Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: YG ENTERTAINMENT

After taking a look at SM Entertainment over the long weekend, it’s time to move onto an agency with very different activity in 2019. Prepare yourselves, friends. It’s 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.

The Good

This section will be brief.

Despite YG Entertainment’s utter collapse this year, the agency did have a few bright spots. The fact that they managed to release any new music at all is something to celebrate, and new albums by Winner and Akdong Musician met with reliable chart success.

Although BLACKPINK continue to lag behind when it comes to the size of their discography, their one 2019 comeback enjoyed huge international success. Other than BTS, they’re arguably the most popular K-pop act in the West. If they were allowed to capitalize on this appeal, they could be even bigger.

Though there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay with the agency, the recent military discharge of G-Dragon, Taeyang and Daesung could bode well for YG heading into next year.

The Bad

It’s hard to imagine a worse year for YG Entertainment. You all know about the Burning Sun scandal, so I’m not going to recap it here. What was surprising about this scandal was how far its tentacles ended up reaching. What began as a fairly specific event soon enveloped the entire industry, with YG right at the center. At times this year, the agency felt more like a criminal enterprise than a music company. YG himself stepped down as CEO amidst more and more investigations. Investors pulled out and stocks plummeted. The agency seems to be in a state of freefall, with no easy road back to its once-secure spot at the top of K-pop influencers.

With this cataclysmic series of events came waves of fallout. Just this year, YG Entertainment lost Seungri (obviously), B.I (a huge blow at the height of iKON’s popularity), CL (a long time coming), solo artist One and Sechs Kies’ Sunghoon. Not all of these departures were a direct result of the same scandal, but they definitely give the impression of a sinking ship.

All of this chaos also affected YG’s ability to grow its stable of artists. The year began with the (sloppily produced) competition show Treasure Box, which aimed to debut a new boy group. That plan has now been put on hold, with no debut date in sight. YG fans are used to the agency breaking promises, but this one felt especially egregious – even more so when you realize that some of these trainees have appeared in multiple failed YG competition shows.

YG’s sub-labels have been somewhat more stable than the main agency, but none delivered long-lasting success. HIGHGRND released solid, well-liked material from Lee Hi, though it was ultimately marred by B.I’s scandal. The Black Label’s highest profile release was the debut of soloist Somi. Her track received plenty of media and fan attention, but didn’t seem to go over well with most listeners. Elements of her debut somehow managed to be delayed and rushed at the same time. We haven’t heard new music since.

At no point in YG Entertainment’s history has the agency seemed in more peril. Their future hinges on the next inevitable scandal, with some of their most popular artists sidelined or handicapped by the loss of a member. BLACKPINK, their most commercially promising act, seems destined to release one-to-four songs a year, with unbearably long hiatuses between each threadbare album. There remains a ton of potential within YG’s roster of artists, but the agency is incapable of managing it. And with possible prison sentences hanging over some of their most prominent names, the actual music may be the least of their worries.

2019 Grade: F


20 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: YG ENTERTAINMENT

    • Which is even more of a bad sign for YG as a whole, because neither group has any reason to renew their contracts with them since they really don’t need to rely on the agency anymore. Akmu is insanely popular with the general public and could survive just fine by creating their own agency or self managing. Winner has enlistments coming up, so YG won’t be able to milk anything from them for a while either, and after they are finished with their military service, they have no reason to stay with YG (and their contracts will be up by then too).


  1. I was just as flabbergasted as everyone else as the.. ..fudge.. ..hit the fans with all things YG; like some scatological ALS bucket challenge. However, there was one piece of information that really stood out for me; YG and gambling.

    Here’s an excerpt:
    …the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has launched an internal investigation of Yang’s accounts and found that he reportedly bet over 1 billion won (approximately $827,300) and lost around 600 million won (approximately $496,200) of that sum. The police also stated that they found that Seungri bet 2 billion won (approximately $1,654,000) and lost about 1.3 billion won (approximately $1,075,700) in total…

    Here’s a guy that was citing financial issues for the Mixnine failed launch, yet he was willing and able to shove approximately 9,924,000 nickels into a slot machine at the MGM Hotel Casino.

    – Was that money the company earned that was supposed to be rolled over back into the business?
    – Is that why artist comebacks were so spartan?
    – Did this ultimately result in artists being under paid and/or disproportionate remuneration?
    – What about the money the artist “could’ve” earned if they were properly promoted with timely comebacks?

    Yeah.. ..YG deserves to be nailed to a tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t flag the gambling as a reason for the Mixnine debacle or sporadic comebacks. The amount YHS lost isn’t even enough to cover the budget for a BP MV or the girls’ monthly allowance. A full comeback with all the trappings costs far more than that. I would peg it more to YHS’s personality, which is extremely narcissistic. If there is anything he (and even the agency as a whole) can’t abide, it’s not being number one… as if something being poorly received a personal condemnation. With Mixnine’s ratings, there is no way the group launched from it would have done well right after the show ended. I’d bet anything that the reason they wanted to extend the “training” time was to build hype to debut the group high like a P101 group or not at all. Even their artists seem to suffer the same thing. By using only in-house producers, it severely limits the quantity of material that can be released without sound fatigue from the similarities. So instead, they go the route of very infrequent releases to build enough hype that it will get a lot of listeners, views, and singleminded determination to keep the artist on top from a fandom that has been starved for material for a year. YG has (or had) the reputation of having top groups, but if their current lineup was releasing things at the pace of their peers, would they still be charting so well? I doubt it, and YGE probably doubts it too, or at the very least, doesn’t want to take the risk to find out.


  2. “This section will be brief” had me cackling.

    YG has truly been an abysmal trash fire this year (which, clearly, was well-deserved for a good chunk of the people involved). At this point I just want the artists who are currently chained to the label to get out.

    P.S. I’m alive!!


  3. It’s mind boggling that YG isn’t releasing material for Blackpink as both a group and soloists as rapidly as they can right now. While groups like Akmu are extremely successful with the general public, it’s touring, endorsement deals, and merchandise sales that really pay the bills. With Winner having to enlist right around the corner, ikon being sidelined with BI’s departure, and an ambiguous future for both BB and GD and Taeyang as soloists, Blackpink is really the only group they get bet on for revenue over the next year or two. They really need to break away from Teddy being the group’s only producer to increase the quantity (and quality) of their music. They’ve already toured with the same material several times, so unless their next release is both soon and a full album, they are going to find themselves up against a wall.


    • Very true. BlackPink would sell more if they had more to sell.
      And I am not talking Twice-level of releases, which is insane. Just the ordinary twice per year, plus a special summer or winter single. And maybe a fanservice video with all the snippets of fan meet and greets.
      This once per year is just lost opportunity.


    • At this point, I think the only thing that is going to save the label is a complete re-branding. If your garden has a few weeds or pests, you can clear those to avoid strangulation or damage to the healthy plants. However, the YG garden is overrun with a heavy thicket of thorny vines blotting out the sun. If they’re down to only a few flowering plants with a tired staff to maintain them, then it might be time to pot the healthy plants, remove the remaining unhealthy growth, turn the soil, and start again.

      New management (at least those in public view), new name (if necessary), bring in new staff (or add external contributors), properly promote existing talent, and create new groups to fill vacancies. You know.. ..all the stuff they’re NOT doing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t disagree. I don’t know if there are any investors left agitating for these sort of reforms. Mr YHS himself still owns 17% of the company.

        If I were a YG investor (which I am not – barge poles, and foreign currency), but if I were a YG investor I would either cut and run now, or wait to see what Big Bang are going to do and then cut and run to whatever they are doing.

        Liked by 1 person

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