After winning season five of The X Factor in 2013, Dami Im walked away from the competition with a legion of new fans, a management deal to help kickstart her career, and a recording contract with Sony Music.
She went on to release five LPs during her time with Sony, but it’s not until now that the South Korean-born singer-songwriter has broken her silence about the alleged treatment she endured at the hands of the record label and how it almost forced her to quit the music industry altogether.
In her new memoir Dreamer, Dami described Sony as a “toxic” environment and detailed numerous times when her projects were scrapped and her ideas were discouraged.
She alleged that music videos she had funded were never released, album photo shoots were completely discarded, and “ninety per cent” of her third album had to be completely re-recorded with no explanation.
Dami also claimed that she spent six years trying to convince her label to let her record her own original music, but was told she had to make cover albums instead.
“It was comical because it was so unfair, the amount of disrespect and nonsense,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of the things that went on in the company were ridiculous, but I can almost laugh about it now because it doesn't hold any power over me anymore.
“But when you think about it, so many artists went through it and many of them didn’t make it through. They had to give up, they disappeared, nobody hears from them anymore. And that was the reality. I've been incredibly lucky that I had people like my current manager and my great family and my husband who really supported me through those moments.
“I was just lucky enough that I have those people so that I'm still here doing what I love. Like, I survived it and I am so aware of how lucky that is. Maybe I'm hoping that by me talking about it, those artists that were treated like that and the staff can feel some sort of relief.”
‘I got really angry'
After she completed her contract obligations with Sony in 2019, Dami signed with ABC Music in 2020 and released her “dream album” My Reality the following year.
Meanwhile, Sony’s long-serving CEO Denis Handlin left the label in 2021 as allegations of the company’s toxic culture emerged and people began speaking out about their alleged experiences.
“I was so surprised that the change at the company came as soon as it did,” Dami says. “I thought I may never live to see that day. Everyone said that! They just thought it'll be like that until we're very, very old.
“But there's a new leader at Sony now, female leadership, and I'm hopeful and optimistic that that means the culture will change and artists will be treated more fairly. So we'll have to see.”
Dami explains that writing Dreamer was a major step in dealing with the “trauma” she experienced at Sony, and it feels “inspiring” knowing that she can help other artists and former employees by telling her story.
“While I was writing, I had moments where I felt like, ‘Oh, is this okay to write? Do I want to skip over that part? Is this too much?’,” she admits. “At one point I was going to pull those painful bits out and not have it in there and maybe just talk about the nice things and everything that people already know, all the easier things.
“But then I realised it's not going to make sense without me actually talking about these uncomfortable sections. And even though that was hard for me, it also helped me to heal from it as well. Just going, ‘Wow, that was really unfair. I can't believe they did that to me’. I got really angry and I also felt sorry for what I had to go through as a young woman, so it was like therapy for myself in a way.”
‘A lot of pressure being on television’
Another career insight Dami details in her memoir is her experience on The X Factor, which involved plenty of sliding door moments leading to her win.
Not only did she initially want to apply for The Voice and couldn’t because applications had already closed, but fans would remember that Dami was actually eliminated from The X Factor during the Bootcamp round. She was only let back into the competition after one contestant pulled out and the person producers had chosen as their replacement decided not to return.
“It is crazy when I think back to how it all happened,” she laughs. “I was off the show, they didn't want me, but then I was like their second choice replacement.”
The Sound of Silence hitmaker explains that she applied for the show to raise her profile in the hopes of booking more gigs, but the competition turned out to be nothing like she had expected.
“I grew up all my life playing music, I was a classical pianist and then I was sort of working as a singer/songwriter and I did the Korean Christian circuit, so that was what I wanted to keep doing,” she says.
“But then when I was on the show, there was just a lot of pressure being on television and it was a crazy schedule every single day. You had to do a hundred things, you've got to learn two new songs, you’ve got to learn the routine, you’ve got to do press, you've got to do a dress fitting. It was just a lot of things to do and I had never experienced that before until then.”
‘I learned so much’
She adds that while the show was “a really steep learning curve” that she found to be “really, really difficult”, it helped equip her with the skills she eventually needed in the music industry.
“It was like, you've got to learn quickly like this otherwise you’ll fall behind,” she details. “I went through it and because of that, I got to learn all these great techniques of performing on stage and what actually goes on with styling, staging, choreography, things I never knew before.
“And also I got to develop my vocals and realise what people like and don't like and take that into consideration a little bit. I never used to belt songs, like I used to just sing very quietly and restrain myself, but on the show, I was like, if I sing really loudly people respond… I learned so much.”
Heading into 2023, which will mark the tenth anniversary of her X Factor win, Dami has a few exciting things on her bucket list that she hopes to tick off - the main one being a second chance at representing Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest.
“I want to do more things overseas now that we can travel again,” she shares. “I'm hoping that Eurovision can be a good vehicle to start that process because for Australian artists it is incredibly hard to do stuff overseas. It's expensive and anywhere to go is so far away.
“But with a platform like that and great support and fan base, I would love to perform in Europe and more back in Korea as well. More collaborations with other artists, maybe Kpop in the Kpop world. They're just some of the things that I'd love to do.”
Dami Im's memoir Dreamer is out now via Hachette Australia.
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