“I determine my worth”…Why did Blackpink’s Jennie and EXO’s Baekhyun open a ‘one-person agency’?

‘Standing alone’ began in earnest around the third generation, led by Blackpink’s Jennie, who expanded K-pop beyond Asia to the US and Europe. [Provided by YG Entertainment]
‘Standing alone’ began in earnest around the third generation, led by Blackpink’s Jennie, who expanded K-pop beyond Asia to the US and Europe. [Provided by YG Entertainment]

[Herald Economy = Reporter Ko Seung-hee] “Even if the path I take is strange and different from others, I will do well. “I wanted to be free to do all my activities.” (Blackpink Jennie)

9 years since debut, superstar Blackpink commands the world. Among them, Jennie, the ‘iconic member’ who established Blackpink’s image, said this about the reason she left YG Entertainment and established a one-person agency, ‘Oud Atelier (OA).’ Not only Jennie, but also Jisoo, another member of Blackpink, continues her personal activities as a one-person agency with her older brother.

The popular music world is currently undergoing a tectonic shift. ‘Standing alone’ began in earnest, centered around the third generation (groups that debuted from 2013 to 2018 when BTS appeared), who expanded K-pop beyond Asia to the United States and Europe. Members of third-generation K-pop groups often break away from their existing agencies and look for new companies where they can pursue individual activities to their heart’s content. Recently, ‘one-person agencies’ have emerged as a trend.

According to the music industry, in recent months, a number of K-pop group members, including Blackpink’s Jennie and Jisoo, EXO’s Baekhyun (INB100), Dio (Susu Company), and Pentagon’s Kino (Naked), have been setting up their own companies.

Super Junior’s Donghae and Eunhyuk, who have had a long relationship with SM Entertainment, also established a new company, Odd Entertainment, for their individual activities. Eunhyuk said on the company’s official YouTube channel, “The idea was to create a new vision,”and Donghae shared the background of the company’s establishment by saying, “We talked a lot about taking a new path.”So far, Donghae has shown excellent composing, and Eunhyuk has shown excellent sense in choreography and stage direction.

The emergence of one-person agencies in the world of popular culture is not just yesterday or today. There has already been a boom in one-person agencies about 10 years ago, centered around actors and broadcasters. However, the ‘one-person agency’ phenomenon, which has been taking place in the K-pop industry since last year, is similar to the existing one but is also somewhat different. This is especially true in that K-pop group members who have influence around the world are at the center.

Recruitment notice for an infant health functional food brand run by Blackpink Jisoo’s older brother.
Recruitment notice for an infant health functional food brand run by Blackpink Jisoo’s older brother.

Their ‘challenge’ has a slightly more complicated meaning and story. The contract practices and systems that have dominated the music industry and the belated ‘awakening’ have played a big part. According to the industry, the profit settlement scandal caused by actor and singer Lee Seung-gi and his former agency, Hook Entertainment, became a kind of shock wave to fellow and junior singers of similar age. Around this time, there were instances where multiple group members belonging to different agencies tried to match each other’s ‘settlement details’. During this process, there was a lot of ‘same-dreaming’.

Summarizing Herald Economy’s coverage, no matter how transparently and rationally an agency settles profits, there are discrepancies in profit distribution conditions. Accordingly, there has been a need for artists to determine and increase ‘my value’ for themselves. In the industry, it is said that “the more members of a group with a larger fandom, the more difficult it is for the agency to meet the conditions they set.”

The exclusive contract period for idol groups specified in the standard contract is usually 7 years. In the popular music world, the term ‘Seven Years of Demon’ arose because of this. This is because this period is at the crossroads of contract renewal and dissolution. In the past, neither the agency nor the group had many options, but now there are a variety of options, including renewing the contract, disbanding, maintaining group activities after leaving the existing agency and dispersing, and establishing one’s own agency solely for group activities.

A choice that has recently emerged as a trend is the two-track strategy, which combines group and individual activities. It is a compromise where the agency will have the ‘group’s reputation’, but each person will enjoy the ‘individual glory’. Of course, this does not apply to all members of each group. Each individual’s choice is the biggest criterion, but along with this, ‘individual influence’ becomes an important factor in breaking away from the fence and making a new start. An official from a large domestic music agency said, “If each member has a fan base that allows them to hold fan meetings and world tours and work as a solo singer in acting, advertising, or acting as a solo singer, they can set up a one-person agency.”

EXO Baekhyun [provided by INB100]
EXO Baekhyun [provided by INB100]

The strengths of a one-person agency are freedom of movement and income. The best advantage is that if the members themselves have ‘brand power’, they can efficiently manage all schedules, activities, and profits. Another music agency official said, “If you belong to an agency, you can receive stable support, but there are bound to be restrictions on your activities.” He added, “As the company considers both the group and individual images, there are many schedules that are cut out in the middle. “You can independently judge and decide on all of this and quench your thirst for activity restrictions,” he said.

In addition, the establishment of a one-person agency is also a way for idol members who have reached a certain level of success to not only pioneer their own path as artists but also expand their territory by nurturing juniors. When you belong to a group, it is difficult to find your own musical style because you cannot deviate from the set concept, but when you leave the company, you can work with any concept you want. Led by JYP producer Park Jin-young, we will learn about the success stories of expanding into producers who nurture younger singers, including Zico from Block B (KOZ Entertainment) and Jay Park from 2PM (hip-hop label AOMG, Higher Music, entertainment agency More Vision). It allowed me to seek a new vision beyond being an artist and becoming a producer.

However, there are many mountains to overcome. This is because these people, who have been working as trainees since childhood and have grown up as artists, may be ‘illiterate’ when it comes to business. Because of this, there are many concerns about company operations and system management. An industry official said, “Compared to large agencies, we lack systematic know-how, so we may experience trial and error from income issues to risk management.”

However, we need to watch how they take on the challenge. The ‘standing alone’ of K-pop group members is also meaningful in that it presents more possibilities for those who have difficulty finding new paths due to their short career span despite their global fame. In a recent interview with SISTAR’s Hyorin, she said, “I wanted to try a variety of things, so I set up a one-person agency, but running it was actually very difficult. There were many times when I thought about quitting because there were so many difficulties, but now I’m creating something of my own.””There is a sense of pride in that,” he said.


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