It’s the middle of 2019, and already it’s been the most ridiculous year since the hell fire that swept through 2014 (and again in 2016, and arguably 2017 for a couple very specific reasons). Without a doubt it’s been the year of YG Entertainment, but not for anything particularly good. Sure BlackPink and to a certain extent iKon have been making waves, but the real tsunami has been from the recesses of K-pop’s underbelly.
Starting all the way back in February, with what is now referred to as “Burning Sun-gate,” YG Entertainment has been under a huge microscope. It all came to a head when founder, CEO and all-around image of YG, Yang Hyun-suk, announced that he, along with his younger brother, will be stepping away from the company for good.
So … where do we even start?
Wendilynn: I think we start by recognizing where the culture used to be at. I remember in the Korean drama “Rooftop Prince” when the boys get their first paychecks, they automatically try to give part of it to their boss. He was upset at the bribe, but the boys didn’t understand that they weren’t supposed to bribe anyone anymore. Under President Park’s administration (and every one before that) there was an expected level of bribery and schmoozing that everyone did as just part of business.
YHS grew up during this very corrupt time when that’s how you did business. Part of what is getting Seungri into so much trouble is the SOP of the club scene, like the tax evasion stuff. It looks shocking, until you realize that all the clubs do this. It’s not exclusive to Burning Sun or the other clubs. For goodness sake, Wall Street has been taking investors to strip clubs for decades. This has been the way you do business for a long time, and now it’s coming to bite them in the butt because these guys got rich this way and aren’t interested in changing.
JESSICA: At the end of 2018, it really did look like Seungri would prove to YG what he was capable of, that YG would finally step down and let someone new take the reins. A new era of YG was coming in 2019! This is NOT how I envisioned this happening. Be specific in your hopes and goals, everyone.
Granted, unless YG actually goes to jail, I can’t imagine massive changes in the company’s future. He still has stock and therefore a voice in the happenings. That being said, that hasn’t stopped my mini-celebration. For the first time in quite a while, I feel hope for YG’s future.
The news comes at an interesting time. If my math is right, Winner, Akdong Musician, Lee Hi’s contracts should be expiring within the next two years. Given YG’s lack of support, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lee Hi and Akdong Musician signed with a new company, especially with P Nation and Epik High’s company up and running. Perhaps with some fresh blood (Or a CEO who’s willing to put the work in), this could mean good things.
Wendilynn: They’ll have to get a very impressive CEO to keep everyone from jumping ship. The problem, is are the other companies any different? We don’t like being confronted with corruption. We like to think that mankind is progressing, but this thing is so bad with every vice you can think of being shown, it makes it hard to want to see YG continue. But they aren’t the only ones doing this stuff.
With Yang Hyun-suk still a major stockholder and all his managers his cronies and trained staff, it’s going to be business as usual behind the scenes. I’m having a hard time seeing anyone able to fix this. These old guys, trained in a corrupt system, training the young kids on this system … who can really come out of this and say they’re clean?
Cy: I honestly don’t think anyone is naive enough to believe the other big companies are any different. Especially those who’ve been following K-pop for at least 10 years (or have been an intensive student of the subgenre for the last five or six). Certainly no one who knows anything about the music business in general believes this is specific to South Korea. Those who are truly jaded would agree with you both. Unless someone in power ends up in jail, nothing is really going to change that much.
What really, really bothers me about this is just how prone to throwing artists under the bus this company is. Particularly if they’ve got documented mental and emotional health issues. First Bom, then T.O.P, then B.I. All of it having to do with drugs. All being horribly overexaggerated and undersupported by the company. Two of which have zero proof that anything illegal actually happened.
Now, we’re all aware that mental health care is all but nonexistent at this time in Korea (though hopefully improving). We also know that SM Entertainment has a very bad track record with taking care of its young artists. But this is about YG, and YG has a not-so-great issue with timing, drawing more attention to their shit than less. All of this in-depth probing about YG’s financials, suddenly B.I is outed by a female informant because he considered taking a psychotropic drug (though there’s no proof that he actually did). Then YG steps down. We all know it’s more symbolic than anything else. But the timing of it, and the gut-wrenching truth that the artists are the ones suffering for the sins of powerful old men.
Wendilynn: The timing is terrible. You’d think they’d know better. B.I. is clearly being made an example of when in reality, compassion and help should be offered. Most people trying drugs aren’t doing it because they are happy people. South Korea already makes soju insanely cheap so people can self-medicate with alcohol, but that doesn’t help.
My worry is that people will just blame instead of trying to fix the problem. The powerful involved in these things certainly don’t want to stop, so they aren’t interested in seeing the problem fixed. If they can blame these kids and make them seem the problem, then it becomes a sick piece of redirection. With the South Korean penchant for treating all gossip as if it’s true, it’s rather effective.
Missa: My biggest question mark in the whole mess is what is going to happen to the rest of the artists still on contract with YG?
By this point we know they don’t really have a reliable foundation to stand on. I can’t imagine from the perspective of BlackPink, who are so young, or even the rest of Big Bang, who are stuck in the military and seeing this all happen, that they have any solid hope right now for what might happen after all of this. I do think it’s fair to assume that things will continue to run the same if YG is still around and not replaced by someone with a lot of power or presence. But I can’t imagine being an idol under the YG label right now and having any compulsion to stay.
We don’t know everything that happens behind closed doors, but I would be packing my bags. I think I would be more afraid to go down with the ship at this point. I would cut my losses and jump. I doubt that Big Bang will continue with any content. Maybe solo activity from GD and Taeyang since YG knows they’ll profit, but the second generation is really coming to the end after all of this mess.
JESSICA: As someone who came in during second-generation K-pop, that really breaks my heart. I know it’s been a long time coming, but wow, it hurts.
As for who’s staying or leaving, I’m honestly not sure. I totally had money on BigBang when their contracts were up, especially with all of them having their own individual careers. They’ve totally seen YG’s underhanded dealings but stayed for whatever reasons. I predict that Winner and maybe BlackPink will stay, but AKMU and Lee Hi are out the door. This year might show what iKon will do, but it’s no telling. I mean, Super Junior and TVXQ are still with SM despite years of troubles and losing half of the groups.
Poor Treasure 13, though. Their fate was already in the air after the last group didn’t debut. I can’t imagine how terrified they are right now.
But I’m still curious about why now? Burning Sun was his company, and this whole scandal started four months ago. While I understand that arrests and investigations didn’t happen immediately, this has been an extensive investigation with seemingly no end in sight. What special turn of events, what Konami code of happenings occurred that YG now felt the need to step down?
Let’s put it in this context. Burning Sun broke January 28. Seungri retired from K-Pop about six weeks later. No news from YG, just him apologizing for the inconvenience and an awkward attempt to promote his other artists.
Meanwhile, I went to bed one night and by the time I woke up, B.I scandal dropped and he left iKon. Then the brothers Yang step down. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?
This couldn’t have just suddenly sprung from his desire to do the right thing. There’s been reports of B.I’s police report going missing. With all of the police involved in Burning Sun, perhaps that was the straw that broke YG’s back. Yes, I compared him to a camel. I don’t think it’s particularly unfair. Maybe a bit insulting to the camel, but I’m sticking with it.
Cy: If I’m being honest, it makes sense he’d decide this was the time to step down. Think about it. The Burning Sun thing, okay, he can deal with that since prosittiution in business dealings is only shocking on the surface. Plus Seungri and all his little group chat homies took all the heat off anyone who could possibly have any more influence than the idols themselves. With B.I throwing himself under the bus, YG just took the opportunity to say, “Hey, none of this is my fault. See how my artists are free to do what they want? I’ll take one for the team and show everyone that I’ll do what’s best for the greater good.”
But as I said above, his stepping down is really just symbolic. It’s face value and doesn’t really mean much because, again, he’s not exactly being forced to take responsibility for any of this. He’s still letting his artists, those most vulnerable, take the biggest brunt of all the attention and the social downfall. Call me cynical, but none of this is either surprising or unexpected. It just seems outrageous because there are now more loud baby K-pop fans than jaded old heads who’ve seen it all at this point.
What do you all think? Care to weigh in? Leave a comment below!