Disclaimer: As with my write-ups on K-Pop’s biggest 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.
Brand New Music
Though it’s been around for years, Brand New Music has really come to prominence in the idol world thanks to hype from the Produce 101 series. This kicked off in 2017 with the promotions of MXM, but 2019 was the agency’s biggest year yet thanks to the debut of AB6IX. They’re one of 2019’s most successful rookie groups, and Brand New is capitalizing on this by releasing a steady stream of music. I hope they don’t overwork Park Woojin and allow him to heal from his injury, but they seem well-positioned to talk advantage of this group’s burgeoning popularity. However, I’d caution them to put the breaks on trainee unit group BDC for now – at least until AB6IX is fully established.
Cube was in an interesting position this year. As members of their most successful act, BTOB, began to enlist in the military, the agency attempted to bolster their trio of younger groups. Though I didn’t think much of (G)I-DLE’s output matched the quality of their debut year, the girls seem to have secured their position as super rookies. Their stint in Queendom certainly helped. CLC also received some much-needed career revitalization thanks to a series of 2019 singles. Pentagon seems to be in a slightly more precarious position. Last year’s scandal hit them hard, and their 2019 material was a real mixed bag. A new Cube boy group is probably imminent, but with Lai Guanlin an unwilling participant (at least if his lawsuit against the agency is anything to go by), I’m not sure how that eventual debut will go.
2019 felt like a “year off” for DSP Media. Girl group April was nowhere to be found, as its members focused on acting instead. KARD was more active, but their once-hot popularity seems to have dimmed. Neither of their 2019 digital singles made any waves – at least in Korea. Rainbow’s anniversary reunion was a nice surprise, but was largely ignored outside their fan base. During the summer, things were looking positive when DSP trainee Son Dongpyo made it into Produce group X1. However, that’s all blown up thanks to the vote-rigging scandals surrounding the group.
Rather than debut any new acts, Fantagio spent 2019 building up Weki Meki and Astro. This was a smart move after all the drama that surrounded the agency last year. Both groups enjoyed some success, with Astro in particular really breaking out this year. This came with a cost. Their music swerved more generic than ever before, and I worry that Fantagio will take this as a sign of what the music-listening masses want. Weki Meki, on the other hand, continued to release enjoyably quirky material. It didn’t do anything for their sales, but at least we got two great pop singles out of them.
FNC Entertainment has a pretty large roster of artists, and they generally do a good job of giving each equal time to shine. With CNBlue and FTIsland out of the picture due to military enlistment (and scandals), N.Flying seem poised to take up their mantle. Their Rooftop was one of the year’s most unexpected hits, and helped the band to garner a growing fan base.
After a successful stint on variety show Queendom, AOA seem poised to have a successful comeback next week. SF9 continue to see solid sales, though they haven’t yet released that one breakthrough song that might boost them into a new level of popularity. Rookie group Cherry Bullet is more of a mystery. They debuted with a lot of hype early in the year, only to disappear halfway through 2019. Two of the group’s members have been missing from promotions for awhile now, without any real explanation. It feels like some unwelcome news might be brewing, just as the group needs to be finding their footing in this crowded year of debuts.
Like a few other agencies of its stature, Jellyfish is in a make-or-break state. Main money-maker VIXX will not be releasing new material for awhile due to military enlistment, forcing Jellyfish to be dependent on girl group Gugudan and new debut VERIVERY. Gugudan haven’t released music for over a year, which has prompted possible disbandment rumors. A pending solo release from their most prominent member Sejeong only fuels this speculation. Things seem brighter for VERIVERY, who have had a great (and well-promoted) debut year. Their sales haven’t been fantastic, but they’ve released a steady stream of solid music that has quickly cemented a signature style that’s different from their seniors VIXX.
MBK’s 2019 focused on only two acts. DIA released a great comeback track in March, though it didn’t seem to garner much attention. Project group 1the9 released two mini albums this year, but neither met with much success. As usual, MBK doesn’t seem to have many prospects for their future. Their list of “former artists” is infinitely larger than their current roster. Unfortunately, they’ve been a sinking ship for years now, and 2019 did nothing to change that.
Play M Entertainment
Play M Entertainment is the new name for Plan A, and also includes the former Fave Entertainment and Kakao M. Though the agency didn’t release all that much this year, 2019 sowed some seeds for 2020 potential. Apink’s %% created a lot of buzz in January and their own Oh Hayoung had a successful solo debut in August. Long-neglected boy group Victon came roaring back with their most successful album yet thanks to residual Produce 101 hype. Soloist Lim Jimin seems well-positioned to find success with the agency’s upcoming boy group, even if his own work didn’t receive much attention back in May. Play M just needs to be more active next year in order to really re-assert itself in the industry.
Check back later for part 2, where I’ll take a look at Pledis, RBW, Starship, Top, TS, WM and Woollim!