Evolution of K-Pop: SM Through the Years — First Gen, Pt. 1

Since Lee Soo Man founded SM Entertainment in the 1990s, the company has accumulated a lot of history. From controversies, to idols just straight-up leaving the company, SM has been through a lot. Today we w ill go through the first-generation groups of SM. Those artists include: H.O.T, S.E.S, Shinhwa, R&B duo Fly to the Sky and BoA. Within these first few groups that SM produced came the first controversies from the company. From the very beginning, SM was infamous for poor treatment of its idols. (Surprise, surprise).

It seems that SM Entertainment has quite the history of groups disbanding and leaving the company. Ever since H.O.T left the company in 2001, it is thought that SM has a “five-year curse” with their groups. The five-year curse refers to groups that were under SM but held their contracts with the company for only five years. Of course, some groups chose to get together under a different company, but others just opted out completely. 
H.O.T debuted in 1996 under SM. They are considered to be one of the first K-Pop idol groups. It was with them that SM first used their essential company method (a system of producing that they created) and led them to continue using that method for later successes. H.O.T consisted of members  Moon Hee-joon, Jang Woo-hyuk, Tony An, Kangta and Lee Jae-won. During their career with SM, H.O.T slayed the charts, selling over 12 million records within the five-year time.
Even with their successes, there was a disagreement with the group’s contract. I believe it was a disagreement of the individual pay each member was receiving. It was Tony, Jae-won and Woo-hyuk that had decided to leave the company because they could not come to an agreement. With this disbandment, fans got so upset that they protested against SM, blocking the streets and throwing rocks at the company’s headquarters. And with that, the group didn’t reunite until this Feb. 17, 2018, on Infinite Challenge, performing “Warrior’s Descendant.”

Along with H.O.T, SM had debuted a girl group called S.E.S (Bada, Eugene and Shoo), which gained more popularity toward the end of their career. S.E.S are considered to be SM’s first highly successful girl group, even though their life as a group was short-lived. It was in 2002 where Bada’s and Eugene’s contracts with SM had come to a close, and they decided to leave the company. Shoo was the only one to stay with the company after that. But even that only lasted for another four years.
After the group disbanded, they ended up celebrating what would have been their ten-year anniversary in 2007. In 2016, the group decided to make a comeback, which was almost 20 years after their initial debut. (Crazy, right?)

As Lee Soo Man started producing said groups, the mistreatment of idols began. To accompany H.O.T and S.E.S, Shinhwa (consisting of members Eric Mun, Lee Min-woo, Kim Dong-wan, Shin Hye-sung, Jun Jin and Andy Lee)debuted under SM in 1998.


In the early 2000s, Shinhwa left the company on bad terms (along with mistreatment, one member was not given a contract offering after that five to seven years and decided to leave), transferring to another company called Good Entertainment. Including Shinhwa, SM Entertainment now had an extensive list of recording artists that have left the company on horrible terms. Shinhwa is the only one to have pursued the entertainment industry after after their contract ended. Eventually Shinhwa went off by themselves and successfully created their own company and have continued to produce their own music successfully.
Before Shinhwa was able to create a company successfully for themselves, of course they also had a lot of legal struggles when they left SM Entertainment. After their initial contracts ended, Soo Man offered renewals for all members, excluding Dongwan. With the group’s choice to move to a different company, Soo Man denied them permission to continue using the name Shinhwa outside of SM. Thus begun the battle of legal issues that went on for 12 years. After 2015, Shinhwa had renamed their agency from ShinCom to Shinhwa Company, because they had finally won the battle with Joon Media (Joon Media, formerly known as Open-World Entertainment,had obtained the rights to brand names in 2006, and somehow the rights of the name Shinhwa went to them.)

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If you’ve been a K-Pop fan for a while, you know that every company has had their own type of controversy through the years. But SM, being one of the top three companies in the industry, is most known for the amount of groups that chose to disband. None of their first-generation groups are together under SM anymore. It seems as though the entertainment company always ends up doing something crappy, which then makes a group want to disband and leave the company completely.
Of course, even with the amount of controversies SM Entertainment has accumulated over time, there is one good thing. Their groups are most top-heavy in the first generation. They were the first company to make a go of it, so they had artists from everywhere. However, each generation has at most three groups that ever promote heavily at the same time. So not every artist gets their time to shine in the company unless they are one of the main moneymakers.
Overall, SM is the one company who has the most a) members leave b) lawsuits, and c) flat-out disbandments. In the next article, I will go over the few other groups that are placed in SM Entertainment’s first generation of idols, in the same fashion I have here. I look forward to sharing my research with you.
(Asian Junkie, Kprofiles [1][2], Wikipedia.)

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