Disclaimer: As with my write-ups on K-Pop’s biggest agencies, this is written from an outsider’s perspective. I’m not privy to any business-related financial information beyond what any other fan would know. The purpose of these articles is to examine how well these agencies are serving their artists and the general K-pop fan-base.
If you’re curious to read my thoughts on these agencies from last year, click here for part one and here for part two!
Brand New Music
Brand New Music has a way of staying very busy in the industry, yet leaving little mark. They debuted boy group YOUNITE in 2022 and things started out pretty solid for them. Everybody pointed toward a fun retro concept in keeping with the agency’s strengths. But, follow-up comebacks were the worst kind of generic boy group bluster. The incredibly promising BDC seem to have been shelved in favor of these underwhelming YOUNITE albums. That’s a shame.
Brand New Music’s veteran group AB6IX continued to release music in 2022 but without a sense of growth — either artistically or commercially. The agency’s brightest star seems to be Lee Daehwi, who won KBS’s producer-focused variety show Listen Up and continues to be in high demand.
As with past years, Cube Entertainment continues to hitch most of their fortunes to the success of (G)I-DLE. That approach is paying off. Though I haven’t liked any of the group’s music this year, there’s no denying their chart success. Veteran act BTOB were able to make a comeback as a full group at the start of the year. They have an incredibly stable fanbase and largely play to them while solo releases allow for a bit of spice in their ballad-heavy repertoire. With ten years under their belt, it feels like BTOB are in this for the long run.
Pentagon and LIGHTSUM each had one comeback this year. Both seemed to come and go with little fanfare. Pentagon are in the middle of enlistment woes, while LIGHTSUM lost a couple members last month. I worry more about them than the already-established Pentagon, but neither act made much ripples in 2022.
In my opinion, DSP Media has really bungled the roll-out of Mirae. I picked them as my favorite rookies last year, but 2022 didn’t bear that out at all. They’re just not getting the songs or promo they need despite having so much potential and talent. DSP has yet to fulfill the promise showcased in their debut track and the buzz seems to have died down considerably. I really hope they can turn it around.
KARD made their long-awaited return this year with music that reminded us how fantastic their debut-era material was. Sales were okay, but Ring The Alarm didn’t leave much of a mark. Again, DSP Media is having a hard time finding the killer songs they need to stand out.
Fantagio’s main musical breadwinners are Astro, and it’s gonna be a tough couple of years as military enlistments rear their head. I assume the agency will be relying on their large roster of actors to keep things chugging along. With member MJ enlisting, Fantagio was smart to keep the Astro train going through a group comeback and multiple sub-units. These releases saw varying levels of success, but they kept the brand afloat. Member Cha Eunwoo continues to be a superstar and seems to be branching into many different aspects of the industry. He’ll have a long career regardless of what happens to the agency itself.
Weki Meki continued their “now you see them, now you don’t” approach without a single comeback in 2022. I’ll never understand Fantagio’s plans for them. They’re treated like an afterthought despite overflowing with potential superstars. Honestly, the agency seems done with them.
FNC are probably big enough to warrant their own feature, but I don’t have too much to say about them. They continue to chug along, never taking center stage in the industry but always finding success with their large and diverse roster. Apart from Cherry Bullet (who hardly ever release music) and AOA (who seem to be disbanded in all-but name), FNC has turned into an agency of male idols and actors/actresses.
Sales-wise, SF9 continue to lead FNC’s pack, but younger group P1Harmony are nipping at their heels. P1Harmony have invested a lot of time promoting in the States, and that seems to be paying off for them even as their Korean notoriety remains comparatively small.
Veteran groups FTIsland and CNBLUE didn’t release anything in 2022 but remain feathers in the agency’s cap. Meanwhile, N.Flying made one last comeback before going on enlistment hiatus. Overall, 2022 was a steady but unexciting year for FNC.
IST is a combination of several agencies, and seems intent on sucking as many idols into its hellscape as possible. There are plenty of successful groups to be found here, but most seem to lack any overarching concept or artistic mission.
The Boyz remain one K-pop’s most promising groups, but the quality of their discography doesn’t bear that out. IST continues to give them underwhelming (and often downright bad) material. It’s as if the agency has never given consideration to their musical legacy. Add a grueling (and inefficient) schedule to the mix and you’ve got the recipe for burnout.
Victon have fared better when it comes to music, but they’ve had a tricky year dealing with member departures and hiatuses. Meanwhile, debut group ATBO is a mess. So far, they’ve been given assembly-line music with no character. Seriously, is IST’s A&R team composed of AIs? They certainly don’t seem to care about originality.
Weeekly were yet another victim of awful musical choices. They endured a sonic reinvention that no one asked for. But, their album sales increased, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
The brightest star in IST’s orbit is their most veteran group: Apink. Frankly, they’ve lucky to have these girls among their rank. I don’t think their 2022 album was among the best in their discography, but at least it felt thought-out and well-considered.
Given their shrinking roster, I’m not sure I should even include Jellyfish in this write-up anymore. I mean, when it comes to music they’re pretty much just VERIVERY at this point. Yes, we had a solo release from VIXX’s Leo in 2022, but I’m not holding my breath for a group reunion anytime soon.
However, something seems to have happened with VERIVERY this month. It could end up being a blip, but their new album is boasting incredible sales and snagging them multiple music show wins – a feat that is definitely new to them. Are fans just happily supporting the return to a bright concept, or did something happen in 2022 to permanently raise their fortunes? Time will tell, but I applaud Jellyfish for sticking with them through thick and thin. However, this doesn’t change the fact that it was a pretty dull year for the agency overall.