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.
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.
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.