Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2023: Part One (Brand New, Cube, DSP, FNC, IST, Jellyfish, KQ)

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 carved out a niche and mostly sticks with that. They have a ton of soloists on their roster, but idol groups AB6IX and YOUNITE are of most interest to this blog. Neither artist released any music I considered memorable in 2023, but their sales are steady (even increasing) and AB6IX was able to embark on an international tour this year. It’s a shame about BDC’s dissolvement, since they had the most unique sound among the agency’s acts. Overall, Brand New Music seems content to be a mid-level entity. I’d like to see them be more ambitious in 2024.


Cube Entertainment

Cube Entertainment is one of many K-pop agencies with one massively successful act that buoys the entire company. For them, that act is (G)I-DLE, and they continued to be massively successful this year. This included Korean and global group work as well as solo projects. With all this focus, younger girl group LIGHTSUM continues to get the short end of the stick.

Meanwhile, Cube’s most senior act BTOB are officially done with the agency. Pentagon don’t seem to far behind, with some members leaving Cube (including leader Hui following his stint on Boys Planet). Given these developments, the agency really needs to invest in their new upcoming boy group. Right now, it feels like they’re one (G)I-DLE misstep away from peril.


DSP Media

I include DSP Media in this round-up mainly for nostalgia’s sake. They haven’t been dominant since the days of Kara and SS501, and they continued to struggle in 2023. Whatever they may do (which is mostly very little…), their artists have a hard time getting off the ground. Mirae’s infrequent comebacks continue to sputter, KARD’s success seems largely focused in Latin and South America (an expansive music market, for sure!) and new group Young Posse polarized opinion as soon as they debuted.


FNC Entertainment

FNC’s active roster of idol groups tends to skew male, though members of Cherry Bullet had a nice little boost from participation on Queendom Puzzle. SF9 had a transitional year, losing popular member Rowoon (though he remains with the agency as an actor). P1Harmony seem largely focused on global markets, spending quite a bit of time and focus outside Korea. New group AMPERS&ONE just debuted the other day, but already feel like a breath of fresh air. With built-in Boys Planet notoriety on their side, they should do well.

On the rock band side of things, older groups FTIsland and CNBLUE each released new music and NFlying did some duo work. New band Hi-Fi Un!corn also debuted with a heavy focus on the Japanese market. Overall, the agency feels stable even with the changes 2023 brought.


IST Entertainment

IST continues to be buoyed by The Boyz. They had a strong year musically, though sales were down a bit. Meanwhile, Weeekly finally made their long-awaited return with a sound that continues to change year by year. Their sales are pretty stable, though they’re still waiting for that big breakout that would push them up a tier in popularity. Rookie group ABTO are also selling decently, but they haven’t yet established a sound or niche that would help them stand out in this crowded market. Veteran group Apink plan to be active in the future, but most members left IST this year so it’s unclear exactly how that will end up working.


Jellyfish Entertainment

Jellyfish hitched their wagon to the Boys Planet train this year, managing spin-off group Evnne. They’re not technically a Jellyfish group since individual members still belong to their respective agencies, so I’m not sure how much Jellyfish benefits financially. However, they need a bright spot on their roster. VERIVERY continue to play to a dedicated fanbase, but their member configuration is always in flux. I worry for their future. VIXX is another group who are operating at reduced capacity, coming back as a trio this month. Luckily, soloist Kim Sejeong continues to be booked and busy.


KQ Entertainment

2023 was a year of growth for KQ, augmenting their incredible success with ATEEZ with newly-debuted group xikers. They’ve successfully transposed the ATEEZ formula onto these rookies and that approach has paid off with a pair of hit albums and an enthusiastic fanbase. Meanwhile, ATEEZ continued their run as million sellers without wildly changing their sound or image. KQ has discovered the formula and remains laser-focused on delivering what their fans want. I wonder if they can reach outside that (admittedly huge) niche and score a hit that might appeal to the general listening public?


In part two, I’ll take a look at MLD, P Nation, RBW, WakeOne, WM and Yuehua. Will there be any “A” graded agencies this year?

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