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Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, Jellyfish, MBK, Play M)

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.

If you’re curious to read my thoughts on these agencies from last year, click here for part one and here for part two!


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.
B+


Cube Entertainment

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.
B-


DSP Media

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.
D


Fantagio Entertainment

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.
B-


FNC Entertainment

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.
B


Jellyfish Entertainment

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.
C+


MBK Entertainment

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.
D+


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.
B


Check back later for part 2, where I’ll take a look at Pledis, RBW, Starship, Top, TS, WM and Woollim!

4 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, Jellyfish, MBK, Play M)

  1. I’ll be honest, given the tumult from the past 2 years, I’m not sure what to think of agencies outside the top 3. So many tentacled scandals and sticky wickets. Talent show vote/candidate rigging, artists being under-promoted or under-paid, behavioral issues ranging from minor cultural faux pas to major criminal deviancy. Artists such as Ga-in (BEG), Mina (TWICE), Yubin (Pink Fantasy), et al dropping from activities due to mental issues. Sulli! Goo Hara!

    I just feel pale. Lately, it’s been really, really difficult to be an enthusiastic K-Popper. Every now and then, a ray of sunshine pierces the nimbus only to flicker out shortly after leaving everything gray until the next one arrives. Don’t mind me. I’ll be over in the corner playing with my emo crayons.

    Like

    • No one will begrudge you some emo-ness. I think we’re all feeling a little frustrated and helpless these days. I can’t say that my interest in or love of K-pop has really dimmed, but I do find myself dreading K-pop news lately.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If anything, these are aspects of the industry that have been going on for years and years and the only real difference in 2019 is that they’re all coming to light and these companies’ actions are finally catching up to them. I also think the hiatuses/departures due to mental stress are a good thing…they may make for unpleasant headlines but it means that mental health is actually being taken seriously for these artists rather than them
      just soldiering on through whatever demons they may be battling.

      I’m not gonna lie, this year has been nigh overwhelming with so much happening at once. But if it looks gray now, it’s only because the thin veneer of sunshine and flowers is being lifted and kpop fans are being forced to confront ugly truths in greater numbers than before. There’s still a lot to enjoy about this genre, but you have to go into it with a mindset that there are also a lot of problems and it’s unhealthy to rely on and invest too much emotionally.

      Liked by 2 people

    • There has always been a structural problem in the kpop industry, which has been better hidden in the past. The agencies recruit kids, 15 – 16 – 17 year olds. The agencies pick everything about what these kids are going to do, and then laden the same with all the risk. It is the kids, their images, their performances, their fanservice, who carry the whole burden of the agency. The agency makes the choices, the kids bear the risk. And the kids are the last ones to be taken care of emotionally, physically, and are also the last ones to get paid (if they get paid).

      It should also be noted that the kpop music industry is also a very small pond. There is only so much to go around. Half of music scene is the balladeers. As I see it, outside of the Big 3 or 4, the idol groups are a terrible business to be in – high barrier to entry, high costs, oversupplied market, low return, shifting tastes, high artist and product turnover, and a high risk of a random event causing everything to go to pot quickly.

      The ones Nick reviews here are one bad year from having an even worse year. And these are the companies that are doing *well*. I suppose that is show business.

      Like

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