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. Last weekend, I looked at SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment, and now it’s time to complete the “big three” with JYP 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.
It’s hard to argue with the commercial success that JYP Entertainment has seen this year. I didn’t think that Twice could get any bigger, but their wildly successful Japanese activities have proven me wrong. And with three Korean title tracks this year (and a fourth on the way), they’re not letting international activities cause a lull in their domestic schedule. If JYP set out to create the most successful girl group of this current generation, I think it’s safe to say that he has succeeded.
In fact, one of the agency’s biggest strengths has been their consistent release schedule. Their artists keep extraordinarily busy. Multiple comebacks from GOT7 have helped maintain their high popularity, and DAY6 has been very active in Japan. Even ex-Wonder Girls member Yubin, who could have easily fallen by the wayside in favor of trendier acts, was given two releases this year. The agency’s artists routinely tour worldwide, establishing dedicated international fan bases.
Keeping in line with this breathless release schedule, newly-debuted boy group Stray Kids was given an incredible push by the agency this year. Neither YG nor SM debuted new acts in 2018, which helped Stray Kids stand out. But JYP doubled down on the group’s buzz, releasing three mini albums and a special pre-debut album — each with multiple music videos. This helped keep the group omni-present throughout the year, establishing a surprisingly robust discography for such a young group. To put it in perspective, Stray Kids have released twenty-eight songs since last November. BLACKPINK has released nine, since… August of 2016. Regardless of your thoughts on the quality of Stray Kids’ music, they’ve certainly been allowed the opportunity to share it with the world. Objectively speaking, it’s hard to imagine a stronger roll-out strategy for a new group.
As much as I love a packed release schedule, it has its dangers as well. Barely a month has gone by without some sort of comeback from Twice — Korean or Japanese — and that constant need for new music has seen a general dip in quality. Many of their Japanese releases feel like a drag on their overall discography and have begun to usher in a sense of Twice fatigue. I get the idea of striking while the iron is hot, but I’d rather they take a short hiatus and wait for a truly outstanding song before returning.
Of the big three agencies, I’ve always been less predisposed to liking the music of JYP Entertainment. I’m not quite sure why this is, and I realize that it’s a matter of personal taste more than objective criticism. But beyond strong releases by DAY6 and Yubin, some of the agency’s flagship acts have continued to drift away from my own bias list in 2018.
Giving GOT7 more creative control over their music will rightly be seen as a strength to many, but I feel like their output has only grown more trend-happy and forgettable as the years have gone on. I could barely make it through their 2018 albums. And though Stray Kids had an incredibly strong start to the year, their music is already starting to go through a similar, self-serious transition that may not bode well for the future. Brooding concepts and “artistic integrity” are all well and good, but not at the expense of memorable, well-constructed music.
2018 was a big year for K-pop enlistments, and this continues to hit 2PM hard. They’re still one of JYP’s biggest money-makers, though they haven’t released new material since 2016. However, I can’t help but think that their potential has been squandered over the past few years. Yes, there were solo tracks and albums this year, but I wonder if 2PM has been well-positioned for their return after military service. JYP seems intent on giving them more activities in Japan at the expense of their Korean legacy, and I just don’t see them making a highly successful return when they’re finally able to release a new album. This seems like a missed opportunity, but we’ll see how it’s handled when the time comes.