If you’re into K-Pop, these names will be familiar to you, and may be met with some level of animosity for which I wouldn’t blame you.
If you’re not into K-Pop, these names may feel foreign to you. SM, YG and JYP are the three most well known South Korean entertainment companies, founded respectively by Lee Soo-man, Yang Hyun-suk and Park Jin-young. They have all produced extremely successful artists like Blackpink, Exo and Stray Kids.
All three entertainment companies (including Big Hit Entertainment, responsible for one of the most popular K-Pop groups of all time, BTS) are the reason for billions of dollars being pumped into the South Korean economy each year and have been pivotal in the development of the Korean wave, or Hallyu as it is colloquially known.
Despite this, their most important critics, the fans, have been expressing their anger towards the companies and how they have been handling their artists in recent years.One of the main focuses for that anger was the YG Entertainment scandal surrounding one of their most successful groups, Blackpink. After debuting in 2016, they attained worldwide success on mini albums, singles and features, but it wasn’t until October 2, 2020 that the group released The Album, their first full length soundtrack.
Fans, known as Blinks, were furious about the lack of development the group had made because of YG, especially when rumours started to circulate on Korean music blogs, suggesting that YG was preparing to debut a new girl group to replace Blackpink.
Popular K-Pop blog, Koreaboo, was quick to uncover YG’s plans to debut a new group, exposing the potential name, concept and members of the group.
Glenn, a self-confessed Blink, told me that he feels: “that an international act who has been making waves globally and their impact is felt worldwide should not have to wait four years to release their debut album. There is no excuse that YG can possibly come up with for that,” he said.
“An album is a body of work that enables an artist to connect with their audience further! It feels like YG exploited them for singles and, if anything, borders on the exercise of malpractice and corrupt industry politics. They are being used! I do believe that YG wants to replace Blackpink, but I don’t know why they would; they are the biggest girl group around right now so it makes zero sense.”
The Album, debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, becoming the highest-charting female Korean album and the highest-charting album by an all-female group since 2008. It was met with wide support and praise from music-starved fans as well as the wider music community, but they were quick to voice their unhappiness with YG’s treatment of them.
Despite their worldwide success and popularity, Blinks pointed out that the group has been under-promoted and under-developed as, before the release of their 2020 album, they only had 13 original songs released since their 2016 debut, and have had minimal television appearances (other than SBS Inkigayo and other music-related programmes).
Men On A Mission (also known as Ask Us Anything and Knowing Bros), a South Korean reality TV show, gained the most views they’ve ever had on YouTube from their clip of Blackpink’s Lisa showing off the best Thai dance moves, with more than 36.2 million views, proving that they are more successful, popular and in-demand than YG’s lack of promotion would make you believe. Blackpink went on to appear on Men On A Mission again on October 17, 2020.YG Entertainment is also accused of not supporting Blackpink when it comes to their personal lives. Jennie Kim has become known in the industry as someone who is bitchy, mean and lazy, when it was actually revealed that she suffers from anxiety and has been working through ankle injuries. She has what many would call a “resting bitch face”, which makes her come across as mean, when in reality, she is very shy.
When questioned on her personality by Harper’s Bazaar, she responded: “My personality may be what people think about my personality. But rather than being a person that other people have branded me as, I want to be a good individual who thinks for herself.”
Dubbed by her critics as the “YG princess”, nothing that the company does suggests that she is treated as such. “YG needed someone to take the hate that Blackpink were going to get, and so they chose Jennie because she comes across as mean even though she isn’t. The company left her to deal with all the hate by herself, despite the fact that so many idols have committed suicide over the years due to the same thing,” another Blink told me.
Fans took things into their own hands, with multiple videos like this one made by YouTuber “jooniverse” appearing online and the hashtag #WeLoveYouJennie trending on Twitter.
But Blackpink are not alone. One of SM Entertainment’s boy groups, Exo, who debuted in 2012, have also had their fair share of issues from their management company.
From 2014 to 2018, the band ranked as one of the five most influential celebrities on the Forbes Korea Power Celebrity list, and have been hailed as the “Kings of K-Pop” and the “Biggest boyband in the world”; they’ve made their mark in Asia and the West.Their debut album, XOXO, peaked at number one on Billboard in 2013, with their most recent album from 2019, Obsession, also reaching the top position.
SM Entertainment has been at the centre of multiple scandals regarding their artists, with Exo’s Park Chanyeol being the most recent. Embroiled in a cheating scandal, someone claiming to be his ex-girlfriend accused him (anonymously) of cheating on her throughout their three year relationship with more than ten other women. The post has since been deleted, and SM was accused of not protecting him, when a source from the company issued the following statement: “We have no official statement regarding the post.”
It took the company more than 24 hours to release the lacklustre statement, which infuriated Exo-Ls (Exo’s fanbase). It seemed as if SM were more interested in their new girl group, Aespa, than protecting artists already on their roster.
One fan remarked on Twitter that: “SM is too busy debuting their virtual girl group to issue a proper statement idk if I should laugh or cry”, and another asked why “it takes one second to defend a trainee (regarding Aespa‘s Karina) but SO LONG to defend an artist who’s been with them for 8+ years and earned them billions??”
Park Chanyeol, who recently became one of Prada’s international ambassadors, then went on a complete social media hiatus, last posting on Instagram on October 22, 2020.
One Exo-L, Samuel, told us that he felt “disappointed by the way SM handled the Chanyeol situation. A lot of people were dragging and ridiculing him, and the label seemed to brush it off and act like they don’t care. Many idols become suicidal due to the hate they get and Chanyeol’s silence is worrying. For SM to do nothing, it’s disappointing.”
It’s important to remember that one of SM’s former idols, Sulli from another group, F(x), committed suicide in 2019, aged 25, due to the pressure and hate that she received.
SM, as with YG, has been accused of not helping to develop Exo in their careers by not promoting their work and solo debuts on multiple occasions.
“I feel angry that SM doesn’t promote them. From 2013 to 2016, Exo was the biggest K-Pop group since Big Bang. Exo have so much potential that they haven’t reached yet because SM feel like they don’t have that much to offer, now that a lot of the boys are in the army,” Samuel told us.
South Korea’s conscription laws mean that all able-bodied men aged over 18 are required by law to provide 21 months of military service. Out of Exo’s nine members, Chen and Suho are currently enlisted. Xiumin and D.O. were discharged in December 2020.
“They have never had an album debut with less than one million pure sales and are the second highest earning and second biggest Korean act ever, yet SM doesn’t want to give them the push and budget that they deserve. Chanyeol recently had a solo track come out called Minimal Warm and SM was completely silent,” Samuel adds.The same goes for the lack of promotion of Exo-SC (a sub-unit of Exo, consisting of Chanyeol and Sehun), and their releases. When asked about why people think SM doesn’t promote solos, a fan on Quora commented that: “SM doesn’t get that much profit from promoting SC, as the royalties do not go into the pockets of SM producers, rather Chanyeol’s studios [Studio NNG and Studio 519], so they don’t want to promote them.”
For a group worth more than BTS (arguably the most famous K-Pop group in the world right now), it’s weird to think that they are not getting the support and promotion from their management, knowing that that is the management’s job.
Despite SM’s lack of support, Exo-SC recently became the first sub-unit of a K-Pop group to sell a million copies of their albums, What A Life and One Billion Views.
In recent years, Exo and other SM artists, including Super Junior’s Heechul and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, have been protesting against SM’s treatment of them, publicly airing their grievances to fans.
Knowing what we as fans know about the companies and the K-Pop industry as a whole, it’s so refreshing to see artists finally getting the strength and confidence to take a stand against their autocratic agencies, and taking back their power and autonomy.
Remaining eerily vague and quiet in times when their artists need them seems to be a common trait amongst K-Pop’s big three. JYP Entertainment (JYPE) has also been accused of doing so multiple times, especially when it comes to their non-Korean and male artists. Park Jin-young himself, founder and co-CEO of JYP Entertainment, was accused of not paying much attention to his boy groups as he is worried about them surpassing his own popularity and success, despite the fact that he debuted as a solo artist in 1994 and is no longer popular amongst young listeners.
In an Unpopular K-Pop Opinions forum on Reddit, a fan remarked: “JYP is a weird narcissistic character that would have a bigger budget for his own music videos than his boy groups. He has a clear preference for his girl groups which ultimately sucks because Got7 and Stray Kids don’t deserve to be sidelined and experimented on.”On November 29, 2020, it was announced on Got7’s official Twitter account that they were having a comeback (a K-Pop community term describing when artists release a new album after a long period of not releasing) on November 30, the following day. Fans took to social media, furious that JYP had given Got7, their most successful group, no promotional content or teasers, making “JYP STOP SABOTAGING GOT7” trend on Twitter in minutes.
Fans were also angry at the fact that physical albums were sold out online despite the fact that no-one knew Got7 would be releasing one, with some making unsubstantiated claims that JYPE has been purposefully trying to sabotage Got7’s album sales.
Fans called for Got7 to cancel their contracts and encouraged others to publicly embarrass JYP for their abysmal management skills. One fan commented: “JYP is always finding ways to screw G7 over, it’s wild”, with another adding that she “can’t wait for JYP’s bankruptcy”.
On South Korean forum Nate Pann, one fan said that “Got7 meets a company that can’t work”, suggesting that fans, both international and domestic, are infuriated with JYP’s lack of effort when it comes to the group.
JYPE’s Stray Kids faced their own controversy recently, when ex-member Woojin was hit with multiple accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment, with one woman claiming that he groped her and her friend in a bar in Seoul, South Korea. He has also been accused of bullying fellow members I.N, Lee Know, Jisung and Felix, and making them uncomfortable.
JYP came under fire again, this time for the dissatisfying statement that was released regarding the situation. The statement read: “Woojin, who has been with Stray Kids for a while, left the team due to personal circumstances and terminated his exclusive contract.”
Fans, known as Stays, were angered by the statement, as it drew no attention to the fact that there had been several serious allegations made against Woojin, and they made it seem like he left due to his own choices, not because he was being publicly accused of multiple sexual assaults and bullying.
One TikTok user, @hanniesuniverse, told me “I felt as if his statement was incredibly vague and didn’t give us any information at all. I found it very abrupt and rushed. It felt like he was hiding something, very sketchy.”Another Stray Kids fan, @joongioca, echoed these views: “My thoughts on the statement that JYP released was, at first, a lot of confusion, because it was very vague and nothing was really explained well for the fans to understand what was going on. It was really out of the blue and really random, which sparked a lot of questions in the K-Pop community because why would Woojin just randomly leave?
“My thoughts on JYP as a whole? I don’t like the company at all if I’m honest. JYP tends to overwork the artists a lot of the time and also doesn’t give the right amount of promo to groups like Got7. They don’t get as much promo as they should, and the company definitely has favourites and forgets about the other groups. It isn’t right,” she added.
It’s safe to say that fans have become increasingly disappointed with the entertainment companies, with multiple stories about the mistreatment of trainees surfacing in recent years, detailing accounts of being denied food and access to their friends and families outside the trainee dorms.
All three entertainment companies have had multiple accusations of cultural appropriation against them, and it seems that while companies like to acknowledge that K-Pop has its foundations in black culture, hip-hop and RnB, that’s all it is – an acknowledgement.
Not enough has been done to ever ensure that artists are properly educated about those other cultures, and are kept in the Korean bubble, despite them having so many fans in other parts of the world, many of whom are just as disappointed.
As fans become more and more disillusioned with the big three, many of those fans are wondering what it will take to stop them witnessing the slow, painful collapse of one of South Korea’s most important exports?