We Went To One Of Asia's Best K-Pop Academies And It Almost Killed Us

We got to sit in on a class at one of Asia's premier K-pop training centers and oh my god was it intense.

Last month, we visited one of the biggest K-Pop academies in South Korea.

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If you've spent any time on the internet in the last couple years, you probably already know that people are kind of ~obsessed~ with the idea of being trained up as a K-pop star.

The genre is blowing up right now. BTS, arguably the biggest K-Pop group in the world, debuted on American TV last year after dominating the charts in South Korea and their first single off their newest album, "DNA," broke 20 million views on YouTube in 20 hours.

We got to visit the Global K Center. It's a K-pop academy where students come for a few weeks to sharpen their skills.

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Rachael: Hi, that's me. I did dance every week from when I was 3 to 18. And when I stopped I realized how damn hard it is to get back to that level. I still have rhythm and can pick up moves *fairly well* but really lack the stamina to jump on the spot for an hour and not lose the use of my legs for a week afterward. And I like K-pop but I've never gotten close to being a stan. I did get kind of obsessed with CL last year, though.

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Ryan: And this is me, Ryan. I was once in a middle school production of Anything Goes and the director told me it wasn't worth me trying to dance and that I should just do box steps the whole time. Since then, most of my dancing has been at Warped Tours. I'm not a die-hard K-pop stan either, but I've really gotten into the Korean rapper Zico while I've been here in Seoul.

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Kassy: I'm not a die-hard K-pop fan, but being from Taiwan — where K-pop is very popular — I'd say I'm pretty familiar with the music, as well as just how competitive the training and industry is. So yeah, that's me on my phone, counting down the minutes until I get to watch Ryan embarrass himself and Rachael completely kill it. Sorry Ryan, I'm just stating the facts.

We were told when we got there that the area had originally been built for English expats, but the idea didn't really catch on.

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Rachael: You can totally see it from the buildings — very strong "this is definitely what all of England looks like" vibes.

Ryan: It's basically just a Hogwarts for K-pop. Which, of course, would make me the Harry Potter of the idol world. New kid in town. Destined for superstardom.

It even has its own City Hall.

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Also, it's right next to the North Korean border.

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The school has everything an aspiring idol would need. There's a broadcasting studio.

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Personal training rooms where students practice in between classes.

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And of course, dance classes.

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Rachael: The inside of this place was *intense*. Studios with professional lighting, private singing booths, dorms. People who come here are entirely immersed in K-pop.

Ryan: We might be amateurs, but the kids who pay the roughly $2,000 to come here and hone their skills are not.

Kassy: Everything looked and felt really professional here, from the equipment to the kids rehearsing before the class began. It felt like you could actually spend some time here and come out of it a star. Oh wait, that happened! I'm told this is where the K-pop boy band Wanna One trained.

The nice folks at Global K Center agreed to let us sit in on a class.

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Rachael: A very accurate depiction of our moods going into the class.

Ryan: This is my face realizing I'm actually going to have to dance — sober.

First, we had to stretch.

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Rachael: Warm-up was pretty much the same kind of thing you'd do before any dance class. However, considering it's been five years since I attended any sort of class, I was pretty wiped by the end of it.

Ryan: This was probably the last time I felt confident during this entire process.

Turns out that after the warm-up, there was more dancing! Who knew.

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Ryan: If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment I realize I am old and death is just around the corner.

Rachael: I knew was doing better than Ryan, and after realizing that I wasn't even going to come close to being good at this class, being better than him was all I had.

Kassy: I don't think the warm-up was that intense to be honest, so I have no idea how Ryan is already covered in sweat and saying he wants to die.

That guy in the hat was our instructor. He was very cool and very patient with us.

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Kassy: The instructor was probably my favorite person to watch in that class. He was really enthusiastic and genuinely seemed like he was having a lot of fun teaching everyone. It was also cool to see a class that was an even mix of boys and girls.

Also, the class we were sitting in on was for beginners, so learning some basic steps was pretty easy (at first).

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Rachael: You know those brief moments when you become aware that your body is slowly getting weaker with age and now everything hurts the next day? That's how trying to put the arms and leg parts together felt.

Ryan: As you can see, by this point I had pretty much mastered the form. I was elegance, I was grace, I was poetry in motion.

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Rachael: I think I found it a bit easier than Ryan overall.

Ryan: You may not like it, but this is what peak male performance looks like, lads.

Kassy: All I wanted throughout the class was to hold the camera steady on Rachael and do a "you're doing amazing, sweetie," but it was honestly really hard to because I was struggling not to laugh at Ryan the whole time.

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Rachael: I actually think Ryan actively tried to get worse as the class went on.

Ryan: Here's my problem with this whole thing. Once we learned one part of a dance move, we had to learn another part, and then another. And then after that, we had to put them all together, really fast. What's the deal with that?

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Rachael: I believe this was the moment we found out we were 20 minutes into a FOUR-HOUR class.

Ryan: That's my "I'm cool, I don't want to die" face.

Kassy: Just to be clear — this is only after 20 minutes of the *basic* routine. We haven't even gotten to the complex routine at this stage. But Rachael and Ryan both did their best, and I'm proud of them, even if we didn't manage to make it through the whole four hours.

After 30 minutes, Ryan was holding up nicely.

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But enough about us. We also talked to a few of the kids who come to Global K Center to chase their K-pop dreams. People in the class we were sitting in on were from Taiwan and they were all super cool.

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This is Winnie Lee, 17, and Vivian Chang, 18. They both grew up loving Korean music and are super excited about getting a chance to learn at Global K Center.

"I’ve watched a lot of Korean entertainment shows since primary school so I wanted to become a trainee," Chang said.

But the days here are long. Lee said you're pretty much practicing any time you're not sleeping or eating.

"You have to take the initiative to practice on your own for dancing, singing, and everything else," she said. "After you finish dinner, you have to come and practice. Then you go back, shower and sleep, and get up early in the morning and come practice again. They've organized classes for us, but you have to decide what you want to do in your free time, so if you want to work hard, then you will come and practice."


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Shawn Wang, 21, said that he was shocked to find out that there was an entire school just for K-pop training.

"I wanted to see what it was like overseas and how it is different from Taiwan," he said. "I wanted to see what the trainees do here and where they train."

Huang actually doesn't want to be a K-pop star — he wants to run the boards in studios and at concerts. But he thought that going to a K-pop academy would be a good way to better understand the music industry.

"I’ve never danced before," he said.

Ding Yao

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Ding Yao Huang, 20, said he came to Korea because he wasn't happy with the type of dance classes offered in Taiwan.

"In Taiwan, I only went to a few dancing classes. I want to keep dancing in the future and become a K-pop trainee."

He said that the center treats the men and women performers equally, but he does have trouble with some of the moves for the women.

"Some dance moves are different," he said. "There are some moves that are a bit sexy that guys can’t pull off. No one is bad but we all are working hard."

He said the hardest thing about taking classes is the singing. "I can’t sing in tune," he said.

So what did we learn from this whole thing?

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Rachael: I'm still absolutely astounded by the fact that that class was going to be four hours long. These kids are really committed to K-pop stardom at a level you don't really see in other genres of music, I think. I just hope for them this isn't the be-all and end-all. Success in any industry is hard, let alone entertainment, but especially K-pop. But hey, if they're enjoying it and get a short glimpse of how their idols live, that's pretty awesome.

Ryan: I agree with Rachael, basically. This shit is intense and these kids eat, sleep, and breathe K-pop — literally. Everyone we spoke to talked about how much it meant to them to even have the chance to do something like this. Good luck, future K-pop superstars! God knows I don't have even an iota of what it takes to do something like this.

Kassy: I knew that training for K-pop was intense, but witnessing it in person for even just a few hours really took it to a whole other level. I really admired just how driven all the kids were, despite how exhausting it evidently was. But like the kids themselves told us, if you work hard, you'll be able to achieve your goals, and it's not highly unlikely we'll be able to say in the future that we were once in the same room with a K-pop idol (who is definitely not Ryan).



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