Omega X, K-pop contracts & Hollywood's Golden Age

Or, How artists fighting for their own rights can make things better for everyone in the long run

Omega X, K-pop contracts & Hollywood's Golden Age
Omega X

In recent weeks, there’s been an ongoing situation surrounding the boy band Omega X, with videos and a variety of reports alleging there is a history of long term abuses the members have faced at the hands of their former CEO, and just in general mistreatment throughout their careers (this is the second debut for all of the members). Everything erupted after a rather disastrous tour in the Americas in September and October, which culminated in the band members not having plane tickets to go back to South Korea, reportedly abandoned by their agency in Los Angeles.

November has witnessed the situation grow, with Korean news outlets reporting on it in-detail, the former CEO resigning, and the members - now in Seoul and actively distancing themselves from their company by creating their own new social media accounts - taking legal action, plus hosting their own press conference about the situation.

The abuses laid forth by the situation are disturbing and heartbreaking, and they are also a very public show of how few rights protect K-pop stars from the companies that manage them. While there’s a bigger conversation to be had about workplace rights in South Korea, both in the entertainment field and beyond, I keep finding myself thinking about how Hollywood used to operate, and what it took for the studio system to end.

To clarify before I begin this discussion, I don’t think Hollywood’s decades-old studio system and South Korea’s modern entertainment industry are 1:1 parallels, neither the eras nor the work cultures and/or working conditions. But there are similarities, so its talent-fuelled path forward for fairer working conditions is on my mind. It may seem random, but during the Golden Age of Hollywood (think Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant), the way Hollywood’s biggest film companies operated wasn’t so different than the current K-pop paradigm: creative control, production, distribution, management, etc. all-in-one.

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One big similarity was lengthy contracts with a company in full control of talent. The big win for this was by Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind, To Each His Own) in 1944, after she won the lawsuit De Haviland v. Warner Bros. Pictures (supposedly the court misspelled her name on the decision) while fighting for the end of her contract with Warner Bros. after the studio determined her seven-year contract (sounds familiar?) was based not on calendar dates but her actual activity. According to WB, if she wasn’t working a day, it didn’t count towards the end of her contract, ostensibly meaning she would have to work 2,555 days in total, time limits be damned.

The California Court of Appeal eventually sided in de Havilland’s favor after previous cases on her behalf, and others including Bette Davis, had lost the fight. Though it didn’t end the studio system, it changed things regarding the way that talent was treated, and how contracts were written and carried out.

Although actors rarely have time-bound contracts nowadays, musical acts like Thirty Seconds to Mars and Rita Ora, have use the “de Havilland Law” to win cases against labels, arguing that their contract terms were illegal under California’s seven-year laws.

The battle for a contract length being capped at seven-years has become the standard in both California and South Korea, and that’s not what de Havilland was fighting for. (Seven years seems to be the sweet spot since that’s the time it generally takes an entertainer’s career to take off and truly be lucrative, I guess?) But I cite this as an example because since I first heard about the de Havilland Law, I’ve been stuck on it.

This star, a singular person, who was an Oscar winner and pretty popular at the time of her lawsuit, was blacklisted and it took ages to set her career to rights. If this, again, sounds familiar to K-pop fans, it’s not a surprise: South Korea only enacted the seven-year contract law after a trio broke away from SM Entertainment’s TVXQ!, ending the legality of “slave-contracts,” usually 10 years, with entertainment companies. JYJ’s members were apparently blacklisted for several years by SM, with the “JYJ Law” eventually passed by South Korea’s National Assembly in 2015 to attempt to stop such influences from impacting others’ careers.

In 2017, another contract-impacting law was In 2017, the Korea Fair Trade Commission also continued the battle against "salve contracts," investing several major companies in an attempt to reform the contracts made with K-pop trainees.

The battle for contract fairness continues, and Omega X’s legal battle will likely be a long one, unless the members and their current company, Spire Entertainment, come to a quick settlement. But it could also set things in motion for more regulation of the industry, potentially creating a safer working environment for stars. It may seem far-fetched, but workplace abuses are, sadly, rampant in just about every industry in the world out there, and conditions typically only get better from things like lawsuits and strikes.

Though I’m only offering a handful of examples, de Havilland and JYJ, but when talent says “enough is enough,” things do truly change.

This parallel isn’t necessarily anything other than my mind connecting random things I like thinking about, functioning as if it’s that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia meme. But I do think it is both sad and inspiring that people fighting for their rights can eventually change things for the better in industries that feel powerful and all-consuming, and that individual fight can ripple across generations.

Pepe Silvia | Know Your Meme

Whether Omega X’s situation will impact the industry as a whole, or even how it will turn out for the individual members and Spire, I do not truly know. I have heard that a lot of people in the industry in Korea are keeping an eye on it, so I do hope, however, that art, whatever the art form, can be created in healthy environments.

What I’m working on

“Blackpink Mixes Exuberance and Intensity to Dazzle Adoring Fans in New Jersey” for Variety -

“If we seem quiet on the stage, it’s because for some reason, we’re very nervous and shy,” said Jennie, laughing off the situation as other members agreed.  

Despite this humanizing declaration, Blackpink’s pop goddess demeanor never faltered on stage.

It’s been years since I last saw Blackpink perform, and though they’ve never disappointed when I’ve seen them live I was honestly not sure what to expect given a lot of the discourse online surrounding their tour. But I went into this concert with an open mind ahead of reviewing it, and ultimately it was overall a really enjoyable experience that felt like a celebration of the group and their fans. I came out with a newfound appreciation for their Born Pink album. Some songs just demand to be performed live.

What I’m reading

“Games Criticism Is a Kindness” by Heather Alexandra for Kotaku- I’m not particularly known for my art criticism as a journalist, but it’s something I find immense value in and Alexandra’s piece on contextualizing pop culture products really resonated with me when I first read it, and again when I revisited it this weekend. I just moved, and found a stash of old articles I had printed out to read during my observance of the Jewish Shabbat, when I don’t use my phone or computer (or any other active-use electricity for that matter!) Published in May 2020, it made enough of an impact on me that I kept the hard copy even between three moves.

“If you’re lucky as a writer, you won’t just bring context to a work or start a conversation with readers. If you’re lucky, you can walk away with some of the most important experiences and pieces of art in your life. None of this is possible if your criticism comes from a place of hatred. Anger, sure. Frustration, yeah. Hatred, no. Which is why criticism is not a violence and it is not the hallmark of stuffy assholes who hate art. It’s an expression of love. Love for the medium, love for the artists, love for the reader, and love for the self. Whatever negative feeling the word stirs by itself should be dismissed. People do this because they care. Understanding that is a skeleton key for writing and for reading. It’s never a competition. It’s a collaboration.”


Described as “An investigative long-read into the meaning of fandom and fangirls, exploring stereotypes, obsession, misogyny and mental health benefits told through experts, psychologists and fan stories,” this is an older piece I also came back to re-reading this week.

What I’m trying

Since Twitter is going off the deep end and may break in the near future, I’m trying to find a new place to hang around and congregate with likeminded people. So far, I’ve liked Hive the best, and can be found there @TamarWrites.

In the meantime, on Twitter I shared a few responses I heard regarding last week’s newsletter. My rental shop will open for business soon!

That’s it for today’s edition. Hope to see you all again soon! Please don’t forget to leave a comment, @ me on the social media outlet of your choice, or join the subscriber chat in the Substack App.