End of an Era: New Media is Destroying the Old Agency System

Sulli f(x)

f(x) has stopped it's promotions after Sulli announced taking a break from the entertainment business, following damaging dating and even pregnancy rumors. Here we are, another week, another scandal. Fans are heartbroken, confused. We at Critical Kpop, who believed and hoped that SM would give f(x) the comeback they and their fans deserved, are just as confounded at this drastic measure. And then there's this:

Poor Red Velvet, pushed ahead in, most likely, an effort to distract from the controversy that has surrounded nearly all of SM's major artists. And the reaction hasn't been pretty, with f(x) fans and conspiracy netizens alike bemoaning SM's efforts at deflection. How will these girls fare in such a venomous climate? One shudders to consider their debut and the unreasonable stakes behind it. But the bigger question may just be: How did things get so bad with SM?

The answer could be that this year isn't an anomaly as much as the future.


That's always been a fact for media. How many views and comments did sites like Allkpop gain when Kris left Exo? Or when Nicole and Jiyoung announced their departures from Kara? Or, even further back, when Hwayoung left/was kicked out of T-ara?

Hwayoung T-ara

The T-ara scandal of 2012 was a clear indicator of not just the lengths rumors and reports will escalate, but how ill equipped agencies are in facing them. If anything, the rash statements and arrogance of Core Content Media CEO Kim Kwang Soo, stating that "Hwayoung had brought this upon herself," only spurred more media attention and resulted in his bizarre hand-written apology to T-ara fans. It was easy then to point to the incompetence of CCM as being truly unique, but the following years have blown away that notion.

Take Park Bom's recent scandal that has led to her departure from the popular show, Roommates. YG CEO Yang Hyun Suk released a heartfelt letter to fans addressing the drug rumors brought up by "international news organization" Segye Ilbo, explaining that Park Bom had smuggled the amphetamines to Korea unintentionally, since these drugs are completely legal in America, where Park Bom was living previously. He also gave a detailed explanation of why she was taking the amphetamines at the time: a friend's death at a soccer game had irrevocably traumatized her.

Park Bom 2NE1

While many netizens appreciated YG's commitment to support their artists, it remains to be seen whether that statement did more harm than good. For one, gossip hounds immediately refuted important parts of the letter, in particular Park Bom's parents knowledge of the legality behind the drugs. And while sharing such a personal story may have tempered a harsh response from some fans, it also has placed Park Bom in a difficult position of having to relive that story in interviews and media appearances where it will certainly be brought up. One thing is for sure, the statement has done little to stop the media firestorm, and Park Bom has had to leave Roommates in embarrassment.

Maybe it takes more than devotion to truly support your artists?

Some Background 

is required here.
Everyone knows that Kpop operates under a factory system. No one is hiding that agencies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on trainees who go through grueling years of preparation. The pressure for success is monumental, as is receiving a return on that investment. At risk of losing money on a Kpop star, agencies inflict "slave contracts" on their idols that require them to be on their best behavior (Including but not limited to: restrictions on dating, statements to the media, requirements for performances, salaries held at a minimum for years).

These agencies aren't even trying to hide the trainee process from people. The documentary, Nine Muses of Star Empire, gives a chilling view of the agency/factory system. We see the girls go through a traumatic process as they ready their debut, and the camera catches it all, with the express consent of the CEO and his underlings.

There's an arrogance there, with Star Empire, but also with most of these agencies. They have all the power in making these contracts. They are the ones that make the music, that advertise, that form these groups. There is nothing to make them run their multi-million dollar businesses any different way.

Except for the fact that the people in their system are, well, people. Not just people, often young, very young people. And people, young people especially, make mistakes. While the Kpop agency system emulates the Hollywood studio system of the 1940's and 50's, that system, which did collapse, did so without the media machine we have today. And that's a problem.

The old agency system is archaic, can not compete against new media's flow of information and misinformation, and more incidents involving stars like Sulli, Park Bom, and anyone from Exo or Girl's Generation will continue. SM is not the only agency that will continue to have controversies exposed. Whoever will get the most clicks will be targeted.

Content is King

and that's a problem too. You have two types of articles, really, that frequent popular Kpop websites and blogs. They'll either be a quasi-press release that details a Kpop idol's ideal type or favorite food, harmless little tidbits written with very little thought or care. That's what the agencies want you to read. It's all about image building. Or there's the scandalous rumor and subsequent controversy, which agencies can't control. Both of these articles has very little in the way of substantial content, but they're easy to write, get views, and get people talking.

allkpop logo

Sometimes there will be a review. Sometimes, rarely, an analysis. But there is a massive buildup of Kpop fans from all across the world and a serious lack of real content to satisfy them. Sites like AllKpop don't have strong, dedicated writers for their site, so they depend on either fluff pieces or scandals to get the views that they need. It's a race to control an artist's image. And the thing is, no one's really getting anything right.

A Solution...

...Okay, here's more of an idea. It may be strange to suggest that agencies should cede more freedom to their artists with this rush of scandals, but a lot of these scandals have arisen because of the unreasonable expectations placed on these young artists.

Because it is unreasonable to expect Kpop artists to avoid dating. It is unreasonable to expect them to live perfect lives. It is unreasonable for agencies to write and exhaustively rehearse what Kpop stars will say on interviews and variety shows. With more open Kpop agencies and artists, there will be less need for sensationalism. Kpop needs an alternative to fluff or scandal. Content can be king, but only if the content is strong. The agencies need to look in the mirror. They have to.

This is what we're saying: 

Kpop deserves better. 


  1. I have seen the 9 Muses documentary. It broke my heart. I am in music and have worked with Fresh talent to improve their skills (please bare in mind this was with a very small Record label and nothing you probably have heard of). In my mind this is not the way create talent. It looked like an army drilling and instead of improving skills. It looked counterproductive. But then again, they are successful so I could be wrong here.


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