Feature

Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: YG ENTERTAINMENT

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. 

YG Entertainment


The Good

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!


The Bad

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

Previous years: 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016

22 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: YG ENTERTAINMENT

  1. I remember seeing a Blackpink interview where someone asked them how many songs would there be on their new album. They had confidently stated that they followed a quality over quantity approach. Obviously, their album had neither but I kept thinking if Blackpink had also been brainwashed into thinking this by YG (just like their fans) or are they part of the scam?

    I felt bad for them at one point but now I don’t. They are earning $$$$, have exclusive sponsorships from top companies and heavy industry clout and they choose to leverage nothing to make their company make a better musical brand for them!

    Anyways, I am just tired of YG saying quality over quantity. It’s not a fact as much as it is a marketing campaign (at least that’s how, I see it). The only song that was on repeat this year from YG was Treasure’s Darari! Also, I wish they were more clear about BigBang’s comeback…Are they going to make a group comeback? Not even sure if YG’s investors know.

    Where the other groups are concerned, it was ok! Nothing on repeat nor particularly memorable. Like SM, they have some tremendous artists but lack vision. Going a step ahead, YG seems to also lack in proper management. Its sad to see how these mighty companies have fallen.

    My Grade: C-

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I live in the south (of the US). Down here, we have more than 4 seasons:
    Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, Spring of Deception, Third Winter, The Pollening, Actual Spring, Summer, Hell’s Front Porch, False Fall, Second Summer, Actual Fall, Winter.

    YG right now is in Second Summer. Thanks to influencer culture boosting BlackPink and YG’s fortunes temporarily, it seems like summer but on the calendar it is actually November and Winter is coming.

    I mean, it was 80F here on Monday (=26C). My kids were in shorts.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. They could have capitalized on Ikon and Kingdom. Hell, the reaction Ikon got at KAMP on my timeline should have hipped them to maybe putting together a tour, a live album, releasing Full DaSH officially? So many people going “how do I stan? Why didn’t I know they were good?” For that and the Blackpink garbage album they get a D from me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I recently rewatched a decent chunk of Kingdom and it remains incredibly baffling how YG dumped a bunch of $$ into the show (maybe too much – on rewatch the sets stand out a lot more than the music) and then did absolutely nothing with them for more than a year. I pulled up their Wikipedia page to remind myself of the dates, and the entries for the last two years are miniscule. Being a fan of a YG group seems like a huge drag.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely forgot that Winner even released music this year.

    I think Yedam is a great loss, I loved Wayo. But I think he is young enough to still have a great chance in the music industry if he so wishes to still pursue it.

    iKon had a great single but they just haven’t capitalised on Kingdom whatsoever and it is a wasted opportunity.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Winner’s title track did pretty well actually, plus them being in the festival scene helped them back in the public eye. Plus they’re everywhere in TV. Arguably after Big Bang and Blackpink they’re the YG artists who are well-known gp-wise this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m surprised by the grade you gave YG. SM Entertainment did much better than them this year, yet you gave them a C and YG a C+. It’s minor, but I feel SM deserves a B for their performance this year and YG a C- (and that’s me being nice).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I was going back and forth between a C and a C+ for this one. Like you said, it’s a minor distinction, but whether I like it or not I’m kind of grading each agency on a curve. What I expect from SM is different from what I expect from YG. Compared to other years in their history, I think YG did a slightly better job with their artists in 2022. Still nothing to be super proud of, though!

      Like

  6. C or lower sounds about right. If I were to list my 50 favorite songs from YG, would anything from 2022 make the list? I honestly don’t think so. The best thing: a new release from Blackpink that is a guilty pleasure for me, and at least we did get one song from Bigbang. The bad: Blackpink (omg, the lyrics; I might enjoy them more if they sang it in Korean; at least that way, I wouldn’t know how awful they are), and we only got one song from Bigbang. I had high hopes for more.

    With YG and SM clearly in the doldrums, and BTS on indefinite hiatus, kpop does seem a bit rudderless at the moment. Hope that changes soon!

    Like

  7. I often wonder what Blackpink would be like under another agency. With better music and their fandom power they would be unstoppable, more global than they are right now.

    Treasure are the group keeping YG afloat in my personal regard. Darari, Hello, and VolKno were some of 2022’s best songs, and it just goes to show if they give their artists actual comebacks the agency would be so much more to us listeners. Definitely going to miss Yedam’s voice though.

    Like

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  10. To be honest, YG as a whole isn’t putting enough musically content to stay relevant as a company in Kpop or as a label globally. If it wasn’t for Blackpink, I don’t know if they would be making any noise (and I say this as a Winner fan).

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in any company meetings about Ikon. Clearly, there is still a fanbase that wants to follow them. But…does YG even care? I’ve seen a lot of people say that they gave up on the group once B.I. left. But, Starship (as seen with Monsta X post-Wonho) and Cube (post-Soojin) prove that companies can still push groups after popular members leave. YG also managed to rebrand Winner after losing a member with “Really Really”, so I’m not sure why YG hasn’t made the same effort with Ikon.(I also hope this isn’t foreshadowing for Treasure post Yedam and Mashiho as well.)

    Finally, there have been rumors of a new girl group for years coming from YG Nick. But, I wouldn’t believe anything until the company drops a “Coming Soon” teaser.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Top YG single this year for me was Ikon. It’s in my top 5 songs for the year, and I’m not an Ikon fan at all. I was very disappointed by Bigbangs comeback, I missed those guys so much! Blackpinks music is getting more bland a souless. And Yedam was the only thing I cared about with treasure. Overall I agree with your assesments.
    Also how on earth did Winner get nominated for best vocal at MAMA? I like them and the song was lovely, but their live performance of it was so terrible vocally I didn’t finish any of their stages. I think Mnet is trying to keep YG coming to their channel after the big return last year.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Usually the YG sound isn’t my thing – but this year I’ll be honest to say I liked quite a bit of their stuff.

    Blackpink isn’t for me and so I won’t say much. But Shut Down was actually kinda enjoyable. I did hum it willingly and happily for a while which in my books is a big thing when it comes to Blackpink songs.

    iKon : I did like their song but I didn’t listen to it much. It kinda faded away. Still it was pretty nice.

    Bigbang : Since I don’t have much of a nostalgic attachment to them a fansong would not tug my strings the same way, still I understand what it means.

    Now the group that really pushed YG up on my charts this year is none other than Treasure! All 3 of their songs – Jikjin, Darari (yes this counts too because that rock version slaps) and Hello – all of them have a great staying power and I enjoyed them completely! While I’m only noticing Treasure now, even I have heard about some of their notable members and I completely understand how upset fans are with Bang Yedam and Mashiho leaving. Still I would like to mention from a casual outsider perspective – maybe this works for everyone.

    Honestly Hello was my favorite of the three songs and probably one of my most favorite songs this year so far – and interestingly it did not have the above two members. I feel Treasure definitely can go on without them – it won’t be the same for those who have been following them for a long time (And I completely understand this because I’m not sure if Oneus will be the same for me ever again either) – yet, I feel hopeful Treasure can go forward. And Bang Yedam as a soloist and going into production might just be what works out so much better for him as an artist too!

    Liked by 2 people

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