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Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, IST, Jellyfish)

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.

If you’re curious to read my thoughts on these agencies from last year, click here for part one and here for part two!

Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022_ Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, IST, Jellyfish)


Brand New Music

Brand New Music has a way of staying very busy in the industry, yet leaving little mark. They debuted boy group YOUNITE in 2022 and things started out pretty solid for them. Everybody pointed toward a fun retro concept in keeping with the agency’s strengths. But, follow-up comebacks were the worst kind of generic boy group bluster. The incredibly promising BDC seem to have been shelved in favor of these underwhelming YOUNITE albums. That’s a shame.

Brand New Music’s veteran group AB6IX continued to release music in 2022 but without a sense of growth — either artistically or commercially. The agency’s brightest star seems to be Lee Daehwi, who won KBS’s producer-focused variety show Listen Up and continues to be in high demand.

D+


Cube Entertainment

As with past years, Cube Entertainment continues to hitch most of their fortunes to the success of (G)I-DLE. That approach is paying off. Though I haven’t liked any of the group’s music this year, there’s no denying their chart success. Veteran act BTOB were able to make a comeback as a full group at the start of the year. They have an incredibly stable fanbase and largely play to them while solo releases allow for a bit of spice in their ballad-heavy repertoire. With ten years under their belt, it feels like BTOB are in this for the long run.

Pentagon and LIGHTSUM each had one comeback this year. Both seemed to come and go with little fanfare. Pentagon are in the middle of enlistment woes, while LIGHTSUM lost a couple members last month. I worry more about them than the already-established Pentagon, but neither act made much ripples in 2022.

C+


DSP Media

In my opinion, DSP Media has really bungled the roll-out of Mirae. I picked them as my favorite rookies last year, but 2022 didn’t bear that out at all. They’re just not getting the songs or promo they need despite having so much potential and talent. DSP has yet to fulfill the promise showcased in their debut track and the buzz seems to have died down considerably. I really hope they can turn it around.

KARD made their long-awaited return this year with music that reminded us how fantastic their debut-era material was. Sales were okay, but Ring The Alarm didn’t leave much of a mark. Again, DSP Media is having a hard time finding the killer songs they need to stand out.

D


Fantagio Music

Fantagio’s main musical breadwinners are Astro, and it’s gonna be a tough couple of years as military enlistments rear their head. I assume the agency will be relying on their large roster of actors to keep things chugging along. With member MJ enlisting, Fantagio was smart to keep the Astro train going through a group comeback and multiple sub-units. These releases saw varying levels of success, but they kept the brand afloat. Member Cha Eunwoo continues to be a superstar and seems to be branching into many different aspects of the industry. He’ll have a long career regardless of what happens to the agency itself.

Weki Meki continued their “now you see them, now you don’t” approach without a single comeback in 2022. I’ll never understand Fantagio’s plans for them. They’re treated like an afterthought despite overflowing with potential superstars. Honestly, the agency seems done with them.

C


FNC Entertainment

FNC are probably big enough to warrant their own feature, but I don’t have too much to say about them. They continue to chug along, never taking center stage in the industry but always finding success with their large and diverse roster. Apart from Cherry Bullet (who hardly ever release music) and AOA (who seem to be disbanded in all-but name), FNC has turned into an agency of male idols and actors/actresses.

Sales-wise, SF9 continue to lead FNC’s pack, but younger group P1Harmony are nipping at their heels. P1Harmony have invested a lot of time promoting in the States, and that seems to be paying off for them even as their Korean notoriety remains comparatively small.

Veteran groups FTIsland and CNBLUE didn’t release anything in 2022 but remain feathers in the agency’s cap. Meanwhile, N.Flying made one last comeback before going on enlistment hiatus. Overall, 2022 was a steady but unexciting year for FNC.

C+


IST Entertainment

IST_Entertainment_logo

IST is a combination of several agencies, and seems intent on sucking as many idols into its hellscape as possible. There are plenty of successful groups to be found here, but most seem to lack any overarching concept or artistic mission.

The Boyz remain one K-pop’s most promising groups, but the quality of their discography doesn’t bear that out. IST continues to give them underwhelming (and often downright bad) material. It’s as if the agency has never given consideration to their musical legacy. Add a grueling (and inefficient) schedule to the mix and you’ve got the recipe for burnout.

Victon have fared better when it comes to music, but they’ve had a tricky year dealing with member departures and hiatuses. Meanwhile, debut group ATBO is a mess. So far, they’ve been given assembly-line music with no character. Seriously, is IST’s A&R team composed of AIs? They certainly don’t seem to care about originality.

Weeekly were yet another victim of awful musical choices. They endured a sonic reinvention that no one asked for. But, their album sales increased, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

The brightest star in IST’s orbit is their most veteran group: Apink. Frankly, they’ve lucky to have these girls among their rank. I don’t think their 2022 album was among the best in their discography, but at least it felt thought-out and well-considered.

D


Jellyfish Entertainment

Given their shrinking roster, I’m not sure I should even include Jellyfish in this write-up anymore. I mean, when it comes to music they’re pretty much just VERIVERY at this point. Yes, we had a solo release from VIXX’s Leo in 2022, but I’m not holding my breath for a group reunion anytime soon.

However, something seems to have happened with VERIVERY this month. It could end up being a blip, but their new album is boasting incredible sales and snagging them multiple music show wins – a feat that is definitely new to them. Are fans just happily supporting the return to a bright concept, or did something happen in 2022 to permanently raise their fortunes? Time will tell, but I applaud Jellyfish for sticking with them through thick and thin. However, this doesn’t change the fact that it was a pretty dull year for the agency overall.

C


In part two, I’ll take a look at KQ, MLD, P-Nation, RBW, Top Media, WakeOne, WM and Yuehua. We’ve got to have something above a “C” there, right??

25 thoughts on “Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, IST, Jellyfish)

  1. I would bump up Cube’s grade by at least a letter because of (G)I-DLE’s success. What they’ve done in the aftermath of losing a popular member is something I’m not sure a lot of people would have predicted. Also, I’m glad we get to see a group of women have a great deal of a creative control in their music and concept in a industry where that can be hard to find.

    Also, kudos for Cube for continuing to support BTOB. They seem to still enjoy the idol business, so I hope they continue for as long as they want to.

    I’m happy for Verivery and I hope this is a sign of things to come since Jellyfish doesn’t really have anything else going on.

    Do we think Cha Eunwoo renews with Astro and Fantagio? I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about this, but I think the group’s contact comes up for renewal in 2023? I also haven’t heard if they have a new boy group in the queue.

    P1Harmony has a comeback soon, so I am looking forward to what they have in store. I also wonder if FNC will start to push some of the group into acting (Intak in particular) next year. SF9 already has a few members like Rowoon booking gigs left and right, and FNC threw a lot of money into the P1Harmony pre-debut movie. But, I don’t think anyone from the group has even had a cameo on a drama since then.

    Other than that, I don’t know if there is too much to say about the other groups/companies in this review. Unless we see a major hit or debut, I think we may find all of these companies in a similar place next year.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, I was probably a bit hard on Cube. I just didn’t like any of their music this year and that’s the biggest factor for me. But judging by commercial success and impact only, they should probably be higher.

      You’re right about Astro’s contract, and I never even questioned whether he would re-sign or not. Now you have me thinking!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was on vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday, so I’m catching up on these posts. I would agree about (G)I-DLE, I’m not really a fan (although I love some of the adjacent stuff, like Minnie’s Getaway, Yuqi’s Bonnie and Clyde, and K/DA’s Pop Stars). One tune I’ve loved from the band this year is My Bag. I’ve been listening to that all year.

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  2. Didn’t Weki Meki’s Yoojung have a solo debut this year? I liked it but it felt breezy, didn’t have a lot of impact on me sadly. I hope the group isn’t actually done, they have some really good songs.

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  3. oh nick thebiaslist. i was so SO ready to see u rip the hellhole that is ist entertainment to shreds. in fact when i saw that u poster this very thread i audibly let out an evil giggle bc i was finally gonna see u give ur comeuppance to is(hi)t after the horrific year tbz had

    and……well….u kinda did. key word here is KINDA. yes im happy u called ist a hellhole. and i know u were trying to keep it short here. BUT to see u only scratch the surface of tbzs awful 2022…i cant help but feel a teeny bit disappointed

    welp. now that i got that all out of the way im just gonna rip ists shit wide open right here so that nick doesnt have to:
    – “inefficient schedule” is a MASSIVE understatement. first of all who the fuck schedules a tour only a MONTH after one of ur members announces a hiatus? and who the fuck makes the remaining members work on a mini while SIMULTANEOUSLY ON TOUR??? and who the fuck gives so little time in between the end of the tour and the subsequent comeback that their group cant even have a debut showcase bc they havent even fully prepared the choreo???????? like for a group known for their incredible inventive choreography that right there is a huge slap in the face. and also the fact that they had to go right to america and back in the middle of promotions to go to kcon
    – and speaking of members on hiatus there were barely any updates on how eric was doing from the company. not that big of an issue but it should still be said
    – also the tour itself was terribly planned as well…..not rlly a complete disaster like loonas tour was but multiple stops had to be cancelled (i was supposed to go to the dallas show and im STILL pissed) and there was hardly any time at all (only 1 day at most) for them to rest and it took its toll on the members health (ex: poor jacob had to deal w both long covid AND having to get painkiller injections)
    – and now for the comeback itself…..in terms of concept photos there was a VERY noticeable downgrade in terms of quality from their previous comebacks…..for 3 reasons: (a) hausofteam (the creative direction company that did the previous 3 comebacks and their identity films) couldnt participate due to contract and time constraints and (b) the guy they got instead was someone with literally NO creative direction OR styling experience to be in charge of their concept and it SHOWS and (c) the concept itself was. basically nonexistent lmao like u couldve sworn each of the concept photo sets were for entirely separate comebacks. and im not even gonna get into the “let it aware” bullshit (kevin already put ist on blast on pm for that lmao)…….i will say tho at least the whisper mv looked great
    – im not rlly gonna say much abt the music itself but. GOD that mini was so rushed and u can rlly hear it
    – and finally (and this is mostly a personal opinion)…..the fact that there was no hausofteam to be found. they were absolutely MADE for each other i cannot say this shit enough like they truly bought out everything that made tbz….well. tbz. their shared focus on identity and individuality and high concept stuff has resulted in some truly incredible stuff (cough the identity films cough) and roh sangyoons work gave them a rlly unique identity that u cant rlly find in other groups (he actually just had an interview abt this in cosmo korea where he talked about how they wanted to bring tbzs true raw selves out to the world) so seeing them go from smthn like mavericks concept to……whatever the fuck whisper era was is truly so heartbreaking to see like its SO so obvious that they spent like $20 on that cb and sunwoo recently saying that they havent rlly been able to express themselves concept wise is just twisting the knife even harder as a fan. they truly deserve so much better
    – im…..probably forgetting some other stuff lmao

    A. NY. WAYS. thats not to say it was a completely terrible year for them. hell they sold out a whole stadium for all 3 days of the seoul leg of their tour theyve been getting magazine brand deals left and right AND eric just came back from hiatus so things do seem to be looking up a bit. and theyve recently said that theyre gonna be putting a lot of time into their next cb so hopefully it doesnt get all fucked up and they can actually release the music w the proper budget/quality they deserve. so yeah tldr 2022 was a shit year for tbz so ist i hope to GOD that u dont fuck 2023 up too

    Liked by 1 person

  4. FNC is still mainly an agency for bands : Cn Blue, Ft Island and N.Flying were using to tour a lot in Japan. But COVID kinda changed things.

    But for me, the important is the groups released good music and I liked Cherry Bullet ‘s Love in Space, P1Harmony’s discography with Do It Like This and Doom Du Doom, they will release a song the next week too. SF9 had lost 2 members to the army, but their last concert together was great. Scream was a nice Summer song even if they were only 6 members and they could do a concert of 3h30 with their 6 members.

    They will have the new show Idol Band released in Korea and Japan.

    I’m happy that their old and original CEO is coming back!

    I don’t really care about the fact they were very successful or not, I’m just happy that could listen their music. I was disapointed with the N.Flying’s last single, it was kinda boring. They’re so better with energic songs >_<

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m pissed at DSP for their mismanagement of Mirae. Like super pissed. A comeback during the Summer would’ve total sense for them and I feel like some of members’, especially Khael, could have more individual opportunities. I don’t want people labelling Mirae as ‘Dongpyo and friends’ especially with their solid discography.

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  6. Pingback: Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: Part Two (KQ, MLD, P Nation, RBW, TOP, Wake One, WM, Yuehua) | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  7. Gonna go out on a limb and say KQ gets at least a B. I dunno what’s going on with BlockB but that’s par for the course. Ateez has had an amazing year, even with only one Korean release (which was fantastic). They’ve been performing everywhere, and having their main Japanese single be a great remix of an already great b-side made it feel like a more major release than some Japanese releases. Yeosang, Hongjoong, and Yunho are all hosting, and Jongho got an OST.

    I’ve also been really impressed with how they’re promoting the trainee group – having them open for the second NA tour was a pretty amazing way to get their faces out there and give them performance experience. I think of Maddox as a producer more than a soloist, but having him appear on the European tour (I think his youtube content picked up this year, too?) makes me wonder if he’s going to have another solo release next year.

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  8. Pingback: Grading the Okay-Pop Businesses 2022: Half Two (KQ, MLD, P Nation, RBW, TOP, Wake One, WM, Yuehua) – YouAreMy

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  12. 2022 has not been a good year as a the boyz fan… my only consolation is that things seem to be looking up for them so far after eric came back from a 9 (!) month hiatus, i.e more solo gigs for the members, and the supposedly november cb is pushed to next year which hopefully means the preparation wont be lackluster like whisper. in the midst of news of groups losing members left and right, im just happy eric took his time recovering and chose to continue. next week they will be having a fancon to celebrate their 5 year anniversary, i hope they perform their best songs aka right here and prism lol

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  13. Pingback: Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2022: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, Fantagio, FNC, IST, Jellyfish) | Beatsway

  14. Pingback: Song Review: P1Harmony – Back Down | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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