about dealing with celebrities as ‘items’; it’s about managing them with an equal understanding and relationship as human beings.”
There was a case back in 2009 when a Japanese actress/model’s contract impressed all those who read its details. “We do not tolerate the emotional and physical pain of labor force,” it said. “Schedules must always be adjusted in order to develop the greatest skills of our models and actresses.”
The CEO of this small agency, Sasaki Masumi, stated, “It’s part of the entertainment business to run into difficulties in managing celebrities as they are our ‘products’, but it’s not just about simply managing a celebrity; I also focus on helping them develop as an actor by instilling in them a deeper knowledge of their craft.”
However, that’s not to say that the Japanese music industry doesn’t see artists leaving their companies due to complications or differences in opinion. Although the majority of artists leave a company because they couldn’t attain as much popularity as they wanted, there are also many cases where the celebrities earn even more fame for leaving a company, like ex-idol actor Masahiro Motoki (2009 Academy Award winner for Okuribio). For JYJ’s case, however, this is the first time a group has been blocked from public music programs by the force of their powerful ex-agency for fleeing the company.
Netizens made comments such as, “The principle of someone becoming a betrayer just because they left after been taken care of doesn’t many any sense. The agency is blocking their activities and making a hindrance… Was it even right for them to take care of them in the first place. I’m a bit skeptical, but they definitely should give back the amount they’ve grown and give them the right of choice” and “I believe there is a lot to learn from these foreign cases.”