“Kim Nam-joon! Kim Seok-jin! Min Yoon-gi! Jung Ho-seok! Park Ji-min! Kim Tae-hyung! Jeon Jung-kook! BTS!” Probably for the first time ever, the audience chanted Korean names as BTS made an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres show last year.

BTS, a seven-member South Korean boy band, has been gaining widespread attention outside their home country. In the four years since their debut in 2013, the band has broken records unprecedented for a non-American artist. In May 2017, BTS got 320 million votes for Billboard’s Top Social Artist award, surpassing artists such as Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. Recently, BTS ranked as high as 28th on the “Billboard Hot 100” and 11th on “Billboard’s Artist Chart” — achievements that are unprecedented for an international artist outside of Latin America. With their latest album “DNA,” BTS ranked number one in the iTunes album charts of 73 countries in 3 continents, according to CNN.

While the Korean Pop (K-pop) industry has produced artists and tunes, such as Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” that have achieved viral success, BTS’s level of sustained growth and recognition is unprecedented for Asian artists. Seemingly out of nowhere, BTS caused a frenzy in a music industry long dominated by American pop artists. So, how was BTS able to gather so much popularity and loyal fandoms in countries with very little knowledge of the Korean language? And more broadly, is the K-pop idol industry a fad, just as short-lived as “Gangnam Style”, or is it sustainable in the long-term?

Jeff Benjamin, a Billboard journalist specializing in K-pop, explains how a multitude of factors explain why fans — with little to no knowledge of the Korean culture or language — are attracted to K-pop artists: they’re great performers, singing, rapping, and dancing at the same time; they’re meticulously trained; and their primary mode of distribution are music videos, creating a music experience that is heavily focused on visuals and effects. The well-synchronized dance moves, vibrant colors and catchy EDM beats create an immersive experience.

Additionally, nearly all successful K-pop artists are in groups. Entertainment companies craft a narrative for each member whom fans can empathize with. Each member is given a role – the leader, lead singer, lead dancer, rapper, entertainer, and even the designated “good-looking one.” K-pop companies do not just sell music, they sell an experience created by meticulous branding.

As a result, K-pop is a multi-billion dollar global industry. Korea Creative Content Agency reported that the total export revenue of K-pop industry in 2016 was 4.7 billion dollars. The industry employs approximately 80,000 people.

Yet, while K-pop may seem flashy and has captivated the fascination of millions, there is a darker side to the business. In December 18, 2017, Kim Jong-hyun, the lead singer of SHINee — one of the most popular groups managed by SM entertainment, the largest entertainment company in Korea — committed suicide, prompting both national and international debate over the demands of the industry.

The business model in K-pop is unlike that of American pop. For example, American record labels have a relatively limited scope compared to the equivalent K-pop “entertainment companies.” Most American record labels manage strictly business activities such as the production, marketing and distribution of music. Korea’s entertainment companies do all that, but also recruit and train potential artists starting from an age as early as 10, loan mandatory housing in company facilities that artists later pay off with their own money and manage the diets and lifestyles of their artists. Korean entertainment companies construct agreements that specify nearly all aspects of the artists’ career and personal lives while under contract.

As a result, K-pop “idols,” as they are referred to in Korea and within their fandoms, are an all-in-one package gift-wrapped by their entertainment companies. In order to ensure that the idols are following their protocols, the company watches them for 24 hours a day, according to Hankyoreh Media Group. The idols are under tight restrictions by the management company that directs their whole lives—how to sing, how to present themselves in public, what to wear, what to eat, what to say, who they can meet and cannot—as many experienced K-pop idols, such as Girl’s Generation, have reminisced in interviews. In other words, Korea’s entertainment companies are the brains and muscles behind their artists.

One part of the K-pop industry that recently came under intense scrutiny is the trainee system. Entertainment companies have many “trainees,” who are potential idols recruited from an early age that practice their skills under the company’s instruction. According to the Fair Trade Commision of South Korea (FTC), the average training cost the company invests in per trainee is only $90 dollars a month. Since it does not cost much money for the companies to retain trainees, companies can afford to retain trainees as long as they desire. As a result, trainees are kept in a constant state of uncertainty, often not even getting a chance to debut before they get too ‘old.’ Further, companies create contracts with high penalties for quitting or moving to a different company. The trainees, as young as they often are, often sign the contract without fully realizing the consequences. According to the FTC statement, six entertainment companies, including JYP and FNC, have imposed a penalty much larger than their investment on the trainees, keeping the trainees and even debuted singers in debt of the company. Thus, singers were effectively forced to listen to the protocols of these entertainment companies. The Fair Trade Commision has recently updated on their “Standard Contract” that is enforced on the companies in order to ensure fair conditions for the idols.

Underneath the glitz and flash, K-pop is a calculated business. The entertainment companies behind K-pop artists strategically convert artists into brands that transcend differences in language and culture. Although entertainment companies wielded incredible bargaining power due to the nearly endless supply of K-pop hopefuls, they appear to be treading more carefully owing to recent scrutiny from government organizations and bad publicity. Yet, given the recent backlash against these entertainment companies, a reckoning appears to be brewing.

Escape Room

You are in a room with no windows, doors or any exit. The only items are a mirror and a table. How do you escape?

The answer: look in the mirror, then at the wall and back at the mirror to see what you saw. Use the saw to cut the table in half and join the two halves to make a whole. Put the “hole” on the wall and climb out. This hackneyed riddle has one answer, and the answer is not exactly possible. But, what if it were? What if you were locked in a room similarly?

Today, the opportunity has become feasible with the creation of escape rooms. The premise of an escape room is to lock a group of up to ten people in a room that is designed like the set of a movie based on the board game Clue. Once inside, the participants have 60 minutes to work together to track down the different clues in the room that include numbers, words, pictures and objects. All of the clues, when used correctly, lead to a key that allows the players to exit the room.

Based on point-and-click computer games—games that involve the user moving a cursor around and clicking on different items to further progress in the game—like Crimson Room, a real-life version of the game entitled “Real Escape Game” or REG, was developed by Takao Kato in 2007 in Tokyo, Japan. Kato is a member of the publishing company SCRAP. Since Kato’s initial game, the idea has spread throughout the world and has been made for all demographics. According to MarketWatch, the total number of escape rooms in the world has jumped to well over 2,800 in the past eight years. Initially exploding throughout Asia and into Eastern Europe, the escape room craze eventually entered the U.S market in 2012 in San Francisco. Since then, it has spread throughout the United States, and there are now 424 different escape room locations in the United States, as reported by the Escape Room Directory. Some of the larger escape room franchises include SCRAP’s Real Escape Game, Escape Hunt, and Clue Factory.

While positive reviews drive families and friends to the game rooms, the majority of their success has been due to corporate clients who use the companies for team-building exercises, as reported by the New York Post. Some larger companies continue to bring their employees back week after week and often fill empty time slots in the middles of weekdays. Escape rooms also offer a more intellectual team-building opportunity than alternative activities like bubble-ball or paintball.

Recently, another factor that has come into play is the sponsorship of large-scale escape rooms in bigger cities by television shows or movies. For instance, according to Newsweek, Mission Escape Games hosted a Penguins of Madagascar room for Dreamworks in New York City while Escape the Room collaborated with NBC Universal’s USA Network to create rooms in three cities and at two Universal theme parks based on USA Network’s archaeological series Dig.

Currently, there have been no signs of this boom slowing down. Even though the quickly multiplying number of rooms threatens to saturate the market, the large American population that has not yet experienced the phenomenon provides a positive outlook for the industry.

As with most trends, however, success will eventually stagnate as the market will become over-saturated. It is very likely that the larger brands like Real Escape Game, Escape Hunt, and Clue Factory will take over the industry as they expand, and when a surplus of locations occurs, it will be the slightly larger brands that take the hit and survive.

Additionally, although corporations use the companies for team-building initiatives or even sponsor temporary rooms in big city locations, the return rate for individual customers is not high primarily because of the expensive ticket price usually around $30. In addition to being twice the price of a movie ticket, escape games lack a crucial element that keeps customers returning to theaters – variety. Movies typically turn over every month or two, and many theaters can show up to 15 different movies at once while escape room locations often have only a handful of rooms that turn over extremely infrequently.

With start up costs at almost $10,000 per room, according to the New York Post, it is extremely difficult for many escape game companies to offer more than a few options at each location. Further, the average sunk costs are likely to increase as consumers demand more and more exciting and theatrical rooms and companies feel pressure from low-cost competitors. As with other fads, this will probably result in companies shrinking their numbers of locations down to subsistence levels.

This outcome has been seen in the frozen yogurt industry, which is an interesting parallel. Up until 2014, the industry had experienced rapid growth at a rate of about 21 percent over the last six years according to Fortune. Growth, however, is projected to contract entirely by 2019 as stated by Forbes with the main factors being the lack of prime locations without direct competition. Jon Crabbe, one of the proprietors of Yolickity and Yotality in the Rochester, New York area, believes that the number of locations near him will drop from 25 stores to eight or nine.

According to Nations Restaurant News, this phenomenon of too many entrepreneurs joining an industry at one time leading to a large surplus is called a shakeout, and the frozen yogurt industry is in the middle of it.

Investopedia states that there is a distinct five stage lifecycle of an industry, one of which is the shakeout. The five phases are the early stages phase, innovation phase, shakeout phase, maturity phase and finally the decline phase. To tell that a shakeout is emerging, product innovation typically declines and a so-called “dominant design” arrives. Then, during the shakeout, economies of scale occurs and barriers of entry increase. After, growth becomes less of the focus as cash flow dominates, and then revenues begin to decline.

The escape room industry is setting itself up for a similar shakeout to the frozen yogurt industry, although it is still somewhere in the middle of the early stages and innovation phases. The industry should continue to grow over the next couple of years until a “dominant design” is produced, and it is very likely that one of the larger brands will create this model. Soon after, however, the shakeout will begin.