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
Now in its third generation of artists, Brand New Music seems to have settled into its place as a mid-level agency. When it comes to sales, none of its artists are top tier. But, AB6IX have found a nice groove after a tumultuous 2020. The agency is giving the members plenty to do, with multiple comebacks alongside drama roles and variety to diversify their resume.
As much as I enjoyed BDC’s music this year, I’m not sure exactly what Brand New are hoping to accomplish with them. Are they a fixed group, or a prelude to a new debut? If they’re hoping to be permanent, they need much stronger promotion. Ditto for Lee Eunsang, who is dipping his feet into the market rather than making a splash.
At its height, Cube knocked on the door of the “big three.” It never quite got there, but remains a strong force in the market. Despite member turmoil, (G)-IDLE released a very successful mini and diverse solo projects. Pentagon dealt with enlistment challenges the best they could, bolstering their music career with other ventures. Agency seniors BTOB came across very well during Kingdom, and their future looks bright as some key members return from the military.
Apart from (G)I-DLE, Cube seems quite ham-fisted when it comes to girl groups. CLC is all-but defunct, with Sorn leaving and Yujin joining upcoming group Kep1er. Meanwhile, rookies LIGHTSUM haven’t yet settled on a defining sound or concept. Their music shows promise, but they feel severely under-promoted for a new debut.
From an outsider’s perspective, DSP Media seem to be at a perilous point in their history. With both April and KARD inactive at the moment, their 2021 rested almost entirely on a new debut. That’s a lot of pressure to put on boy group Mirae. From sales to impact, the group is a moderate success so far. They’ve released some excellent music, but I fear DSP may not have a long-term vision for them – which will be critical to the agency’s ongoing momentum. On the plus side, DSP hasn’t been stingy on the youtube variety uploads, taking advantage of Dongpyo’s popularity while quickly establishing the entire group as all-around entertainers.
Fantagio remains very lucky to have Cha Eunwoo among their ranks. Astro had another standout year commercially. Both of their albums sold like hotcakes, and Eunwoo continued his dominance in acting and variety. It’s rare for a member from a small-to-midsize agency to have such a stranglehold on the industry’s brand reputation rankings, and his popularity has undoubtedly buoyed Astro. But, Fantagio has been pretty good about giving the other members opportunities as well. In addition to MJ’s fun solo project, the guys were constant fixtures on variety.
So, Fantagio… why not give Weki Meki the same push? Their long 2021 hiatus didn’t help them, and it feels like the agency isn’t putting in a lot of effort to their music (or physical packaging) either. The agency remains on solid footing, but their neglect of this group drags their grade down a few notches.
Every year, FNC Entertainment feels solid if unspectacular. They just go about their business, releasing strong albums to sturdy sales. But, they rarely make waves. Boy group SF9 have become an agency standout, selling very well in a year where they’re finding their musical niche. I’m not sure Kingdom was the best fit for them, but it seems to have nudged along their popularity. More important is member Rowoon’s drama roles. He feels very much on the rise, and that bodes well for the group’s future.
On the band side of the agency, N.Flying continue to occupy their niche, finding their fan base and delivering a steady stream of music. CNBLUE act as FNC’s veterans. They’ve passed their commercial prime, but they’re still releasing solid music.
AOA seem all-but kaput, which is a shame given the scandalous nature of their final K-pop bow. Newer group Cherry Bullet don’t feel like a priority to FNC, which is weird given the agency’s comparative lack of girl groups. Maybe some of the members’ participation on Girls Planet 999 will cause a resurgence in promotion.
And while FNC’s youngest act P1Harmony show much potential, I can’t help but feel the agency is failing them. They should be releasing way more music than they are. It’s been over seven months since their last album – a lifetime when it comes to newly-debuted rookies.
IST is newly-formed, merging Plan A, Fave and Cre.ker under one umbrella. It’s hard to give an accurate grade since these agencies operated separately for the bulk of the year. But with artists like The Boyz, Weeekly, Victon and Apink, IST’s future seems bright.
The Boyz have established themselves as an A-list success, selling a ridiculous amount of albums, securing spots on dramas and variety and becoming synonymous with the bombast of Kingdom. The only thing that’s missing – in my opinion – is music strong enough to justify this success. It’s hard to be excited about their dominance when their 2021 output felt weaker than any other year of their career. Still, they are undoubtedly a bankable prospect for the industry.
Weeekly’s music also dipped a bit compared to their debut year, but they are definitely rookies on the rise and have already carved out an identifiable sound for themselves.
Victon face military enlistment struggles, but they’ve established a solid fan base that should support them well in the coming year. Solo projects have also offered a welcome glimpse at future potential. Apink were relatively inactive in 2021, which tends to happen with more-established groups. They remain industry darlings, and a valuable asset to any agency.
Over the past few years, it feels like Jellyfish has threatened to collapse under its own weight. Gugudan is no more, and it seems unlikely that VIXX will ever release new music with the agency again. But, stranger things have happened!
This puts an enormous weight on boy group VERIVERY, who have yet to claw their way to the upper reaches of the industry. If Jellyfish had the benefit of reliable income from senior artists, VERIVERY could be allowed more grace as they slowly mature their sound and image. Their promotion has been consistent (including an upcoming U.S. tour), but they shouldn’t have to be the face of their agency at this stage in their career. Luckily, their sales are slowly growing.