Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2023: YG ENTERTAINMENT

Before the end-of-year countdowns next month, I like to take a look at many of K-pop’s biggest agencies and see how their year went. Obviously, 2023 is not over yet so any upcoming changes to an agency’s grade will be reflected next year. Following SM Entertainment‘s analysis earlier this week, it’s time to dive into YG Entertainment.

As usual, the thoughts below 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. There will be plenty of subjective critique. 

The Good

Much of YG Entertainment’s continued success comes from established artists who are just too big to fail. BLACKPINK continue to be an integral part of global pop conversations despite releasing very little new music. After a long hiatus, AKMU proved their enduring success with a new single that became a chart (and TikTok) smash. I’m not sure how YG manages to do it, but the agency is an expert at creating a perception of “cool.”

While boy group Treasure hasn’t yet been able to develop the same cachet as their seniors (more on that below), their 2023 output was high quality and enjoyable and I appreciate how their sound has been able to evolve as the member configuration changes.

Even with very few actively promoting artists, YG Entertainment remains dominant in more fields than I would have expected.

The Bad

But… here’s the thing. YG Entertainment has very few actively promoting artists.

And, that slim slate became even slimmer in 2023. iKON moved onto a different label, while Bigbang members Taeyang, Daesung and G-Dragon also parted ways. BLACKPINK contract renewals are still in negotiation, but even if they all re-sign it’s clear YG has a retention problem. Right now, their active artist roster is pretty much BLACKPINK, Winner, Treasure and AKMU. And even then, I use the word “active” with big quotation marks. More and more, YG continues to drift further from its peers SM, JYP and HYBE.

YG artists are almost guaranteed a certain level of success, but thus far the agency’s rookie slate has had difficulty breaking through to the general public. Treasure has yet to find their Love Scenario or Really Really, forcing them to operate as more of a traditional idol group instead of the market-dominating, four quadrant successes that preceded them. Their future seems stable but I’m wondering if they’ll be able to breakout in the same way the agency has leveraged in the past.

YG Entertainment also has a legacy problem. Unlike SM, YG seems unable to draw upon their own history to appeal to multiple generations of listeners. This is largely a retention problem – you can’t promote artists who are no longer signed with you – but it’s sad that legendary acts of the past (Bigbang, 2NE1) weren’t given the infrastructure to build upon their legacies. I guess Sechs Kies are still signed with YG, but they didn’t start out as a YG act and they haven’t promoted in years.

Because of their retention problem, YG must stake their claim on newer generations of artists. Their 2024 fortunes will be closely tied to how well the upcoming Babymonster’s debut rollout is received. I haven’t been following their pre-debut promo closely, but their debut feels like a long time coming. Delays are expected from YG, so hopefully they’ll deliver when the time comes.

2023 Grade: C-

What I’d like to see in 2024:

A successful debut year for Babymonster with a sound/concept that isn’t simply 2NE1/BLACKPINK version 3.0.
An attempt to elevate Treasure’s success with the general public
A kick of new energy to revitalize the agency as a whole

Previous years: 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016

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