I’ve already offered my thoughts on the 2019 prospects of SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, but this year I’m adding a new agency to the fray. Big Hit Entertainment‘s achievements more than qualify them for the full-article analysis, so here we go!
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.
With BTS’s global popularity continuing to soar and the addition of new artists to their roster, it’s no longer unusual to consider Big Hit as a peer to the “top three” K-pop agencies. In fact, given the events of this year, I’d put its standing above YG. This ascent has been a long time in the making, but 2019 was the year that Big Hit really started to feel like a full-fledged agency rather than simply the home of BTS.
Big Hit’s roster is still very slight compared to some of its rivals, but the debut of TXT gives them two successful boy groups – each different from the other while still retaining the core Big Hit sound. Apart from some unpredictable health issues resulting in album postponements, I can’t imagine a stronger debut year for TXT. Their concept is clear and engaging, and their upbeat music felt very fresh within a sea of darker boy group sounds. From follow-up music videos to elaborate teasers, their roll-out felt expensive and well thought out. They’ve managed to find both Korean and international success right out of the gate, and appear to be building on that with the release of their first full-length album.
BTS continue to act as the vanguard for this generation of K-pop. Just as it seems as if they should be peaking, they’re breaking record after record, experiencing unprecedented success in almost every corner of the world. And although this may not be popular opinion, I found their 2019 album to some of the best work of their career. I like that Big Hit seems to be expanding their sound. It may be slightly more mainstream, but in an interesting way that doesn’t necessarily kowtow to trends.
With the acquisition of Source Music, Big Hit has essentially added popular girl group GFriend to their roster. This is a smart move, as the agency has had a tough time with girl groups in the past. GFriend are already a bonafide smash, with a dedicated fan base. And with auditions announced for the formation of a new girl group, it’ll help the agency to have the well-managed Source Music team among their ranks.
Though BTS remain ridiculously popular, and their music is still of very high quality, I worry that there are too many competing interests to cash in on their success. This year saw dolls, a mobile game (with a generally lousy soundtrack), and every form of merchandise imaginable. We’ve seen this story play out before, where the boy or girl group of the moment floods the marketplace with ancillary product that ultimately leads to overexposure and brand dilution. Generally, I think Big Hit has played this smart, but I’d caution them to keep their focus. 2019 would have been stronger with two BTS albums, rather than one BTS album and truckloads of BTS merch that had nothing to do with music.
With every huge group comes a huge fan base, and with every huge fan base comes a few bad apples. I can’t blame Big Hit for the behavior of its fans, but the immaturity (and downright hostility) present within a portion of BTS’s Army can make it difficult to appreciate the group’s achievements. Too often, it feels like Army makes every little thing a needless competition, putting down other groups in the process. Again, this is a generalization, but I wish there was something Big Hit could do to reign in the negativity of some of its fans. I just don’t see this kind of toxicity within other fan bases – at least not to the same extent.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what happens when members of BTS have to start enlisting in the military. It’s coming sooner than later, and I’m hoping that TXT, a new girl group and solo projects can keep the agency growing. BTS will always be a huge name in Korea, but like it or not their popularity will eventually fade in the west. Historically speaking, international markets have a shorter attention span when it comes to boy groups. It’ll be fascinating how Big Hit deals with this inevitable decline in popularity. At this point in time, the agency has joined the big leagues of K-pop. In the next few years, they’ll have the difficult job of maintaining that growth.