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Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: Part Two (Pledis, RBW, Starship, TOP, TS, WM, Woollim)

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!


Pledis Entertainment

Pledis remained dominant in 2019 thanks to the success of Seventeen and Nu’est. The former continued to break their own sales records, while the latter made the important transition from temporary sub-unit to full group activities. With Pristin officially disbanding in a mysterious (and likely messy) way, I wonder how long the agency will be able to sustain themselves on only two acts – especially since members will need to start enlisting eventually. For now, the agency seems in excellent shape, though as a fan I’m a little upset at how dark and trendy all of their acts’ music is becoming. I really think Pledis should invest in a more diverse group of composers so that their house sound doesn’t become stale.
B


RBW Entertainment

While I’m not always a fan of every song that comes out of RBW Entertainment, there’s no denying the agency’s upward trajectory. Most of that is thanks to Mamamoo, who have just exploded in popularity. Whoever decided to cast Hwasa in reality series I Live Alone is a genius. She’s really become 2019’s it girl in Korea. Mamamoo’s music, on the other hand, continues to decline in ambition. I’m really going to need them to get back to their 2014-2016 peak.

Elsewhere this year, RBW debuted boy group ONEUS and re-debuted its “brother” band ONEWE. The former seems to be getting much more attention (and promo) than the latter, but both had successful debut years. It’ll be interesting how RBW handles them next year. There’s some great potential for cross-pollination, but first the agency has to find a way to really solidify their fan bases.
A-


Starship Entertainment

Up until the end of October, Starship Entertainment would’ve received a very generous grade. Monsta X continued to be very successful in 2019, including a surprisingly robust push into the American market. Cosmic Girls saw their sales rise sharply with multiple promotions, and soloist Jeong Sewoon churned out solid material (even if his own sales began to dip).

But, Starship seemed to totally bungle the Wonho situation, resulting in his abrupt and unceremonious departure from Monsta X right at the group’s peak of popularity. Fans are upset, the group is upset, and it’s hard to imagine this whole situation couldn’t have been handled with more care. To make matters worse, Starship was hit particularly hard by the Produce 101 vote rigging scandal, calling into question the legality of their behind-the-scenes operations. Money and influence-wise, the agency seems to be doing quite well. But, their reputation has certainly taken a hit.
C


TOP Media

TOP Media is desperately in need of some new blood. Teen Top remains one of the only 2010 debut groups that are still mostly intact, but they hardly release music anymore and have definitely passed their commercial peak. 100% is serving their military conscription, but were already struggling prior to enlistment. TOP tried to leverage the Produce 101 phenomenon to breathe new life into UP10TION, only to have that series’ biggest beneficiary (Lee Jinhyuk) absent from the group’s subsequent comeback.

Unsurprisingly, Produce did little to boost the popularity of UP10TION’s 2019 album, though it did provide Jinhyuk a launching pad for solo success. We’ll see what happens with X1 and Wooseok, but I’m not feeling the energy for a Nu’est-level resurgence at the moment. Much will hinge on the impending debut of new boy group MCND, though it feels like we’ve been hearing about them for years without an actual debut date.
C-


TS Entertainment

Oh, TS. If I could give you an F-, I would. Words can’t aptly describe the level of ineptitude that seems to plague this agency. I think they’ve sued just about all of their own artists, and seem to be incapable of releasing actual music. B.A.P were lucky to get out when they did. Both Sonamoo and TRCNG are locked in messy legal disputes with the agency. The former is as good as disbanded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TRCNG follows suit. TS Entertainment has also managed to lose all the trust of its fans, unable to deliver for the crowdfunding platform Makestar and incapable of releasing TRCNG’s physical album until almost three months after their comeback. Save for its artists and their music, there is not one redeeming quality about TS. Seriously, can we invent a grade lower than F?
F


WM Entertainment

With what remains of B1A4 mostly in the military, WM Entertainment finds itself being steered by Oh My Girl. And though the girls haven’t yet broken out in a major way, their career continued to be on the upswing in 2019. Winner or not, they were probably the biggest beneficiaries of hit series Queendom, and their sales continue to be steady. A post-Queendom comeback would’ve been ideal, but we’ll see how much momentum they’ve maintained when they eventually return next year. On the plus side, their burgeoning Japanese activity seems to have been successful.

WM continues to struggle with ONF. Thankfully, they gave the boys more than one comeback this year, but the unexpected departure of Laun (arguably, their most popular member) shocked and dismayed fans. Their sales are steady, but they just can’t seem to break out despite releasing great music. WM has to figure out what to do with them. They’re too talented to give up on.
B-


Woollim Entertainment

You’re hardest on the ones you love most, and Woollim is my favorite K-pop agency. However, 2019 was not a good year for them.

Let’s start with my bias group, Golden Child. As a fan, I’m furious that Woollim wasted over a year without any comebacks. Yes, it’s great that they’ve got Bomin acting and hosting Music Bank, but you simply don’t go almost thirteen months between comebacks when it comes to a rookie group with no competition-show hype. It negatively affects the fan base and – at least so far – has drastically reduced sales. I’m happy that we finally got a full album, even if its “reboot” concept took away a lot of the elements I loved about Golden Child. And the group’s fun youtube web-sitcom was a welcome surprise. But, I’m gonna need Woollim to double down and promote Golcha like crazy in 2020. They have a lot of ground to make up, and a lot of fans to win back.

Lovelyz had a pretty impactful year, even if they only released one mini album and a solo for Kei. But, Woollim really botched their Queendom opportunity, trying to mold the girls into something they’re not rather than just let them do what they’re best at. As a result, their participation in Queendom felt like a mixed bag. Their public notoriety raised, but they also received a lot of unnecessary hate.

Commercially, Woollim’s debut of Rocket Punch was a bright spot for the agency. But, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the group so far. Out of all the Woollim artist debuts so far, their sound was easily the most generic. I’ve yet to get a sense of what kind of group they’re going to be, which has never been a criticism I’ve had of the agency’s acts prior to this year.

Elsewhere, the remaining Infinite members enlisted (or left the agency). Woohyun released an excellent solo album. Dongwoo’s was okay. Sungkyu is coming back early next year, so we’ll see what Woollim does with him. Hopefully solo work and a lot of variety/hosting. I’m also curious to see where the agency goes with its Produce trainees. I know fans are clamoring for a debut, but I’m going to be pissed if Woollim gives them precedence over Golden Child.
C-

19 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2019: Part Two (Pledis, RBW, Starship, TOP, TS, WM, Woollim)

        • To be honest, I’m pretty much spent when it comes to K-pop tragedies. Hopefully it won’t be misconstrued as a slight to Hara, but I’m not planning any additional post.

          I didn’t know much about her life outside of Kara, but of course I admired her and her work. I just don’t have it in me to write something meaningful about mental health at the moment.

          About the 2019 vs 2014 idea: it seems like an unnecessarily macabre comparison, and I just don’t want to dwell on it. I’d rather this site focus on the music, as it has always done. There are plenty of other forums and sites that have that stuff covered.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Also in my husband’s car that I was driving this week, besides an abundance of Prince, was Duran Duran greatest hits. Its been a long time since I have listened to Duran Duran, but let me tell you that they were always having a lot more fun than everyone else. I don’t even know what the “Reflex” is about, but it gets one bopping.

    So here is my summary:
    Seventeen: used to be more fun
    Mamamoo: used to be more fun
    BAP gone
    Wonho gone
    B1A4 hiatus
    Infinite hiatus

    And finally
    Teen top
    We gonna rock it
    Drop it top it
    Hey don’t stop it pop it
    =it rhymes=
    (also one of my favorite songs on the workout list)

    Like

  2. I look forward to these grading the agencies posts of yours ever since I chanced upon your blog. And interestingly enough, this post has most of my current biases.I’m really hoping that WM promotes ONF more next year, and its the same hope I have with Golden Child. Laun leaving ONF was really quite a blow, but I think it did unite the fandom a lot more and I’m glad that ONF did gain some new fans thanks to their last comeback. They are gearing up for a Christmas Special thing, which I think is like a mini concert of some sorts (I hope). I’m currently basking more in Golden Child’s comeback, and I’m just so happy to see Joochan (one of my GolCha biases) back on stage performing with them. Woolim better promote them more next year, as they all seem ready to hit the ground running, and especially because isn’t Dayeol going to have to enlist soon as well? I really do hope that I’ll get to see both of these groups at least have a concert of some sort next year. And yes, I’ll be very mad if they prioritize Woolim Boys over GolCha. I love anything that Sunggyu puts out and I was surprised by how much I loved DongWoo’s and Woohyun’s albums. L leaving Woolim was a shock, but I’m glad he’s still with Infinite.
    Onewe, Oneus, Verivery, and AB6IX are some rookies that I’m also loving a lot this year.
    Moving to FNC- I absolutely love N.Flying, and I’m glad that my ultimates FT Island had a mini album comeback before Hong Gi enlisted. I do like SF9, and I do hope that their next comeback will be even better than their last album, which I really liked.
    I’m glad that Pledis allowed S.Coups to take a break for now. I love Seventeen a lot and I cannot wait to see them in concert in February, but I do understand how you feel about their music quality, although I myself still thoroughly enjoy everything they still put out. I did enjoy “An Ode”, although I think my fave albums are Love & Letter Repackage, Teen, Age, and Al1.
    Sorry for the novel length comment. 😀

    Like

    • Novel length comments are encouraged here! It sounds like we agree 100% about Woollim. I’m loving the new Golcha comeback, but I really hope they aren’t so absent next year. The hiatus seems to have affected their sales, and Woollim has a lot of work to do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m Not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but you were one of the reasons I got into stanning Woolim groups (Infinite is one of my ultimates now), as well as ONF. I’m sad to hear that re GolCha’s sales, although I do hope it gets better this week and the coming weeks as well. I think ONF’s recent comeback and Golden Child’S are the first comebacks of a group that I tried my best as an International fan in terms of what we Could do (streaming, voting online, etc), cuz they deserve so much Love. I’m also glad that both these groups though do have strong followings where i come from, Golden Child has more than ONF, and I’m glad to hear the fanchants during Live stages be louder for them. But yes, we definitely need more Golden Child next year! I understand that they didnt Want to push JooChan too much so that they Could perform as ten, and I really hope that no more things of that Nature (that severe) happen again to them.
        I also Just recently got into EXO Just in Time for their recent comeback, again, partly because of you. 🙂 I was actually picking between EXO and GOT7, and it turns out that EXO Is more my sound than the latter.

        Like

  3. was hugely obsessed with seventeen music until they started going dark
    getting closer was ok actually everything up until fear (dear god, I’ve listened to this song all of once (1) ) was excellent or good but like fear really did not do it for me
    though fear really was just one of the songs on their latest album i just really miss the funk they used to have i guess

    Like

    • What did you think of Lucky and Snap Shoot? They’re not quite ‘classic’ funky SVT, but I really like Lucky. Tbh the only ‘dark’ song on the album was Fear. Maybe Back it up, but that’s just hip hop unit.

      Like

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