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.
Make sure to check out part one of this feature, which covers the following agencies: Brand New Music, Cube Entertainment, DSP Media, Fantagio Entertainment, FNC Entertainment, IST Entertainment and Jellyfish Entertainment!
Though some Block B members are still signed under sub-label Seven Seasons, KQ’s 2021 really boiled down to one act: ATEEZ. It’s been impressive to watch how big the group has become after a rather modest 2018 debut. And, KQ has done a nice job adding wind to their piratey sails. This year, the group released two mini albums, a special collaboration album and a Japanese single — with another release on the way in December. And though I will never forgive the agency for relegating the excellent Take Me Home to b-side status, I think it was smart to release two music videos for their September album.
Members were also active hosting music shows, acting in dramas and making important global connections. I assume that KQ’s resources are a lot smaller than some of the a-list agencies, and I think they’ve done well with what they have. The group had a successful showing on Kingdom, and I’m happy to see the agency hold their artists’ mental health at a premium. The only thing missing is music as spectacular as their 2018-20 run.
P Nation remains the cool, boutique label with major firepower behind it. PSY has managed to scoop up so many of the buzziest artists out there, and I love how the agency wields an energy and creativity characteristic of its founder. This was put on full display during competition series LOUD, which promises the 2022 debut of an exciting new boy group.
For now, P Nation is home to a lot of trendy soloists. Jessi had quite the year. She’s an omnipresent figure in the industry. HyunA and Dawn finally got to release a duo album, which drew upon their natural chemistry. Other artists like Crush, Penomeco and Swings were a bit quieter (we can thank military enlistment in Crush’s case), while Heize scored a sizable digital hit.
P Nation is still growing, but they have already proven themselves a force to be reckoned with.
RBW (Rainbow Bridge World)
RBW (Rainbow Bridge World) really made the most of their 2021. The agency had a stuffed release schedule, catering to all of their artists in some form or another.
ONEUS really broke through this year, releasing tons of music to ever-growing success. RBW is letting them explore a variety of sounds and concepts, and so far the group has proven adept at everything. Brother band ONEWE remain a trickier prospect, but the agency has made room for plenty of self-driven releases that feel authentic to the guys.
Mamamoo have yet to vacate their K-pop throne, holding a tight grip on the industry. They didn’t release much new group material this year, but thought out-of-the-box for a creative “greatest hits” package that incorporated remixes rather than familiar versions of their songs. The members continue to find great success as soloists in a variety of fields, and seem to have positioned themselves well for the future. With the departure of Wheein from RBW (but not Mamamoo), it’ll be interesting to see where the group goes from here. But even if they decide to take their business elsewhere, I think RBW would be okay without them.
Apart from some recent controversy, rookie group Purple Kiss have had a successful debut year. They’re already sizable album sellers, with plenty of momentum at their backs and enough sonic difference from Mamamoo to carve their own identity.
Starship Entertainment has been competitive for years now, despite most of their original artist roster having left the agency. Monsta X remain a sizable global force, and they’ve managed to maintain their grueling release schedule despite member departures and enlistments. In fact, I think their 2021 output has been a return to form in many ways.
WJSN were less active this year, releasing only one mini album and debuting sub-unit WJSN The Black (all within a few weeks during the spring!). A couple of members did some acting, but other than that the group’s momentum stalled a bit.
CRAVITY continue to perform very well, but I still think Starship has failed in giving them their own identity. Sometimes it feels like the agency wants to set them up as “Monsta X Jr.” Other times, their music takes a more youthful approach. Their albums sell, but the music was pretty generic this year.
Starship’s soloists like Jeong Sewoon were largely ignored in 2021. Instead, all eyes are on upcoming debut IVE. This girl group has a lot of buzz behind them. It’ll be interesting to see if they change the agency’s fortunes in 2022.
TOP Media has largely jettisoned its older groups in favor of MCND — a very promising rookie act. But, the future of the company shouldn’t rest on their shoulders. Their sales are solid but unspectacular. However, their sound is identifiable and I think they have a lot of room to grow. TOP need to give them more opportunities outside of music to garner more public recognition.
UP10TION released their second full-length album in 2021, but minus a couple of their most popular members the group just doesn’t feel like they’re supported the way they used to be. This is a shame, because their music was strong this year. Instead, members Jinhyuk and Wooseok remain the agency’s biggest-selling artists. Imagine how reinvigorated UP10TION could be if those two re-joined the group for a hyped-up comeback.
With most of Teen Top’s members enlisted at the moment, the group is on hiatus. Poor 100% were disbanded completely, leaving TOP Media with a smaller roster than they’ve had in years.
Recently joining the RBW family, WM still operates as its own entity with their trio of groups.
Oh My Girl are industry darlings, and their sole 2021 title track endures on the charts even months after its release. So this begs the question: why not release more music? 2020 only saw one mini album as well, but we also got YooA’s solo album that year. 2021 was oddly quiet for the girls, right as they should be taking advantage of all the momentum fueling their career.
I can’t say the same about ONF. They had their busiest year yet, releasing no less than four title tracks (and a pre-release) by the time 2021 is over. It’s been a musically fruitful period for them, with increasing sales and recognition as well. They’re one of the few current boy groups who have their own niche, working with the same producers to brilliant effect. I’m saddened that they’ll go on hiatus after December’s comeback, but I think they’ve established a loyal fan base.
B1A4 are a different prospect since reconfiguring as a trio. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but I’m not sure WM really knows what to do with them. The members are active individually, and Sandeul scored a nice digital hit this year. But with his enlistment already in progress — and ONF’s on the horizon – it seems like WM will by The Oh My Girl Show for the foreseeable future. With one album release each year, will that be enough?
I’ve made no secret about Woollim being my favorite K-pop agency, and I remain hopelessly biased toward them. But apart from most of Golden Child’s output, I’ve found their 2021 a little worrying.
I feel like the agency has bitten off more than they can chew. They’ve never been great at quick, overlapping comebacks, and with three active idol groups and a multitude of soloists filling their schedule, some artists are getting the short end of the stick.
Golden Child had an excellent 2021. I think their title tracks got progressively weaker as the year went on, but they kicked off with a huge bang so that wasn’t too much of a concern. They’ve been incredibly active, both with their music and in variety and dramas. As the agency’s oldest active group (I still can’t believe that…), they’re Woollim’s flagship and have been treated as such. My only gripe is that their 2021 music feels all over the place, lacking the consistent identity that was once their strong suit. But, this is an agency-wide problem.
Younger groups Rocket Punch and DRIPPIN could both do with more promotion. It feels like their releases are shoe-horned in – announced quickly with little fanfare. DRIPPIN, in particular, should be receiving a much greater push during their debut year. I’m not sure Woollim knows what to do with them. And sadly, I can say the same for Rocket Punch. Both groups could do with a more consistent sound and team of collaborators.
Senior group Lovelyz’s disbandment was handled terribly, without even a farewell song or album for the fans. Woollim is awful at managing their older acts and tends to keep them locked away for long hiatuses. Lovelyz deserved better, but I get the feeling that Woollim saw them as a drag on business. That’s not a great way to go out.
Infinite are all over the place, though it seems they’ve left the door open for a reunion. I credit Woollim for letting this happen, even if most of the members are no longer under their wing. Sungkyu at least got a farewell album, while Woohyun and Sungjong seems content to stay with the agency. Meanwhile, Kwon Eunbi has set her sights on a solo career. I’m weary how well this will be promoted by Woollim. They already have too many other acts to juggle.
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After riding the kpop fandom train for a few years now I think I’ve reached a point where I would not call myself a fan of any agency, but if I were to pick a favorite, I would have to say it’s RBW. To their credit the continually seem to do a good job of giving all of their artists comebacks. I don’t think Oneus has ever gone more than five months without a comeback, and they finally got their long-deserved win. The public finally seem to be waking up to how good they are and as a massive fan I could not be more pleased. Purple Kiss had a good debut year after over a year of predebut promotion and Mamamoo are as present as ever and seemingly managed to come out of their contract renewals pretty well off. Even Onewe get decent promotion despite being a band and are up next on RBW’s comeback roster. Across the board everyone was given ample time to shine, making RBW a stable bright spot within the industry.
P nation remains a super exciting prospect. Its early days for them still but they have a unique spirit to them, no doubt the result of having the ever-charismatic PSY at the helm. Things definitely seem bright for them as well.
Starship is a mixed bag. Monsta X have started off their enlistments better than most, and IVE seem on the rise without even debuting yet. Personally, I fell pretty hard for WJSN this year as I dove into past material that I had missed. They have become one of my favorite girl groups and they always do well commercially. However, they seem to be continually lacking on promotions. I do not understand why they seem to get one comeback a year whereas Monsta X gets several. Cravity has not appealed to me at all but commercially they are fine.
For the life of me I can not fathom what TOP media is doing with Up10tion. Honestly, I feel so bad for them. They should have had a resurgence the same way Victon did after produce, but TOP media seems content to let the group fade into the background while treading water purely on the back of the groups soloist’s popularity.
WM was acquired by RBW but have continued on as if nothing has changed. I am really hoping for more material from Oh My Girl next year. They always do well but the deserve a stronger roll out, and more solo material. ONF had a great year, and even though I am only a causal fan it is so nice to see them shine. I am actually pretty hopeful about their future given their joint enlistment. Sure, it sucks they will be gone but then they will all be back at once, and their decision to go together reaffirms their desire to continue on as group after enlistment, many groups never reassemble afterwards. When I first got into Kpop I wondered why boy groups never used this strategy. Larger groups can get away with their enlistment period lasting for years but smaller groups often can’t. If ONF is successful I wonder how some groups might handle their enlistment periods differently in the future.
Woollim seems to be at a crossroad in their generations, all the while Golden Child is holding the fort. They are holding it well, but they really need to get Drippin and Rocket Punch off the ground. Did Rocket Punch even have a comeback this year, I honestly can’t remember. Their Lucky that Golden Child’s large member configuration and gap in member ages will lessen the strain of future enlistments. It will buy Woollim time while they solidify their rookie’s future.
KQ of course had a good year because Ateez had a good year. I am very glad they gave Mingi the time he needed; more agencies should learn for this example of taking care of your artists wellbeing first. However, I do wonder when we will see a new group from the agency as no agency can survive on one group forever.
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I’m a little worried for WJSN’s future with IVE on the way in. Given the amount of success IVE will see out the gate, I feel like WJSN might be put on the backburner even more than they already are. It unfortunate because I feel the only thing that’s really stopped the group from elevating to a higher level than where they are already is their infrequecy with releases. 2019 was a pretty strong year for them with suprising 3 comebackd that all did extremely well, but then 2020 came and it was just 1 a year again. With the Chocome subunit apparently gearing up for a comeback, maybe they’ll have one of those a year with one full group comeback.
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Re KQ, I think Nick said last year that they reminded him of where Big Hit was in 2014 or so, and ATEEZ have been successful enough (and the members are young enough) that I actually think sticking to just one group is a good move for the next couple of years at least. They’re big enough that it’s got to be pretty expensive to keep them growing, and they’ve still got plenty of room to grow. Plus the members have been building up their solo profiles enough that the group could afford to put a little more time between comebacks if they needed to.
Cravity is a hit or miss for me too – Veni Vedi Vici is my fave from them yet. I really like WJSN and MonstaX is definitely a group that I enjoyed this year with all their comebacks! Finally realised why MonstaX raps are hyped up so much – because they really are fire 🔥.
I felt Golcha is pretty much carrying Woolim really… I agree that with the right push Drippin could be really good. I’ve discovered Infinite this year and wow!!! I’m lovin them!
I’m a bit biased towards RBW and it has always been my fave – I love all the groups in it, everyone has such great vocals and they have the most beautiful training rooms really – I fell hard for those nice shiny wooden floors with that pretty lighting 😂
KQ with Ateez is amazing and I keep thinking if they ever have plans to have a girl group because it would be interesting. Seeing Pixy is probably what put that idea into my head in the first place.
I would rate RBW straight F for what they’ve done to mamamoo
WM is definitely a bit of a headscratcher for me rn. With ONF and Sandeul all enlisting recently, Oh My Girl will pretty much be the company’s only group for the next year and a half. With their recent success, they can definitely carry the company for the time being but as you said I don’t get why they aren’t releasing more music. It seems like they’ll push Chaeyeon into the soloist route post her stint on SWF so I’m intrigued to what happens there.
Woollim has definitely irritated me a bit this year. Drippin is doing fine even though I feel like they’re still coasting off post-X1 popularity, Golcha did well this year and the music was good (big agree on the lack of identity tho…after Lucid Dream I really thought they had things figured out, guess not), Rocket Punch is my biggest concern though. They don’t really stand out from the crop of GGs rn and given they went the last two years without making much of an impact, I’m worried for what will happen when the large crop of new girl groups comes next year. The biggest thing is obviously the Lovelyz disbandment which I was VERY upset about. The least they could’ve done was had one more comeback and the announcement they were actually working on something makes it even worse.
Speaking of IVE, they’re MV trailer today…I am not happy.
Their** my grammar sucks
KQ- Although I’m not loving the new Ateez direction compared to their treasure era, KQ as a company treats their boys right. They give them opportunities and let them take a break when needed. It’s the exact push and pull needed and I’m happy to see a company like this.
P-Nation- I like what they are doing for their artists currently, but it hasn’t been that long so they is time to see what else happens. As for their 2021, I’m happy with what they accomplished. Especially with jessi, dawn, and hyuna.
RBW- I have officially grown into an RBW Stan. After TBONTB, I peeked into Oneus and I found GOLD. From there I’m been avidly supporting and I’m so proud for their first music show win. They have grown so much musically and personally. I only wish onewe was as big as Oneus- but no matter what I’ll support them too.
Starship- Monsta x have stepped up this year and have gave me the energy I’ve been waiting for from them. It feels like a matured return to form. Cravity however…I’m just not liking their “identity.” I love some individual members and the members have SKILL…but I don’t think it’s being utilized at all. Cest la vie.
Top Media- Well they are doing a great job promoting MCND! ….yeah that’s about it.
WM- I did NOT know that ONF will be going on hiatus soon. No my heart!! I don’t know if I’ll be able to live without their unique arrangements. My fuse heart can’t take it. Well good thing I’m patient because I’ll wait for them.
Woollim- I never got into drippin from them, so I don’t know much about how they treat them. But I think they are giving good quality comebacks for golden child. The direction is slightly veering at the moment, but I’m happy with their progress overall! Especially with fanfare on the most recent album~
It seems this year has been pretty bad for 3rd-gen girl groups…I don’t understand why these agencies consistently don’t promote their girl groups much but continue to churn out the boy group content, especially when it’s not like their GGs are lacking in popularity or potential. Oh My Girl in particular – why one comeback a year?? What is the reason? You would think after their breakout that WM would push them more…I don’t get it. WJSN also getting just one comeback + the sub-unit debut right after, and then disappearing for the rest of the year…like another comment stated I’m worried that IVE’s debut will sideline them even more. And of course, Lovelyz’s very poorly handled disbandment…
Otherwise, I think this batch of agencies has definitely fared a lot better in 2021 than the group in the first part. KQ is going strong with Ateez, and I’ve become a fan through their stint on Kingdom (though I’m still looking for a title track to blow me away! Take Me Home was such a missed opportunity D:). P-Nation is still running smoothly with their roster of successful soloists, with the anticipated Loud BG on the way too. RBW seems to be doing well too – I’m very happy to see Oneus’ success, even as a non-fan. Starship still has Monsta X leading their roster, and as an IZ*ONE fan, I’m interested in IVE’s heavily anticipated debut as well.
In WM, I’ve really enjoyed ONF’s music this year, and they’ve had quite a busy one! I was surprised but glad to hear that they were enlisting together – I’ve always thought that would work better. And despite OMG’s lack of promotions, I did enjoy their title track and mini. I do have to wonder when and what they’re going to do with Chaeyeon…with OMG debuting nearly 7 years ago, it seems like a new GG is far overdue, potentially with Chaeyeon headlining it, but her stint on SWF and the way she’s been handled so far post-IZ*ONE feels like she could be poised for a solo debut…I’m not sure. She’s definitely potential waiting in the wings, but it could go either way. Woollim seems in a rough spot as you mentioned, having already failed Lovelyz and currently struggling to promote their younger groups, and I worry for Eunbi’s future too.
(WM is my favorite entrainment company)
ONF deserves that break. They have developed a strong identity in both their music and their visuals. At the end of 2019, I could easily say that oh my girl was my favorite active kpop group but this last album was a huge let down. I’m so surprised the song has had the staying power it has on the charts. That certainly wasn’t the case for my listening rotation lol. In fact, I listen to closer and pink ocean so much more and they’ve been around for 5+ years. B1A4 just isn’t the same with it jinyoung and Baro. It’s always cool to see a group reach the ten year mark, I just hoped to see that with the fun pop that made me love themb in the first place.
As I said on the other post, RBW has really impressed me this year. I think debuting WEUS together was pretty brilliant marketing and even without another formal collaboration, having them pop up on each other’s vlives and such keeps that family vibe going. MAMAMOO and PK aren’t as close, but you still get occasional interactions and giving ONEWE (and Vromance) creative roles in other RBW releases is a smart use of resources.
Per the comment above, clearly there are some people upset about RBW’s handling of MAMAMOO but I’m not one of them. They had a quiet start to the year while negotiations were ongoing, but then they had a Wheein goodbye solo EP, group EP, best-of-album with MV, and Hwasa solo single (with two b-sides, which other agencies would stick an instrumental on and call an EP). Their group music hasn’t been my vibe for a while but their solo work is great and it’s hard to imagine that they couldn’t be doing something else (or working somewhere else) if they wanted to.
My impressions of the other midsized agencies all seem to boil down to a group-by-group impression, which doesn’t exactly instill a ton of confidence for the future of the agency or group but appears to be the norm these days. The fourth and more popular late third gen boy groups are mostly well supported, the girl groups are kind of WTF-y, and there sure seem to be a lot of pseudo-disbanded second and third gen groups just hanging around for reasons I don’t entirely understand. I have a hard time keeping track of who’s active in variety and acting but surely some idols want to keep making music after they turn 30?
TOP Media deserves their D. I’m afraid that MCND is going to get chewed up and spit out. UP10tion are strong as hell, but they never get their due.I’d also give 8D Creative an F for how they f’d up the Love departure from OOO and completely diluted the gains they’d made with Instinct Pt. 1.
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poor lovelyz because they got disband because woollim suck management. i’m wonder if other will be leave too
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in retrospect starship can be bumped up from B- to a B/B+ i mean just look at how well ive is doing! currently charting in the top 10 of korea’s main music chart (melon), if the show me the money songs weren’t clogging the top 10 ive could have easily been in the top 5
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of course commercial sales aren’t the only yardstick of a group’s overall success, but their debut itself is pretty solid! ive may be changing starship’s fortunes after all
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