Yes, you've heard it before: 2014 was a tough year for Kpop. Agencies and Artists seemed to be locked in conflict all year, with the agencies looking more and more like cartoon villains. But, even with the conflict, they were some bright spots. And even with the bright spots, there was a lot of conflict. Deciding the Best and Worst Agency of the Year involves dealing with a lot of grey areas here, so why don't we just jump right in?
Worst Agency of the Year - SM Entertainment
They even botched SNSD's "Mr. Mr." release, with a strange video data loss being blamed for the subpar music video (though, honestly, the video's not that bad).
It's almost too easy to say that SM is an example of much that is wrong with Kpop, and that's why they're our Worst Agency of 2014, even though smaller agencies like Star Empire seem to be more morally bankrupt. But SM, with their money and resources, devoted fanbase, and ability to churn out some of the best Kpop releases year in and year out - Just this year we have Super Junior's "Mamacita" album, Taemin and Zhoumi's strong solo debuts, Exo's "Overdose," f(x)'s "Red Light," Henry's "Fantastic," TVXQ's "Something," Red Velvet's debut and TTS' return even - SM Entertainment simply should know better.
This isn't a struggling Kpop agency and record label that's just trying to get a piece of the Kpop pie. SM Entertainment is Kpop's Disney. They're wholesomely mainstream, they're powerful, and they know the business and fan appetite better than just about anyone else, or at least they should. Which begs the question, how can an agency that can be considered one of the big three alongside YG and JYP (who had a pretty bad year themselves), appear so absolutely clueless with elements of the business that are essential to said agency's success?
Is it the business model that's changing, with idols breaking away from traditional and outdated slave contracts? Is SM just too big to keep all of their salacious stories from the press? Or are we seeing the beginnings of an inevitable a sea change here, a changing of the guard, with smaller agencies that are more hungry and more dynamic, slowly chipping away at the behemoth? We're not sure exactly, but SM Entertainment is certainly under the microscope. How will they rebound from 2014's public relation nightmares in 2015? That's the million dollar question.
Best Agency of the Year -
Okay, confession time. We were going to name SM Entertainment both the Best and Worst Agency of the Year, because: 1. It's clever and 2. It's true...well, nearly.
Because SM, even with their public relation fiascos, objectively had a great year too, with all of the big releases we've mentioned. But it's hard to justify naming SM the Best Agency of the Year with the year YG Entertainment had, even with their own controversies.
YG knocked 2014 out of the park with just about every single release they've made. 2ne1's "Crush" album may be one of, if not the very best, albums of the year. Epik High's "Born Hater" was a hit. Taeyang's solo turn was a massive success as was his collaboration with G-Dragon.
But what's most exciting, for us, are the new avenues YG has opened up for new, talented stars. Winner was, well, a winner, right out of the gate. They're the next generation of boy band and they're going to be huge. Akdong Musician were so good that they were our Rookies of the Year. SM might be the Disney of Kpop, but YG is at the forefront of Kpop's next wave, and they're primed to dominate the market for years to come.
We're just going to show you with some of YG's big hits. The thing is, any agency would be happy to have just one of these stars. YG's stable is stacked.
It's not even fair. Yes, YG has had controversies this year and could have handled Park Bom's drug allegations far better, but any of their mishandlings pale in comparison to most other agencies. Though it's far less clever than picking SM, YG Entertainment is leading the charge with new and innovative artists and has the money and fanbase to support them. Who knows what 2015 will bring, but they owned 2014. That's why YG Entertainment is our Agency of the Year.