9 K-Pop idols that overcame extreme adversities to get to the top

9 K-Pop idols that overcame extreme adversities to get to the top

It would be no exaggeration to make a definitive statement that the idol life is one of the hardest, most demanding, merciless, and high-risk careers of all, especially in the arts. What we see of an idol’s life is only the tip of the iceberg. In many cases, an idol has spent more years in pre-debut training than actually on stage. Oftentimes, their talent is overlooked, and they stand the chance of seeing their dreams dashed right in front of their eyes. 

Going even further behind, even just making the decision to become an idol costs an artist their relationships as not all families approve of the arts instead of academic careers. Some might not even be in the position to leave their families behind and move to a different city altogether. Let’s say their families approve, and the next step is auditioning. In a country where there is at least one aspiring idd in every three families, the competition is cut-throat, to say the least. Besides, not everyone is fortunate enough to pass through the audition stage, especially in reputable companies. Records of idols being scammed are way too many. Next up in the line of challenges is body image. Unfortunately, standards of what is considered, quite literally “marketable” in the South Korean entertainment industry, are terribly imposing and quite toxic to any individual’s mental health. Dietary pressures are simply inhuman.

However, after all this and more, the chances of debuting are still 50-50 and up to the discretion of the company solely. Let’s not forget the insurmountable debt. While these issues are common to most idols and their experiences, some idols have especially struggled to get where they are now. However, their hardships have still not completely disappeared. The fear of ‘sasaeng’ fans and their personal information leaking is way too daunting.


IU is easily one of the most respected and talented soloists to ever come out of the K-Pop industry. However, the road to success was not laden with flowers after all. IU’s family was extremely impoverished, and she and her brother had to be raised by their grandmother. When she realized that her dream was to become a singer, she started auditioning right away. However, she could not pass over twenty of them and was scammed multiple times.

But, she did not give up and eventually signed with LOEN Entertainment and debuted in 2008. At just age 15, her first album ‘Lost and Found’ was not an instant commercial hit, but her talent would not stay hidden for very long. Soon, she rose to success and achieved high acclaim in both music and acting.

SHINee Taemin 

Taemin has been in the industry for a very long time and from a very young age. Taemin also belonged to a loving family, albeit, money was definitely an issue. Taemin doesn’t talk much about his struggles, but he once confessed (quite tear-jerkingly too) that he could not afford an MP3 player but would go around with headphones in his ears even though they were plugged into nothing and simply tucked in his pocket so that he could fit in with the other kids his age. When he got the opportunity of his lifetime with SHINee, he held on to it with everything he had.

SNSD Tiffany

Despite her father living against her dream of becoming a singer. Tiffany persevered and passed the 2004 SM auditions in LA and got on a plane to South Korea by herself at the age of 15. Not only was she completely alone in a city where she knew nobody, but she also didn’t have a good hold on the language and had to teach it to herself while going through rigorous training. It wasn’t until Tiffany debuted finally that she revealed that her mother had passed away two years before she became an official trainee and that her stage name ‘Tiffany’ was actually not her real name but the name that her mother had wanted for her. Being able to deal with such a personal loss while also striving to make her dreams come true rightfully has brought Tiffany to the peak of her success today.

Sandara Park

Dara tasted success even before her debut as a K-Pop idol from her stint in the ‘Star Circle Quest,’ a reality show in the Philippines. However, it could have only lasted for so long before finally fading away. This coincided tragically with her father stealing all their family’s finances and leaving them for another woman. Dara had to pay for her siblings’ education as well as put food on the table. She even had to bail her father out of prison when he couldn’t pay back his dues. Realizing the importance of being successful from such an early age while also bearing the responsibility of being her family’s sole breadwinner created the strong, independent, and insanely talented Dara we know today. 

Super Junior Leeteuk

While most of the idols on this list aimed for the idol life to fulfill their dreams, Leeteuk escaped into it to find happiness. His family was struggling financially, and his father, in particular, was physically abusive, which had a heavy toll on his mental health. In a speech at a high school in Kyungjoo, Leeteuk opened up about his depression. He revealed that he had finally succumbed during his time in the military when he heard about his father’s murder-suicide. His grandfather was suffering from dementia and his grandmother from cancer. Leeteuk’s father, unable to be responsible for them, suffocated them to death before committing suicide. Upon his passing, Leeteuk was left with a huge debt and his father’s spiteful last words, belittling his success. His depression spiraled to a point where he was advised to take an early discharge from the military owing to illness, but Leeteuk decided to complete his service. After returning to his regular life, he sold his car and accepted all the jobs he could in order to pay off his father’s debt, all the while suffering from his crippling depression. However, with the help of work and his fellow members, Leeteuk has grown out of his suffering. 


Owing to his Korean-American status, Vernon suffered from a crisis in identity and belonging from a very early age. In America, he faced racial discrimination for being Korean, and after moving to Korea, people were prejudiced against him for being American. Not knowing where he belonged and feeling rejected even after returning to reconnect with his roots, Vernon fought an internal battle quietly while he trained for a debut. All that suffering only strengthened his resolve to succeed in his chosen career, and today, it is safe to say that Vernon is one of the most celebrated idols in K-Pop.


In an appearance on JTBC‘s “Lee Soo Geun and Kim Byung Man’s High Society,” Sunggyu revealed that he lived in rooftop rooms for most of his childhood. However, that didn’t stop him from harboring big dreams of becoming a singer. His parents were so opposed to the idea that he had to leave home altogether. He moved to Seoul and took on multiple part-time jobs throughout the day to barely support himself while he was training to be an idol. All that relentless hard work finally paid off when he debuted with INFINITE in 2010.

Girl’s Day Sojin

Sojin grew up in the countryside, where residents looked down upon those who dreamt of becoming celebrities. It was natural, therefore, that her own parents would be vehemently against it as well. She ran away from home after falling victim to a scam where a ghost company, promising to train Sojin, tricked her out of 2 million Won. With only a note in her father’s shoe explaining her decision, Sojin set off to Seoul and crashed at her friend’s dorm while working multiple odd jobs to support herself. With all she could save up, Sojin enrolled herself in an arts academy to train in singing and dancing and finally signed with Dream T Entertainment. Fortunately, she could finally see life with rose-colored glasses.

JYJ Jaejoong

Jaejoong was an adopted child to his family, but he wasn’t aware of the fact. Upon finding out, he moved to Seoul at the age of 16 in order to support himself and audition for SM Entertainment. To make ends meet, Jaejoong took up roles as movie extras and even sold gum at restaurants to make money for rent. He stopped using public transport and only ate leftovers from the restaurants he worked at to save up. Most of his earnings went into his training lessons and the rest for his bare minimum essentials. Jaejoong effectively took life by the reins and directed his own destiny, which finally led him to ultimate success.

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