This feature has gradually shifted from a December to a November tradition, leaving more space for next month’s sprawling end-of-year countdowns. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at many of K-pop’s biggest agencies and offering my thoughts about how their 2022 went. Following SM Entertainment‘s analysis earlier this week, it’s time to dive into YG Entertainment.
As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well K-pop agencies are serving their artists and fans. Because of the timing of this post, I’ll be including the last few weeks of 2021 as part of my analysis.
Over the past few years, I believe I’ve opened YG Entertainment’s write-up with the same name: BLACKPINK. Though there are other successful acts within the agency’s roster, none wield the same influence as these four ladies. In 2022, YG continued their tradition of one release per year, but they managed to squeeze three singles from the short (eight track) album. And though BLACKPINK definitely had competition in the girl group chart battle, their 2022 offerings did reliably well. Both Shut Down and Pink Venom are still charting high at the time of this posting.
Though Treasure suffered some big line-up changes this year, they bookended 2022 with mini albums that boasted very strong physical sales. Like BLACKPINK, the actual music was of mixed quality. But, it’s nice to see a YG boy group given more than one comeback per year after their initial debut-era blitz. And, I appreciate how Treasure are leaning into new territory for the agency. There are parts of recent single Hello that sound very Bigbang in execution, but they’re couched within a lighter, more youthful image that YG has yet to fully leverage.
Speaking of boy groups, both iKON and Winner released new material this year. For whatever reason, YG seems to have all-but abandoned promo for iKON, but Winner’s album did quite well and maintained their popularity with the general public. Both albums were quite strong.
Comeback opportunities seemed to be spread more evenly in 2022, with soloists Kang Seungyoon and Lee Chanhyuk filling in the gaps between group promotions. As usual, YG favored a “quality over quantity” approach to releases, which only works if the quality is universally high. Rather than “consistently great,” I’d rate their 2022 output as “consistently solid.” Whether that’s worth the lack of quantity is up to you!
Though still considered part of the “big four” agencies, YG Entertainment functions more like a boutique agency at this point. They’re still influential and include a few wildly successful acts. But, the size of their roster and scope of their vision is dwarfed by HYBE, SM and JYP.
With this in mind, it becomes more important how the agency nurtures their individual artists. Yes, they’re raking in the money with millions of album sales, but an evolution in sound isn’t really happening. BLACKPINK are still doling out the same schtick, as successful as it may be. iKON took the biggest musical risk with their latest mini album, but they were not rewarded with high sales or increased attention. I worry the agency will continue to play it safe and spin their wheels rather than evolving into something bigger and better.
Bigbang’s long-awaited comeback should have been 2022’s biggest K-pop story. Still Life turned out to be more of a “song for the fans”-style ballad, released digitally without any promo. This is fine if it had always been the plan from the beginning. But, the agency never quashed rumors of a huge Bigbang reunion. This led to years of hype among fans, only to be dampened by a very pretty — but quite un-momentous — single release.
This is where YG really struggles. While SM Entertainment is able to retain long-term talent and continue to grow their discographies throughout the years, YG seems to move from one shiny thing to the next. Older artists are rarely given a chance to thrive – or even release material. I don’t know if the Bigbang members want to release new music or not, but if they’d rather just retire from this side of the business I wish the agency would make that clear so we can all move on.
And, with the recent departure of Bang Yedam and Mashiho from Treasure, it seems YG is having an issue keeping their newer artists as well (though Yedam has been with the agency since he was a kid). Treasure seems to be on a roll, but it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their upward trajectory with these two key members officially out of the group.
Looking forward, I’m concerned that YG Entertainment is stuck in a holding pattern. Unless I’m missing something, they don’t have plans for any new groups in the immediate future. Apart from Treasure, the groups they do have seem to either be abandoned or stuck in an endless cycle of releasing sound-alike songs. So far, the agency has managed to turn this business plan into huge global success. But, I can’t say I’m excited for the direction most of their acts are going. It really feels like YG’s most dominant days are behind them (BLACKPINK aside, of course). I wish they could regain a sense of vision for the future.
2022 Grade: C+
What I’d like to see in 2023:
- Pick an artist and make 2023 their year. It doesn’t even matter who it is. Just give them a ton of comebacks and really cement their status in the industry
- BLACKPINK comeback with a drastically new sound
- New producers and concepts all around