Low wages, long hours, demanding fans, constant competition… is it for everyone?
There has been a lot of discussion over the last few months about the life of SNH48 Group members (and idols at large). How much money are they making? Can they live off their salaries? Are they all given a fair chance to be popular or is it just the select few? How much of events (like the annual election) is rigged?
Rumours and stories (some fuelled by members themselves) have emerged over the last year about some not getting the attention and support they should, not making a decent salary, or not always being treated well by staff.
With such a large group, almost 300 members at time of publishing, you would expect some things to surface.
Follow the money
With billions of yuans of capital investment, millions of EP/merchandise sales, and more millions coming in through the annual election (Ju JingYi alone is said to have generated over 800 million yuan of revenue during the 2016 election), it would seem that STAR48 is in very good financial position.
Most of that is not profit of course. Salaries of staff/members have to be paid, upkeep of theaters, promotion and marketing, plus all the money SB is investing in music videos, dramas, and other ventures. Add to that the constant need to generate a return to the investors and owners.
Bloomberg asserted in a 2015 article on SNH48 that the starting salary for an SNH48 member was around $600 USD per month. Members then receive additional pay for each theater performance as well as any outside work (photoshoots, endorsements, events…) they participate in.
The quantity of outside work a member will get is based on their ranking at the last election (members get pushed by management based on how high they ranked), on popularity with fans but, most importantly, through selections by customers.
Here is an example. A company is looking to use SNH48 members to endorse their product at an event. They can just let STAR48 decide but, usually, what will happen is that management will provide them with a catalog of members and videos so that they may select which ones they want to use. The more popular or more well known usually the better but not always.
Is being an idol a part-time job?
Reality is that, for most members, the answer to that question is yes.
The very popular members or those ranking high in elections will have lots of idol activities but the average member will be doing their stage every week or so and then have the occasional outside event. For the rest, they will be going to school or university. If not, then they are pretty much left to themselves.
If they are in demand, then that isn’t a problem. Those who are not may end up having to do other things (like have a regular job) to fill their time. For some it is a necessity but, for others, it is a choice. A prime example would be Chen JiaYing of SNH48 Team NII who is a nurse in her non-idol life.
MEMBERS FACE THE SAME PROBLEM AS WESTERN ARTISTS WHO HAVE TO WAIT TABLES TO MAKE ENDS MEET.
Is it too much?
Members have had to leave SNH (some in more dramatic ways than others) because they were unable to deal with the pressure. In some cases, it led to full blown depression cases which resulted in STAR48 to recently start offering psychological support services to members.
People tend to forget that SNH48 is a business and the primary function of the members is to generate revenue for it. That is why, since at least the 7th generation, members have clauses built into their contracts that allow management to terminate it should they fail to get enough fans (meaning: willing to spend on them).
Fans, of course, all want their favourites to be visible, popular, and happy. Many have their dreams of performing in big concerts realized just by being a member of SNH48 Group but, all aspire to be a star in their own right some day. Most will not make it.
This is the reality for all idols.