It’s not quite December yet, but I’m going to kick off this annual feature a little early this year! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at many of K-pop’s biggest agencies and offering my thoughts about how their 2021 went. Next up is JYP Entertainment.

As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. I’m not taking into account things like profits and stock value. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well K-pop agencies are serving their artists and fans.

The Good

JYP’s 2021 started off very slow, with no big Korean release until April. But, once they got going their artists released album after album. Along with SM Entertainment, I think they’re the most prolific of the big agencies.

JYP continues to be a trend leader in the industry, with ITZY’s sound steering so many other girl groups and Stray Kids’ self-composed hip-hop approach being adopted by more and more boy groups. And although I found both acts’ music very hit-or-miss this year, they’ve each had a successful year. Booking Stray Kids for Kingdom was a no-brainer and gave their already-popular brand even more clout. ITZY fleshed out their small discography in 2021 with more new music than ever. Both acts released bonus music videos to promote b-side tracks, which is a great way to entice a variety of fans.

Though Twice continue to inch toward that all-important contract renewal, their music has never been stronger. JYP has perfectly managed their maturation as artists. Their current work feels quite different from the songs released during their first few years, but the transition has never been jarring. As a fan, this journey has been satisfying to watch.

JYP Entertainment has also struck gold (again) in Japan, with girl group NiziU. Their debut has allowed the agency to focus more strategically on that territory rather than simply ship their Korean acts overseas. But even with their own J-pop group, the agency continues to pursue Japanese releases from their domestic artists. Too often, K-pop reports and news articles link “global” with “American” and forget the huge potential of the Japanese market. JYP’s global reach feels more balanced than many other agencies.

Veteran group 2PM are emblematic of this approach. They’ve always had a huge career in Japan, and their long-awaited 2021 return bore new material in both Korean and Japanese. JYP doesn’t have a great reputation retaining their older acts, but they did right by 2PM this year.

Finally, 2022 is looking to usher in a whole new era for JYP. They have no less than three new acts waiting in the wings. Band Xdinary Heroes seems first up for debut, followed by a new girl group and the boy group formed through competition series LOUD. On a personal note, I give JYP immense kudos for that series LOUD. It was by far the best K-pop “survival” show I’ve watched in years.

The Bad

The strength of new blood may also prove to be a stumbling block. I’m worried that JYP may be trying to do too much, too fast. With three big debuts scheduled for 2022, I wonder how equitably the resources will be distributed among these acts. Add another Nizi Project, and it seems like the agency is getting ahead of itself. It takes time to establish new acts in a meaningful way. Stray Kids are just getting there, while ITZY have a few more releases to fully cement themselves. I’d hate to see these groups get the shaft in favor of new debuts. But at the same time, I want those new debuts to enjoy ample promotion as well. I hope JYP’s multi-pronged A&R strategy is ready for this heavy deluge of new talent.

As we consider the new generation of JYP, it’s worth noting what the agency is doing (or not doing) for its older acts. Things are looking murky for DAY6, with limited support and a new band ready to fill their agency niche. I’d be pleasantly surprised if all members of Twice re-sign in 2022, but based on K-pop history I don’t have a ton of optimism.

JYP Entertainment has never shown much urgency when it comes to re-signing and promoting its older acts, and this might be a healthy tactic. But, it feels like 2022 will usher in dramatic change for the agency roster. GOT7 already cut ties at the beginning of this year, and I don’t think they’ll be the last act to pursue new ventures. JYP’s response will determine whether this becomes a strength or liability. I’ll be very curious to see where we’re at this time next year.

This is a much more subjective critique, but I feel like JYP has had a pretty weak year musically. I loved Twice’s latest album, but other than that nothing much has stuck out. Stray Kids’ 2021 was solid but not as strong as last year or the year before. Releases by ITZY, DAY6 and 2PM didn’t reach the highs of past glories and I just can’t get into NiziU’s sound. Other listeners may have a totally different opinion than mine, but compared to the other major agencies (outside of YG), JYP’s output felt a little… dull. I appreciate the vast pool of songwriters they draw from, but it would be nice to hear them re-establish a specific identity for the agency. I’m not sure I know what a “JYP song” sounds like anymore, which could be a strength of liability depending on how you look at it. I tend to lean toward the latter perspective.

2021 Grade: B-

Previous years: 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016

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Publisher: Nick