Late last year, I took a look at the “big three” k-pop agencies and offered my thoughts about how they were doing in 2016. Now that a year has passed, it’s the perfect time for a second evaluation.
As with 2016’s review, this is written from an outsider’s perspective. I’m not privy to any business-related financial information beyond what any other fan would know. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well the big three are serving the general k-pop fan-base.
First up is YG Entertainment
Last year, YG was the lowest ranking agency when it came to my grading, and the biggest reason for that was their release schedule (or lack thereof). I’m happy to report that they have really stepped up in that regard, with nearly every one of their current artists getting at least one comeback so far this year. And more than that, a few of these have been in the form of full or mini albums — a concept that seemed almost foreign to YG in 2016.
This year alone, we’ve had full albums of original material from AKMU, PSY, Taeyang, Bobby, Sechs Kies and Zion.T (if you count the agency’s subsidiaries). Soon, Epik High will be joining that list. To put this in perspective, 2016 saw only one full release in the form of Lee Hi’s second album, which was split into two parts. That’s a pretty staggering improvement.
And though YG is still playing around with the dreaded double-title-track single albums, they’ve been released with greater frequency and in a physical format. Would I rather have full or mini albums? Of course. But I can live with an artist like Winner only releasing two songs in April if it means they’re allotted more than one comeback per year.
Speaking of Winner, it’s been refreshing to see how much their management has improved. 2016 was a disaster for the group, with an aborted album campaign and member changes. None of this was handled particularly well, but 2017 saw an incredible resurgence for the guys and YG actually seemed to notice. The group has been everywhere this year, and has a third comeback planned for later in the year.
The general YG sound hasn’t changed all that much throughout the years, but the agency has been using a more diverse set of producers as they attempt to establish a new generation of k-pop stars. The results have been mixed, but I appreciate the effort. Songs like BLACKPINK’s As If It’s Your Last have proven that YG can still be successful with a lighter sound, and I’d like them to explore that further.
Finally, though Bigbang are moving into an extended hiatus, I’m very happy that YG has given both G-Dragon and Taeyang the opportunity to release solo albums and embark on world tours. It’s a proper send-off, as it should be. Seungri and Daesung next, please?
More than anything, YG Entertainment is on the cusp of a transitional challenge. During their heyday, they were an agency primarily driven by two acts: Bigbang and 2NE1. The former will be enlisting in the military soon (T.O.P already has) and the latter has disbanded. Without these two pillars, it’s up to the new generation to carry the torch by themselves. And as solid as much of their music has been, I’m just not convinced that the commercial success of these newer acts can live up to their predecessors given the agency’s current promotion tactics.
Of all these new gen acts, BLACKPINK has arguably made the biggest inroads with the general public. But so far, they’ve only released a total of five songs in the space of thirteen months. They should be anywhere and everywhere, capitalizing on their success and returning regularly with a string of world-conquering tracks. Hell, at the very least they should have a mini album under their belt by now!
Winner and iKON have also been problematic in their own ways. Though both are successful, debuting each group under the pretense of a “survival audition” pitted them against each other from the start. The two groups are friendly with each other, I’m sure — and their music is different enough not to overlap all that much — but by the very nature of their formation, they’re forced to fight over the agency’s resources. YG can’t seem to promote each of them equally. One year, Winner will get all the hype. The next year, it’ll be iKON. As nice as it is to have a large roster of successful groups, an agency really needs to take its time developing an artist if they want another Bigbang. The fact that they seem set to debut yet another group through this month’s upcoming Mix Nine program might prove problematic.
For me, YG’s music output was at its best from around 2011-2014. And although I’m happy the agency is exploring a new crop of in-house producers and composers, I don’t feel that they’ve found their new Teddy or Kush yet. Their best releases this year have been with artists like G-Dragon and AKMU who write or co-write their own material. The rest has been more of a mixed-bag, and begins to compromise the agency’s “quality over quantity” mantra. They need to find their next star producer that can provide dynamite, ahead-of-the-trend material to help cultivate this new generation of talent.
And please, YG, no more usb “albums.” Especially if you’re going to sell them for thirty bucks.