One Agency To Rule Them All?

Originally published on hellokpop on July 14, 2011

On June 24, 2011 several high-profile idols, including Kim Hyun Joong, Super Junior, TVXQ and 2PM gathered to help launch United Asia Management, an agency that represents a collaboration among the top Korean agencies, including SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. While this may be a great way to pool resources to extend the global reach of Kpop, the collaboration could also worsen some of more suspect elements of Korean idol system.

This isn’t the first time that the major Korean agencies have collaborated on a project. Last year, The Big Three and other companies embarked on a joint venture, Korean Music Power Holdings, that would focus on the production of programs and digital music distribution. United Asia Management could also expand all the things we love about Kpop.

Before you get all up in arms, this is not a praise party for The Big Three. I do not own stock in any of them. Actually, a lot of my most favorite groups are not represented by them. We’ll get to the critique of how they do business later in the editorial. Whether you like or dislike them, the fact is they are responsible for a sizable amount of the Kpop you and I listen to. Often, fans complain about what they see as exploitation of the artists. Yes, there is a school of thought out there that says that anytime you have one group of people doing the work and one group of people making profit off of that work, you will automatically get exploitation. However, there is another school of thought that says even when you have one group of people managing another group of people who do the work, the people who do the work consent to do the work because they are comfortable with what they get out of it. In other words, artists do have some agency–they do choose to be idols and we have to leave room for the possibility that they know what they are getting into. This is particularly true now that we’ve had so many other artists enter the idol system. New recruits have more of an idea of what to expect because they can look at the careers of other artists. It is too simplistic to go with either one of these positions; the reality is  probably somewhere in between for any given artist at any given time. Here’s my point: The Big Three can give a glimpse into how United Asia Management could treat its artists and affect fans around the world, both for good and ill.

Even if you think it is evil incarnate, the fact is that SM Entertainment represents a model for the global promotion of Kpop. They have international Kpop cred, having produced a number of successful Kpop artists, including  BoA, SNSD, SHINee, Super Junior, and TVXQ. These aren’t just one-hit wonders, getting their 15 minutes of fame and then disappearing into the night. They all share the distinction of sustaining successful careers since their debut. SM Entertainment is doing something right, something that others are eager to know. Before his resignation, Lee Soo Man gave a lecture to business school students from Stanford University on “theory of CT (Culture Technology)” as well as “the aspects of SM Entertainment’s successful globalization and business management strategies.” It also hard to dispute SM Entertainment’s high-profile presence in international markets, such as its two recent shows in Paris or its previous show in Los Angeles. If United Asia Management could reproduce this on a global scale, it would be groundbreaking for Kpop. Artists would be able to travel to more countries. Kpop could go to far more places, both figuratively and literally. The prospect of international fans seeing their favorite artists in the flesh increases tremendously. If individual agencies represent a town, a family and a nation, then United Asia Management would be its own solar system. The collaboration represented by United Asia Management could also allow artists to directly compete with one another by erasing to a certain extent the individual agency identifications. Also, fans could be treated to more collaborations between artists with a de-emphasis on agency affiliation. Imagine joint projects by some of your favorite Kpop artists.  Let’s face it, sometimes the agencies, in trying to get attention for their artists, engage in tactics designed to get fans to choose, not just among artists, but among the agencies themselves. For example, JYP Entertainment consciously branded itself, just like SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment, to promote concerts and artists overseas. But, agencies do not give fans names and assign fan colors. Fans are fans of artists. With no individual agency jockeying for their loyalty, fans can focus on the artists.

At the same time, United Asia Management could face the same problems faced by The Big Three on a larger scale. With great power comes great responsibility, and it is hard to miss how often artists sue, leave or generally criticize their treatment by large companies like SM Entertainment. points to the common complaints by fans regarding SM Entertainment’s treatment of its artists, including a vindictive attitude towards and exploitation of artists and generally unfair business practices.With potentially more money at stake, United Asia Management could operate in the same way, especially with even more artists at its disposal. We could see more stories and more instances of friction between management and artists.

United Asia Management’s collaboration with The Big Three could also result in a drop in the variety of artists we see in Kpop. SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment represent different flavors of Kpop, seeking to cater to different audiences. By bringing all The Big Three under United Asia Management, those differences could be erased, resulting in a whole lot of Kpop that sounds the same and possibly fewer artists overall.  It is also unclear how this large-scale collaboration would affect smaller entertainment agencies who have solid artists of their own. Some of the more up-and-coming artists are not always found in The Big Three. BEAST and A Pink are with Cube Entertainment.  DSP has KARA. NH Media has UKISS. FNC Media, a subsidiary of Core Contents Media, which is Mnet Media’s primary entertainment management label, has FT Island and CN Blue. Could these companies continue to survive, or would UAM just squeeze them out? And what happens to the variety of artists they bring to the table?

Who knows? I really think it could go either way. I guess we will have to watch and see how United Asia Management actually operates. I mean, the one agency could unite them all for good or evil.

Sources:, Major entertainment companies establish joint venture KMP Holdings, Lee Soo Man gives a Hallyu lecture to visiting Stanford university students, JYP Entertainment family titles itself “JYP Nation”, SM’s Court Verdict Refutation Unleashes A Flood Of Criticism From The Public

Photo Credits:,

Video Credits:

Ystar, United Asia Management Red Carpet,

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