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Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2018: Part One (Big Hit, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, Jellyfish, MBK)

Disclaimer: As with my write-ups on the Big Three agencies, 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 examine how well these agencies are serving their artists and the general k-pop fan-base.

If you’re curious to read my thoughts on these same agencies from last year (plus Brave and Star Empire), click here for part one and here for part two!


 

Big Hit
Big Hit remains dominated by BTS’ ever-increasing activities, and it’s hard to fault their promotion. Yes, there have been scandals and incidents here and there, but the group’s unprecedented push into international markets has exceeded all expectations. With this kind of success, it would be tempting to go down the English-language route and dilute the group’s sound for a wider appeal. I think many agencies would succumb to this temptation. But, beyond a few high-profile collaborations, Big Hit has kept the BTS brand pretty focused. Next year will be the true test, as the agency is set to debut their first new group since BTS exploded in popularity.
A-


Cube
Oh, Cube Entertainment.

Earlier this year, I would have been tempted to give Cube an A. Pentagon was chugging along, and scored their first real viral hit with Shine. New girl group (G)I-DLE found quick success after their May debut, and BTOB continued to dominate their ballad-focused niche. But then “HyunA + E’Dawn” happened… or more accurately, Cube’s response to “Hyuna + E’Dawn” happened. Rarely have I witnessed an agency shoot themselves in the foot so completely. Their sloppy handling of this dating “scandal” cost them their most visible female artist, as well as a key member of Pentagon. This, coupled with Cube’s continued ambivalence towards girl group CLC and the BTOB members’ gradual enlistments, makes the agency’s future look murkier than I would have expected.

On the bright side, (G)I-DLE continues to be one of the year’s buzziest new acts, and those BTOB enlistments have been handled about as well as such a thing can be. A new boy group should give the agency a shot in the arm next year, but not if they mishandle them like they have Pentagon.
C-


DSP
DSP Media has had a pretty quiet 2018. Their girl group April continues to release high-quality, uniquely identifying pop music, but the agency continues the struggle of making them a hit. The talent’s there, and so are the songs. I wish the girls were given more opportunities to promote outside of music shows.

KARD was DSP’s big bright spot in 2017, but it feels like they’ve been squandered since then. The second year of a rookie group’s promotion is almost as important as the first, but KARD only released one mini album in 2018 and it didn’t seem to leave the same impact as most of their 2017 material. I worry that DSP may have shipped the group oversees too often — at the expense of building a Korean fan base. KARD needs to promote heavily next year if they want to stay at the forefront of fans’ minds.
C+


Fantagio
It’s difficult to write about Fantagio’s 2018 because they were barely an agency at all this year. With dramatic shifts at the very top of their management, it seemed for a while that the entire agency might implode. This behind-the-scenes strife limited the amount of promo their artists could do this year. Weki Meki squeezed out two comebacks, though they really could have done with at least one more. Astro was the big loser, releasing only one non-promoted mini album. Their most well-known member, Cha Eunwoo, continues to be huge in variety and dramas, but I worry about the group’s musical future without consistent promotion.

And then there’s Hello Venus, who seem to have fallen off of the face of the earth. Things can only go up from here. I hope.
D


FNC
FNC has always been an interesting agency because they’ve found success with a variety of sounds rather than one specific “house style.” They didn’t have a particularly impactful 2018, but most of their artists have received promo of some sort or another. With CNBlue on hiatus and FTIsland following soon, rock group N.Flying seems poised to pick up their mantle… if only FNC can figure out how to market them better. They need to take advantage of DAY6’s success and become a foil of sorts – a lighthearted, upbeat answer to their competitors’ more serious-minded rock.

AOA continue to be loved by the public, but I’m not sure FNC knows what to do with them anymore. I fear that this lack of vision will only increase when the agency’s new girl group debuts early next year. Finally, boy group SF9 seem to be exactly where they were this time last year: solidly mid-tier. I don’t know what FNC’s plan for them is, but their trajectory feels like it has flat-lined. They have too much potential to be stuck spinning their wheels.
B-


Jellyfish
Like many agencies, Jellyfish Entertainment finds itself at a crossroads as we turn towards the new year. Their major breadwinner, VIXX, is at the point where some of its members are going to have to enlist soon. I assume we’ll see sub-units and solos in 2018, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t see much VIXX activity this year before the full group goes on hiatus. Jellyfish’s handling of girl group Gugudan has improved, with 2018 material that felt more focused than last year. After a relatively quiet 2018, I’m excited to see what happens when new group VERIVERY debuts in January. It certainly feels like the agency could use a shot of energy.
C+


MBK
MBK Entertainment has long been the punching bag for critics, and unfortunately their less-than-stellar reputation is deserved. I think most fans believe they could run the agency better than it is now – and that’s without any business experience. For all intents and purposes, MBK really only has one notable act that’s promoting semi-regularly.

DIA is an exciting prospect that continues to be squandered. It’s clear that MBK has no idea what the group’s concept should be, or an accurate understanding of the term “release date.” The agency is infamous for dropping a comeback date without ever following up on it. The pattern goes something like this:

DIA will be announced to return on a specific date, and once that date passes with no fanfare, MBK just ignores the fact that anything had been scheduled at all.

I can’t imagine the level of ineptitude this kind of “strategy” requires, but MBK manages to surprise me time and time again. Only one (delayed) DIA comeback materialized this year, and it was quickly forgotten by the industry. Other acts, like soloist Shannon, might as well not be part of an agency at all. MBK ignores her just as it ignores its own scheduling.
F


Check back tomorrow for part 2, where I’ll take a look at Plan A, Pledis, Starship, Top, TS, WM and Woollim!

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7 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2018: Part One (Big Hit, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, Jellyfish, MBK)

  1. Oh gee, waiting for you to roast TS, perhaps the shittiest agency (towards their artists) to ever be. Other than that, is it me or have we had more “????? What were you thinking???” agency blunders than usual this year? Usually I’m of the mind that many decisions that look perplexing are made with information that fans aren’t privy to— some agency probably isn’t trying to sabotage their groups (unless you’re YG with Swi.T, but let’s not think about that). This year though, I mean… did Cube really give up Hyuna, one of the most well known stars in kpop to a DATING SCANDAL? Is Fantagio… are they just going to not be a proper agency right now? MBK is the only one that is really consistently just that terrible. I’m still salty about the pathetic handling of T-ara, though they really were probably making bank even after the scandal.

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  2. I don’t think a lot of armys have been too happy with Big Hit this year? it was really sad to see Jimin blaming himself for being a lackluster vocalist because he doesn’t get adequate vocal training in the burn the stage series. this far in their careers, there’s really no excuse to neglect one of their main vocals like that. Also, apparently Jin and Jimin complained that some of the parts in Fake Love were too high for them but the agency just brushed it off and said that their struggling would make it more emotional? If its true, that would be really shitty :/

    I really wish FNC would give N.Flying the same treatment they’ve given their other band groups and properly promote them, I much prefer their sound to Day6’s and I don’t want them to fade into complete obscurity, especially now that they have competition from The Rose.

    Agree with everything you’ve said about CUBE, they’ve been awful this year. I feel so bad for pentagon, all their hard work has been squandered.

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    • Your point about Big Hit is interesting. Admittedly, I haven’t been as up on the minutiae of BTS’s activities this year as I have in the past. Honestly, the whole Army thing exhausts me and I try to stay away from it whenever possible. In that regard, my thoughts on Big Hit are truly from an outsider’s perspective.

      Personally, Jimin’s vocals are one of my favorite aspects of BTS’s sound. I’m surprised to hear that he was questioning his ability.

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      • While Jimin has a lovely and unique voice, his technique isn’t great and the way he screams his high notes will be very damaging to his voice in the long run. I haven’t seen Burn the Stage, but I’m guessing that’s what he meant by ‘lackluster vocalist’.

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        • ah, i paraphrased. he said that he was upset that he couldn’t sing properly, like with proper technique. Big Hit didn’t send a vocal coach on tour with them, he’d only get to consult a teacher on the phone, and even before this year, it seems like he’s had minimal instruction? coz he seemed really torn up about how the fact that he doesn’t know how to sing properly was negatively impacting his performances. apparently he’s recently gotten himself a coach tho, independent of the company, following Jin’s example.

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          • I also agree with the point. If compared to most KPop top seeded boy groups (EXO, Got7, Monsta X, SHINee, INFINITE, Seventeen, Wanna One, iKON and VIXX – just to name some), BTS have no doubt the weakest vocal line around, with some really embarassing live exhibitions here and there when they’re not supported by backing vocals. I like Jimin’s voice and I guess they all can sing much better than this, but Big Hit is growing them up as “performers” rather than “artists”, with more and more difficult choreos, tons of special effects and a very low time devoted to music itself (both produced and played).
            Let’s see what happens in 2019. It’s almost impossible to double their 2018 without risking to seriously damage their health, but we know that showbiz always asks for more. Will Big Hit dare to give them a deserved rest, or will the agency squeeze the lemon until the last drop?

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  3. Pingback: Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2018: Part Two (Plan A, Pledis, Starship, Top, TS, WM, Woollim) | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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