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Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT

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.


The Good

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.


The Bad

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.

2019 Grade: A-

37 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT

  1. The only thing in this analysis that is not well-researched is on ARMY being the most toxic. They’re more power-driven to make BTS reach their goals because of an unmatched connection between them. ARMY doesn’t really put down other groups (really found that analysis poor research). I’ve seen other few k-pop fandoms as well as k-pop multis being more hostile than ARMY or showing the same level of hostility as ARMY. It’s a proven fact.

    That is the only strain in your research. Other than that, everything is quite spot on. The whole BTS merch thing (dolls, gaming, etc.) I agree. The MOTS:P and the tour was enough content, but adding more kinda made it tiring. But at the end, a company is a company, so this doesn’t come off as a surprise. So far the gradings for the companies you’ve analyzed are what I thought you would give them. So good job!

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    • You may have not witnessed the frenetic up and down voting on kpop sites when someone says anything other glowing thoughts on BTS.

      I once mentioned on a different site that the first time BTS came on my radar was a certain song X. Well, I got flamed big time because it was song Y that was clearly the one that should have put BTS on my radar. And who was I , and clearly I and and and and endless replies. down down down down vote. Personal flaming messages on those boards inboxes. etc.
      Well, sorry no, it was song X for me.

      My experience is not an unusual experience with the Army online. Most people don’t even bother anymore.

      Liked by 3 people

      • That sucks. I have also encountered a few rude ARMY as well. It really depends on the situation really. Also depends on the the ARMY as a whole. For your case, it makes no sense to for them to flame you. I hope these type of ARMY are either trolls or fake. If not, please get rid of them

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    • I dont know where the hell you’re looking if you don’t see that armys are one of the most toxic fandoms in stan twitter. It always happens when kpop groups are gaining attention so it’s not a surprise but the uncalled hate I’ve seen people from this fandom give… You sound very pressed by Nick’s comment when I think he was very reasonable and respectful.

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      • No. I’ve seen what ARMY as a whole is up to. You are on the wrong side. But we shouldn’t really argue about this. There’s no point in talking about which fandom is toxic.

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          • You have to be blind to not see the overall picture. I honestly knew my original comment will be a risk… but I’m GLAD! 🙂 I like challenging people like you. Think about past fandom experiences in k-pop and compare that to ARMY… experiences with fandoms in K-pop has never been great

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            • But you know what’s funny, out of all the articles Nick wrote about kpop companies like YG where he included ALL the scandals the company had this year (and did affect his overall score on YG), and SM, where he critiqued their management towards their artists and repeated he did not like EXO’s solo releases, this is the one that got the most erratic and visceral reaction. Not because of his critique towards the artists but because, when he wrote about the always controversial theme of armys as a sometimes aggressive fandom.

              It doesn’t say much about yourself if you’re glad your comment sparked controversy and got you into an argument, because it makes one think you did it with bad intentions.

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              • I do find it funny XD. I didn’t do it with bad intentions. I recognize Nick being respectful with his words. Mine isn’t really a problem. If I were fed up by his words, I would’ve ranted him out (glad I didn’t). Trust me dude, I have hatred towards any person that is toxic. However, criticizing a fandom for having this number of toxic fans is not the way to go. Besides, you know the saying? “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. What are the intentions from the ARMY? Did they do it with a reasonable purpose? Who started the problem? Overall context? Is it right to call out a fandom due to 1-2% of the fandom being toxic? Is this fan actual fan? There are a lot of factors to it.

                I should’ve pointed this out at the beginning, but no, I wasn’t feeling erratic. I was a little uncomfortbale, unsettling. There has to be more research done before deciding on the more ideal approach of a fandom.

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      • I have twitter too, so of course I know the behavior of ARMY. There are good and bad ones. It really depends on the overall situation

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    • Tell me, how do you suppose one should ‘research’ a fandom? Should we ask folks if they are ARMY, and then ask “are you toxic?” if they say yes? Perceptions of a certain fandom are always tainted by subjective anecdotal experiences. It’s not a “proven fact” (Aside, being “power-driven” at the expense of friendly relations with others- that sounds pretty toxic to me).

      In my opinion, the sheer number of ARMYs increases the probability of having a negative experience with one of them, assuming a consistent ratio of toxic fans to non-toxic fans across all fandoms. There’s also the point that toxic fans are more visible than those who aren’t.

      It’s certainly not BTS or BigHit’s fault, but fandom culture is inherently a bit competitive and being extra contentious doesn’t help ARMYs avoid being known as aggressive or toxic.

      Like

      • There’s a lot for me to respond. I do have responses, but I figure it would be too long. I do want to apologize for saying fact. Well, there is a fact that there are good and bad ARMY. We both agree on that. I’ve seen/researched ARMY being bad as a whole as any other fandom out there. There are a few other fandoms that have done much worse than ARMY. Saying ARMY as the most toxic is a bit unsettling. Sensitive, I agree with that word to describe ARMY, as they need to healthily criticize music from their faves.

        I do see a few holes in your comment which can be fixed. I’m too tired to point them out though lol. Thanks for the response though

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  2. Having lived long enough to see multiple eras of boy bands come and go, and sometimes on rare occasion come back, I agree with your comments above. It is also worth noting that kpop fans in general are very short sighted and have difficulty with change and controversy. Back in my day we were happy if our favorite didn’t overdose and die on stage.

    My husband has a substantial vinyl collection. He goes to flea markets, junk and junque stores, and secondhand charity shops almost every weekend. This has been his whole adult life. It is interesting in the US to see what is in fashion, what is in the $1 bargain bin outside the shop, what is now showing up in force, and what condition it is all in. Sing along with Mitch. Barbra Streisand with Barry Gibb. It will be interesting what of all the physical =stuff= and multiple physical copies of this era of kpop will be of actual value when it shows up in the charity shops in 20 years time. I am speaking not only of BTS but every other kpop group with merch which is to say almost all of them. $5 sheets of stickers all yellowed and flaking off the backing sheet, in multiples for each band member.

    (And then what happens to all the virtual copies after all of our ipods have gone kaputski. Are we counting on Youtube? Am I going to buy Orange Caramel again? Yeah, probably.)

    It will also be interesting to see what happens with the late 2nd Gen and 3rd Gen as they progress through military service. Practically speaking, only SM has real experience with this with TVXQ and Super Junior. (Perhaps 1st gen like Shinwa deserve a mention, but that was a different time in fandom.) Brother AkMu was smart to just get it over with. In the future, I would not be surprised if companies start to lean towards trainees who are 20-21 years old having already been through service rather than 17-18-19 who have not. (Fun random fact: N.Flying’s maknae Yoo Hwe Seung already did his!)

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    • The one big trouble with sending your boys to military service first then debut is that will it be worth it if you don’t know your boy will become the next BTS? I mean even TXT’s future is not a given at this point.

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      • To clarify: instead of recruiting big trainees in their teens, it could be better if in the future agencies waited until boys did their military service in their late teens, and then recruited them after they are done when they are 20 or 21. Because then if they do hit it big, there is no break for service.

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        • Imagining a scenario where male rookies are all in their 20s while the majority of female rookies are still in their teens.

          We could argue whether or not debuting any teenagers is a good thing, but we still can’t deny the fact that the pop industry is intertwined with youth culture, and if companies can debut teens I don’t think they’re going to waste these years and wait till their male trainees are done with military service.

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    • *didn’t overdose and die on stage*.. Omg. I feel so bad for laughing 😂
      I agree 100%. Kpop fans place a lot expectations on their idols.

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  3. Did you seriously put in a fandom as a factor in the grading of a company???

    BTS are constantly attacked from other fandoms, the attack often crossing the borders of the internet and reaching the news (numerous plagiarism accusations, petitions to get their awards revoked etc). Fans of other groups get into behavior controversies all the time, say literally the most vile things online but Bighit is the one company from all the companies you’ve reviewed that should speak up because Armys called someone a flop? You don’t see the same and worse behavior to the same extent in other fandoms because it doesn’t get blown up the same way.

    BTS is the most relevant group in the world right now with the largest fandom by far and trying to portray them as the worst thing that’s ever happened to kpop is very trendy right now amongst kpop fans but I never expected this from you given you don’t follow trends and everything. Wow.

    Like

  4. *Angrily arguing that Nick is unfair to BitHit for Army toxic behavior just to prove the point*
    In all seriousness, the TXT blunder is enough to get them a minus in the rating.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. At the Armys leaving angry comments: do you realize you’re proving his point right?

    Anyways, this was a great year for Big Hit, agreed. They finally debuted a new group, entered the Big 3 and acquired a girl group. I just don’t think TXT will ever reach the level of popularity of their seniors and, once BTS members start to enlist, Big Hit will feel a considerable decrease in profit. It should also be seen how Jungkook’s recent scandal will affect the group’s overall reputation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah cause disagreeing with part of a review is so disgusting!!! Those damn toxic armys at it again….
      Also the fact you think Jungkook getting into a fender bender is gonna affect BTS in some way is……

      Like

      • Some of y’all are gonna have to learn to not try to dictate others’ opinions. Are you not satisfied enough that it’s your own opinion? If you want someone to blindly agree with you, go back to Twitter to your fellow ARMYs. You’re incapable of accepting constructive criticism, opposition, or breathing the air outside the sphere of groupthink.

        If you don’t like Nick’s review, go make your own blog and rate Big Hit’s 2019 A++++. In fact, make the whole blog about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Try being a Goldenness, y’all. We don’t even have enough people in our fandom to have toxic ones ruining it for the whole bunch!

    Anyways, some thoughts:

    1. I mention fandom in the review because Big Hit has found a way to leverage its fandom more than any other agency that I can remember. It feels pertinent, though this specific topic didn’t alter my final grade.

    2. Yes, other fandoms have their own issues, but BTS are the biggest group on the planet right now, so they and their fanbase are going to receive more scrutiny. That’s just how it is. It comes with being at the top of the pack.

    3. Army is/are so big that they’re practically their own lobbying group. It’s a powerful phenomenon, and I’ve watched certain contingents of it unfairly take down anyone offering constructive criticism or an opinion that’s less-than-glowing. Again, this is a generalization. Obviously not every Army is like this. Most are chill, positive music fans. But with the ease and popularity of social media, we don’t often see the “most.”

    4. For a group and agency that has fostered such affirming campaigns like Love Yourself, I just think it could be cool if they could find a way to leverage their fanbase once more for a movement like “be kind to one another” or “take the high road.” Of course, they’re under no obligation to do this. They’re a K-pop agency, not self-help gurus or social workers. But think how cool that would be, with their influence, in the time and place we’re in right now? This is my reasoning for including fandom in the review. More wishful thinking than outright critique.

    5. Ugh… I’m already tired of talking about fandom. This is why I rarely do it. Let’s get back to the music.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. omg so many angry ARMYs in the comments… when you’re fandom is as large as BTS ‘s is, it’s bound to have a lot more ‘toxic’ fans. What has kind of drawn me away from the group is the obsessive emphasis on numbers and voting and ranking and putting down any other group and their achievements. It’s obviously not everyone, I personally just find it tiring to see everywhere and it’s led me to distance myself from the fandom and as a result, the group.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is an analogy to consumer products here too. If a company puts out a product that has a heavy social media component, and that product is being used by some percent of its consumers in a less than desirable fashion, then there is a liability there both from a business and legal perspective. In this case, the social media component is a major business liability for BigHit because it is driving past and future consumers away. That leaves the current consumers who increasingly rally together louder, bigger, faster for something, each for their own personal or psychological reason. This is literally the definition of “vicious cycle” in business. Some percent of the fan club gets louder, more obnoxious, which drives even more people away, which increases the volume and obnoxiousness of the remaining fan club, and so on.

    Therefore there is an accountability and responsibility on the part of the seller (BigHit) to do something because it is an unchecked liability to their main perhaps almost only source of revenue.

    For companies which are pure social media play, some of them have truly become no go zones for potential customers. Reddit. Twitter. Click bait. Even Facebook the largest platform in the universe (so many users! so important!) which is even free! to the user but some people just don’t go there anymore.

    That does not excuse any other entertainment agency from the same, however it seems that the vicious cycle effect is non-existent or to a much lesser degree. I don’t buy some groups because their fan club is obnoxious, rather because I don’t like the music.

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  9. I exactly know what you mean by toxic, and I don’t blame you, it is kind of habitual now, but it is not that way, no one is like that, being an ARMY myself majority of the ARMYs do not engage in fanwars and have never put anyone down in place, mostly this happens due to some solo stans or some fans who really don’t know what they speak, and every fandom has that problem, maybe us being larger seems it too big of a problem, something like Chinese whisper 😂, but no one seriously have ever put down any other group, so I don’t accept that, and which fandom does not have toxic energy, you can’t really stop a fanwar, you can only ignore it😅… Bighit can’t do anything in that😅, and a lot of time, I know a lot of things happened this year, where there were unnecessary fanwars some created from our side , which I myself facepalmed over, it is better to ignore, and not engage in such conversation, just supporting your artist only matters💜

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  10. I tend to be comfortable with Big Hit’s decision to produce just one BTS’ album in 2019. First of all, it was probably the best BTS’ album ever, with much more care, freshness and sound design than provious ones. Second, they deserved a long time to rest – and they finally had it.
    Maybe I’m speaking this way because I am a passionate fan of BT21 and I do adore their merchandising stuff, so to me this was really the year of Big Hit: very good music (yes, including TXT), very good market positioning, very good management.

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  11. Long time reader, first time commenter. I admit I’m biased because I’m ARMY, but it just seems irrelevant to mention the toxicity present in sections of ARMY in a review about Big Hit. The Love Yourself era’s message is literally to be kind to yourself and others, but in the grand scheme of things, Big Hit and BTS are not going to be able to stop toxic fans from being toxic. If anything, it kind of seems like you’re nitpicking because you can’t find anything else to criticize. Big Hit’s definitely one of the better agencies, but I do think that there have been some growing pains this year–most notably, the fact that they didn’t provide English translations for an ARMY kit that was promoted globally. And while I agree that it would’ve been nice to get one more comeback this year, they did release more solo music than ever before, which I liked. Of course, as a fan, I want more music, but looking at it from their point of view, they probably wanted to stop and enjoy the fruits of their labor, so I’m ultimately okay with only having one comeback this year. They deserve the break.

    Lastly, just wanted to say that I’ve always enjoyed your reviews, and I’m always so impressed by how many you churn out! Wish I could be that productive 🙂

    Like

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