Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2023: WOOLLIM ENTERTAINMENT

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 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

Though they’re nowhere near a “big” agency, I like to take a look at Woollim Entertainment because they’ve been home to my favorite K-pop artists over the years.

I have many frustrations with Woollim, but their ability to pick songs for their artists remains top of the game. We didn’t get much output this year, but new music from Golden Child and Kwon Eunbi continued to impress. I wasn’t as enamored with all their artists’ 2023 work, but I appreciate Woollim’s steadfast commitment to solid songwriting that’s largely devoid of overused trends. The quality of their music is what keeps me coming back for more, and I can’t say that about many agencies – including the industry’s most successful ones.

The Bad

Ooh, boy. Sometimes I feel like I’m the kiss of death when it comes to offering praise. I evaluated Woollim with an enthusiastic  “A-“ last year, but their 2023 was far from fantastic.

Like I always say, I’m not privy to any insider information. However, I’m worried for Woollim. The agency has never had a year this barren before. Sure, all their artists technically released something in 2023, but no group or soloist managed more than a three-track single album with minimal promotions. This felt like the bare minimum Woollim could do for their artists, making fans question whether the agency has the necessary funds to support their full roster.

Hiatuses between comebacks were interminably long – including an immense fifteen-month wait between Korean promotions for Woollim’s most senior group Golden Child. Due to infrequent (and often truncated) promotions, younger groups like DRIPPIN and Rocket Punch are losing the opportunity to solidify their fanbases. Years ago, I wondered if the agency had bitten off more than it could chew when it comes to their roster size. I fear that premonition may have come true.

While I appreciate Woollim’s classic approach to idol management, I wish they’d find a way to draw more attention to themselves. I’m not sure if it’s due to their size or lack of financial pull, but it’s easy to feel that Woollim isn’t super invested in their artists’ success. Comebacks are frequently announced with limited fanfare. Pre-order periods are short and teasers are sporadic. I don’t necessarily love the “K-pop industry game,” but Woollim would do well to be an active player in it.

2023 Grade: D+

What I’d like to see in 2024:

The agency continuing to exist (seriously!)
Some big breakthrough that buoys the agency’s fortunes
More than one single album from each of its artists
Golden Child sticking together as a group and re-signing contracts with very good terms

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

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