It’s not quite December yet, but I’m going to kick off this annual feature a little early this year! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at many of K-pop’s biggest agencies and offering my thoughts about how their 2021 went. Next up is YG Entertainment.
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.
YG Entertainment always seem to have their finger on the pulse of musical trends. For better or worse, their music feels very current and has no trouble making its way to the top of the digital charts. Even with few releases each year, they manage to score at least one big hit. 2021 saw huge hits from BLACKPINK members and AKMU. These songs also seem to have a very long shelf life when it comes to streaming, which isn’t always the case with idol acts.
BLACKPINK remain at the top of the K-pop pack. Their influence is undeniable, and their global reach continues to expand. Members got the chance to release solo projects this year, and both Rose and Lisa’s songs were met with success.
Though she’s signed to a subsidiary, Somi has also had a pretty strong 2021. She finally released an actual album, and seems to have found her identity as a soloist.
It really doesn’t feel like YG has a plan for its artists. So much of their appeal is based of style, with less care given to the actual business of making music. Sometimes, it feels like comebacks are one of the least important factors to the agency.
For years, YG has staked their claim on a “quality over quantity” approach. They release far less music than any of their big-agency peers, getting by on the fact that one or two of their tracks become mega-hits each year. However, this tends to leave many of their artists in a ditch, trying to claw their way toward another comeback.
As huge as BLACKPINK are, they haven’t released a single group song this year. After a busy debut rollout, rookie group Treasure seems to be following in Winner and iKON’s footsteps by taking a way-too-long hiatus before their next album. With half of Winner enlisted and iKON all-but forgotten (even after a successful stint on Kingdom), it doesn’t feel like there’s much happening in YG’s boy group department. Treasure should be making multiple comebacks until they’re well-established. The market moves quickly and is more saturated than ever.
Speaking of boy groups, where is that long-promised Bigbang comeback? It’s totally understandable if the members don’t feel ready, but YG’s silence around Bigbang has been very frustrating. I’m shocked that 2021 didn’t see a solo from one or more of the members. I’m not sure what the long-term plan is for Bigbang (if there is one), but right now it feels like they’re all-but retired from music. As a fan, it would be nice to know if we can expect an eventual comeback or if we should just move on.
When it comes to these write-ups, I don’t often delve into financial situations. But, it’s worth noting that YG is currently running on operational losses. In fact, the Korean Exchange has demoted them from “blue chip company” to “mid-sized business.” At this rate, I think it’s safe to assume their place in K-pop’s “big three” has been usurped by HYBE. In fact, HYBE now owns part of YG subsidiary YG Plus! The repercussions of 2019’s Burning Sun scandal still linger and it feels like YG has never quite recovered. Aside from BLACKPINK, they don’t seem to be doing much to right the ship.
Finally, on a more subjective note, the agency’s output just hasn’t been very strong this year. AKMU are always great. Treasure released a solid single back in January. But, the BLACKPINK solos weren’t anything to write home about. Kang Seungyoon’s debut album was solid, but came and went without much lasting impact on the industry. If I were to look back even a few years, it’s stunning how precipitous a fall the agency’s music has suffered.