It’s safe to say that 2019 was definitely not YG Entertainment’s year. The once renowned agency suffered the sharpest fall from grace in the history of Kpop: from dating scandals to illegal activities, it seems the future of the company is precariously hanging in the balance. But will it fall? What would it take for YG to pull itself back from the brink?
Let’s take it back to the 1st January 2019. The year started with a bang for YG as Blackpink’s Jennie was revealed to be dating Kai from EXO. Immediately, this hit the headlines and they were immediately branded the next top idol couple. Yet the news was an unwelcome surprise for some EXO fans, who chastised her for dating “too early” in her career. Despite being in the industry for over 2 years, Blackpink only had a handful of songs to their name – a point of contention in itself – and were considered to be rookies due to their inexperience. Her reputation as “YG’s princess” didn’t help and this, coupled with the bubbling criticism toward YG for “neglecting” Blackpink’s activities, put the company in the firing line.
Little did they know that the worst was yet to come. Not even a month later, the infamous Burning Sun scandal unravelled before the public’s eyes. An investigation into an assault in the Burning Sun nightclub quickly spiralled into a national scandal that exposed some of the biggest idols as criminals. Seungri, of the mega-popular group BIGBANG, was revealed to be at the centre of the scandal: he owned a share in the club that served as a base for illegal drug use and sexual assault. Leaked Kakaotalk conversations between Seungri and Burning Sun staff indicated that he ordered staff to supply foreign investors with prostitutes, a serious offence in South Korea. Not only that, but he’d also engaged in group chats with other celebrities distributing and discussing videos of non-consensual sexual encounters with intoxicated women. This rightfully enraged millions of people across the globe, who were incensed that their crimes were repeatedly covered up through police corruption.
This had a huge knock on effect on YG’s stock prices. Despite the desperate attempts at damage control on their part, their prices plunged by nearly 5% in the immediate aftermath, falling even further after Yang Hyun-Suk himself was accused of solicitation and later left the helm. The company seemed to be collapsing in on itself as it struggled to regain control of the situation.
A string of unfortunate events followed in the wake of the Burning Sun scandal. Prominent artists signed to YG, such as Lee Hi, CL and B.I of IKON terminated their contracts, with the latter two parting on bad terms. B.I was accused of drug use and removed from the company whilst CL openly expressed her disappointment with YG for failing to promote her properly in Korea and the US. As well as driving stock prices down even more, these departures raised questions concerning YG’s practises as an agency. Why were allegations of drug use swirling around so many of their artists? Why have several of their idols taken long unexplained hiatuses? The former powerhouse had lost its way, drowning in scandal.
But what could YG do to remedy the damage? We’ve entered a new year now, and with that, YG has the perfect opportunity to rise once again. It’s not as if it’s a small company – it still has the finances to anchor itself firmly within the realm of the “Big 4.”
Perhaps if they curbed their tendency to place their artists in the “dungeon” of inactivity and instead worked on building the profile of acts such as Blackpink, YG could be revived. Refocusing the narrative onto the music rather than controversy could overhaul their public image whilst maintaining that YG “hip-hop” magic they’ve perfected. It’d show commitment to their artists whilst earning them more popularity.
Seungri’s announcement that “YG is literally in crisis” certainly rings true. At the time of writing, YG is still on shaky ground – there seems to be a lot of talk about upcoming projects, new groups and fashion lines but none have come to fruition yet. Claims that their groups will have comebacks in the near future are promising however, and it does look like YG is making a real effort to make 2020 their year. Hopefully it isn’t the beginning of the end for the agency, as they house some of the most talented + influential artists in the industry – it’d be a shame if that were to go to waste.
Opinions expressed are solely the writer’s own and may not represent the views or opinions of UnitedKpop Ltd.