K-pop group Billion at a rehearsal

"Time to get up girls!"

The call comes at 6am as it does every morning, pulling Ray from her bunk bed at the start of another 16-hour day in search of stardom.

Ray and the five other young women sharing a small Seoul apartment make up the K-pop band Billion, which at times can feel like the number of miles they are from achieving their goal.

K-pop glamour has conquered much of Asia and beyond, but for every headlining boy and girl band, there are many more like Billion struggling for a break on the margins of South Korea's best-known cultural export, reported wire agency AFP.

And that means gruelling days packed with travelling, training, rehearsing, grooming and performing under the watchful eyes of record label minders who push an almost military-like dawn-to-dusk regimen.

The sacrifice is substantial. Holidays are rare, and most live with other band mates in dorm-like apartments provided by their agencies, who decide when they wake up, what they do, when and what they eat and when they go to bed.

"It's really not what it looks like on TV. You have to work incredibly hard just to make a debut," said Ray.

"We're extremely lucky to have made it this far," the 23-year-old rapper told AFP.

"This far" means a debut album released in March, nearly two years after the group was formed.

Even on a day without a booking, they wake up at six, work out for several hours and spend the rest of the day rehearsing dance steps and honing singing skills, with a 10pm lights-out considered an early night.

"They usually go to bed after midnight, so you can see why they are a bit groggy in the morning," explained Ms Lee Hyo-Jin, as she moved from bed to bed, gently but firmly enforcing the wake-up call.

Ms Lee, 31, is one of a trio of managers running Billion's career and scheduling the daily lives of its members, reported AFP.

The band share two spartan bedrooms - each with a bunk bed and a third mattress on the floor. There's a makeup cabinet and not much else.

There is little time for relationships and none of the six has a current boyfriend, while several say they haven't dated for years.

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