The Top Five Best K-Pop Agencies (According to Me!)

The idea of music agency fandom might seem strange to Western audiences, as most notable labels around the world are vast corporations with rosters that share very little common. But of course, K-pop is different. Even as the industry has expanded, it has remained a relatively small microcosm of the global pop music landscape.

When it comes to artists, agency-mates aren’t just business associates. They’re brother and sister groups, part of a “family” of talent that often draws from the same pool of producers and collaborators. Most K-pop agencies have a definable sound, which allows for a level of continuity between their releases. If you like one artist from an agency, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest.

This leads me to a hopelessly biased list. I’m not going to pretend that this is an objective (or definitive) ranking of K-pop’s agencies. Instead, it’s a current look at my five favorites. To make it on my list, an agency needed more than one prominent act, which means an industry-leader like Big Hit was not eligible (sorry, BTS fans!).

Honorable Mentions:

Starship Entertainment

JYP Entertainment

5. YG Entertainment

Current Roster: Bigbang, iKON, BLACKPINK, Winner, Akdong Musician, Sechs Kies, Jinusean, Lee Hi, One, CL, Sandara Park

A few years ago, YG Entertainment seemed unstoppable. Their one-two punch of Bigbang and 2NE1 led K-pop’s charge, bringing a hip-hop edge to the industry. YG is still dominant in many ways, but its lackluster management has really held back its new generation of artists. In a way, their distinct brand of music feels like comfort food, which is why they squeaked on to my list. But, YG is also an agency that would benefit from an influx of new sounds. You can only retrace the same song so many times before it starts feeling like a retread.

4. Pledis Entertainment

Current Roster: Seventeen, Nu’est, Pristin, After School, Bumzu, Han Dong-geun

Everyone loves a comeback story. Despite a long history of solid output, Pledis found itself in dire straits prior to Seventeen’s debut in 2015. Now, they’re home to some of the industry’s biggest acts — including a reinvigorated Nu’est. This has led to an immense swell of goodwill toward the agency, and allowed them to develop a house sound headed by production mastermind Bumzu. They’re a cutting-edge agency that feels very fresh. Yet at the same time, they have a storied history with acts like After School and Son Dambi.

3. WM Entertainment

Current Roster: B1A4, Oh My Girl, ONF

I’ve always been drawn to the weirder side of K-pop, and WM definitely scratches that itch. They launched with one of the best boy groups of all time, B1A4, and have since expanded with Oh My Girl and ONF. Over the years, their material has only gotten more daring, pushing boundaries while retaining a catchy pop sound. They occasionally dip their feet into the trends of the day, but it never feels generic or patronizing. I’m a little concerned about the future of B1A4 now that two of its members have left the agency, but Oh My Girl and ONF have had no problem carrying the torch. Their consistently strong material points to a very strong future for WM.

2. SM Entertainment

Current Roster: TVXQ, Super Junior, EXO, Girl’s Generation, Red Velvet, SHINee, NCT, BoA, f(x), TraxX, S.E.S, Kangta, J-Min

A couple years ago, SM would have comfortably sat on top of my list. They remain K-pop’s most influential agency, with an unparalleled roster of artists. Looking back at their discography is like tracing the history of modern K-pop. Their SM Performance style of production remains one of my absolute favorite K-pop sounds, but it’s become almost non-existent as the agency relies more and more on material written by so-called “song camps,” where dozens of foreign composers gather together to collaborate on tracks that are then doled out to the agency’s artists. I think this approach has watered down SM’s sound a bit. It’s become trendier and less idiosyncratic over the years. They’re still a reliably strong agency with a fascinating approach to music, but I kind of want my weird old SM back.

1. Woollim Entertainment

Current Roster: Infinite, Lovelyz, Golden Child, Joo

Woollim has certainly had its issues with management and communication (or lack thereof), but when it comes down to music they are the agency I can always depend on. This is largely because of their timeless approach. Unlike almost every other agency out there, Woollim never seems to kowtow to trends. This may limit their artists’ mass-appeal in the moment, but results in classic pop music that doesn‘t have an expiration date. Their longstanding partnership with producers Sweetune certainly helps, though frequent collaborations with OnePiece, 1Take & TAK, Ferdy/JayJay and in-house composers Rphabet have expanded Woollim’s breadth of sounds. And then, of course, there are the agency’s artists. Woollim is home to my ultimate bias group (Infinite), my favorite rookies (Golden Child) and one of the industry’s most consistently solid girl groups (Lovelyz).

4 thoughts on “The Top Five Best K-Pop Agencies (According to Me!)

  1. For some reason I really love that you made this, haha. I saw the title and was just mentally like “oooo yes spill the tea.”

    First of all I’m happy that you included WM on here, I’ve been rooting for them as “the little (mid-sized?) agency that could” for a few years now and I love pretty much everything they’ve ever put out. Overall they remind me of a much smaller version of SM, willing to put experimental touches on things and having variety while still managing to keep a certain cohesive image. My only hope for them is that ONF manages to take off in this heavily boy group-saturated industry and OMG keeps growing at a steady rate so their future as an agency is actually secured…at times I can’t help but feel the promotion of their artists is a bit lackluster and they could be doing more.

    Speaking of SM, I pretty much completely agree with your points but I thought one thing was kind of funny. Your last paragraph about them becoming more trendy and losing some of their idiosyncrasy and weirdness that you miss, I think can also be applied to kpop as a whole. The entire industry has generally been shifting in this direction, not just SM….but as a company they’ve certainly been going with the flow on that and doing their best to change with the times (for better or worse). I still mostly enjoy what they do with their music but I can’t help feel once in a while that they’re running out of fresh ideas….and the moments which restore my faith in them are becoming fewer and farther between.

    Pledis is generally doing fantastic but I hope they can get Pristin back on track soon, I’ve never seen a group debut with that much hype and potential for growth that has fallen into such a messy and uncertain state in such a short time period (oh wait actually I have….NU’EST, anyone?) If they can figure out what to do with them while also supporting their other groups I’ll be more confident in their future stability as an agency.

    I hope you do more “According to me!” type posts in the future, it’s fun to see what you think of things and what areas your own personal bias enters in, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess when it comes down to it, this whole site is an “according to me”! Haha.

      But I felt I needed to add that to the title given just how subjective this post was going to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Song Review: W Project 4 – 1′ 1″ | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  3. Pingback: Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: Part Two (Pledis, RBW, Starship, TOP, TS, WM, Woollim) | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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