In what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to take a look at K-pop’s biggest agencies and offer my 2018 verdict. After yesterday’s focus on SM Entertainment, it’s time to move onto YG Entertainment.
As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. I’m not taking into account things like profits and stock value. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well K-pop agencies are serving their artists and fans.
When YG actually focuses on something, the results tend to be incredibly successful. It’s hard to imagine a better promotional campaign than iKON’s 2018 trilogy of releases. After a 2016/2017 that saw only three (!) new Korean songs from the group, they’ve come roaring back as one of the year’s biggest success stories. And with Bigbang on military hiatus, their dominance hasn’t come a moment too soon.
YG artists tend to be at their best when left to their own devices, and Seungri’s EDM-inspired solo album was a perfect example of this. Rather than following YG’s house style, he was allowed to explore different sounds, which resulted in music that felt refreshingly trend-free. The fact that Seungri’s bandmates have all enlisted has given room for his star to shine this year. As part of such a successful group with such big personalities, it was often easy for him to get overshadowed. But, he’s had a wonderfully busy 2018.
And as much as I hate YG’s tactics when it comes to survival series (more on that below), there’s no denying the strength of his trainees on new series YG Treasure Box. If any of these kids actually get to debut, the future of the agency is looking solid.
When YG actually focuses on something… everything else seems to fall by the wayside. Though iKON have had a spectacular year, it’s been pretty sparse for everyone else in the agency. BLACKPINK remain a huge success, but their discography is still incredibly slim. A four-track EP didn’t help matters much, especially since most of it paled in comparison to their past work. Winner released a full album earlier in the year, but haven’t been heard from since. And soloists like Lee Hi or AKMU’s Suhyun? There really seems to be no hope.
The agency has often peddled the tired “quality over quantity” argument, but that’s holding less and less weight each year. To be honest, much of YG’s 2018 output has been subpar. Winner’s title track was pretty dreadful, as was Jennie’s solo debut. These missteps might be more forgivable if they played only a small part in a more robust 2018 release schedule. But, the year has only seen eight (!) title tracks from the whole of YG Entertainment (plus a few more if you count their subsidiaries). That’s down drastically from last year, and is a downright embarrassing lack of material for one of Korea’s “Big Three” agencies.
Speaking of “lack of material,” it’s becoming clearer each year that YG has no real plan for BLACKPINK. He’s sitting on a goldmine with this group, but their haphazard management has made being a fan an incredibly frustrating prospect. It’s a testament to the girls themselves that they’re as popular as they are. They could be conquering the world right now. Instead, they’ve released a whopping nine songs in three years. For comparison’s sake, Red Velvet has released forty-one songs in the same amount of time. Twice? Fifty-six.
What YG needs more than anything is an injection of new behind-the-scenes talent. They continue to rely on a very small circle of composers and producers, but they’re not a boutique agency. They have too many artists on their roster who could (and should) be branching out in sound. Instead, we often get material that feels interchangeable from group to group. Winner and iKON’s music is continuing to blend together. The only real difference is who gets promoted. I would love to see YG’s next debut be something completely different, without a focus on the same old posturing hip-hop style the agency has become known for.
And then we have MIXNINE — quite possibly the most botched project in YG history. Not only did the program fail to debut its winning group as promised, but the show’s constraints ended up handicapping all of the contestants involved. It was a messy ending to a messy series, and quite a blow to YG’s reputation as a hitmaker. Rarely does one agency screw over so many others on such a grand scale. I can’t imagine that this hasn’t resulted in bad blood throughout the industry. YG has never really played nice with others (his acts still don’t appear on most music shows), but there’s only so far you can go when you’re constantly burning bridges.