Before I take a brief look at many of K-pop’s smaller agencies, there are a few that I have more to say about. Consider these “bonus” write-ups — shorter than the “big four” but longer than a paragraph or two could cover.
As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well K-pop agencies are serving their artists and fans. Because of the timing of this post, I’ll be including the last few weeks of 2021 as part of my analysis.
Starship Entertainment isn’t often in the conversation when discussing K-pop’s biggest agencies, but they really seem to be making a play for it. They’ve always been home to at least one super-successful artist, and their roster seemed especially strong in 2022.
Though they only debuted a year ago, IVE have quickly become one of the industry’s top tier girl groups. I’d like more music from them, but there’s no denying their track record for hits thus far. Starship has been smart in delivering an all-killer, no-filler debut year for them. They’ve scored massive public hits without sacrificing quality, and member Wonyoung seems to be everywhere. With a Japanese debut on Kōhaku Uta Gassen next month (despite no original Japanese singles!), their popularity seems to be unrestricted from geographic boundaries.
I’ve been critical of boy group CRAVITY’s output for years, but it felt like they finally found their sound in 2022. Starship is giving them great material that truly fits them and doesn’t come across as a “Monsta X Jr.” placeholder. With two solid comebacks this year, they’re on a roll.
WJSN had a very successful run on season two of Queendom. Being part of the show was a risk, but it paid off. We didn’t get much music from them in 2022, but their consistency showed no signs of abating. Starship continued to nurture the quirky sub-unit Chocome as well with a fun release at the start of the year.
Monsta X was less active as a group, but the agency successfully launched a solo career for member Kihyun, who wisely leveraged his strengths with a rock-influenced sound that differed from his group work. And speaking of (ex) Monsta X soloists, Wonho continued churning out hits under Starship subsidiary Highline Entertainment (which merged with the company in July). He had a very active 2022 before his upcoming enlistment.
All of these artists benefitted from an A&R team that seems to be rejuvenated. Compared to past years, Starship’s musical output was much stronger in 2022. I’m not sure who’s in charge of choosing the songs – and whether it’s different teams for different artists – but they’re doing something right.
I really don’t have much to say here. I would’ve liked more music from WJSN and IVE, and I don’t think the agency knows what to do with soloist Jeong Sewoon. But apart from those quibbles, Starship has had a banner year. There were small controversies here and there, which is par for the course for any agency of their size. And, it’s clear that different artists are given different levels of promotion. However, everyone on the roster got some time to shine in 2022 and Starship enjoyed robust sales and increasing popularity. They seem very well-positioned going into 2023.
2022 Grade: A
What I’d like to see in 2023:
- A continuation of IVE’s great singles run
- More music from WJSN!
- Keep CRAVITY’s sound light and fun — please don’t go back to the blustery sounds of the past
Previous years: 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017