The burden of BABYMONSTER

The burden of BABYMONSTER

On April 1, YG Entertainment's newest act BabyMonster (aka Baemon or BABYMONSTER) released their latest single "SHEESH" and their first EP, BabyMons7er. It was promoted as their debut, even though they had ostensibly debuted with their single "Batter Up" last November, which was followed by other singles prior to the arrival of this official debut.

YG was once a leader in the industry, and signing or debuting with the company was a surefire sign of success. Now, Baemon is the company's hail mary.

Baemon was formed during a reality show held by YG Entertainment last year, as the follow-up to 2NE1 and BLACKPINK. And they're being viewed by many as a having the weight of YG's future on their shoulders after going through a rough few years culminating in their roster taking a major hit with BLACKPINK's members focusing on their solo endeavors.

This formal BabyMons7er release marks the arrival of Ahyeon, perhaps the highest-profile member, who was MIA during the group's formal arrival last year. And the pressure of potential success is immense: on March 4, Hazel Lee, an analyst for South Korean financial company NH Investment & Securities, published a report where essentially the entire future success of YG relied on three things: BLACKPINK eventually releasing another album, likely in 2025; Treasure retaining the modest market share they've held since debuting in 2020; BabyMonster showing everyone that they're a worthy successor to YG's girl group crown.

The longer report essentially says that YG Ent is a good investment in the long run based on the expectations of the success of these artists, but especially because of ongoing expectations for Baemon to hit it big.

"BabyMonster’s first debut album, which is to feature the return of main member Ahyeon, is to be released on Apr 1. We expect the album launch to reignite investment momentum, which has been absent for some time. We adhere to a Buy rating," reads the report.

YG Entertainment's stock has been moderately stable since Baemon's debut (the first one), high over the past year after bunch of pretty violent ups and downs to the marketshare since various ordeals (Burning Sun and the COVID-19 pandemic) shook the company a few years back. The company's reputation has taken such a hit that reports in the news constantly poke at how poor the conditions are for employees, including a recent mishap where an apparent error in a fiscal report made it seem like not a single woman worked at the company. On top of that, it's apparent that employees at YG are making the least among the major players in the K-pop world.

All of which means that if Baemon were to take off and be as big or bigger than BLACKPINK, it would be a major boon for the company, potentially saving it from continuing the path down this long, ongoing tailspin towards irrelevance.

But what a burden to put on seven young stars. Especially Ahyeon, whose absence from BabyMonster's earlier releases seems to have been more of a talking point than the group themselves.

To understand what's going on, I think it's important to zoom out: In recent years, YG has been plagued by scandals on legal and financial fronts, and many artists have left to seek other management. At the moment, the only artists still managed by YG are AKMU, Winner, Treasure, BabyMonster, and Sechskies' Eun Ji-won. BLACKPINK is under the company for joint management (and YG denying they spent around $30 million to keep them there), but each member is doing her own thing.

BIGBANG, the company's long term anchor act, no longer seems to have a feasible future together. Even G-Dragon, long-considered the mainstay of YG's artist roster, has moved on. YG's music, once fresh and innovative, oftentimes comes off as stale, while subsidiary Black Label is seen as a creative holdout with the hopes of many for a return to the music that once led the industry. (With a rumored girl group incoming from there, it'll be interesting to see how they and Baemon engage with one another.)

Yang Hyun-suk, the company's founder, has been found guilty over a coercian legal scandal. He's still leading it formally, regular appearing in content surrounding BabyMonster's career, but previously resigned as CEO back in 2019 after being embroiled in wrongdoing in the multi-faceted Burning Sun scandal.

The company has, essentially, condensed in recent years after previously expanding and being considered a stalwart player in the Korean entertainment space. Now, it cannot hope to compete with other "Big 3" companies, SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, let alone with Hybe. Investors may seem to think that YG is doing fine, but staying afloat with such a reduced roster is full of risk. K-pop, and the world, is no longer in the same place it was when BLACKPINK debuted, and it'll be a while to see if Baemon is able to fulfill expectations. I don't know if it's possible for them to, with all of the weight of the YG world on their shoulders currently, but we shall see.

I'm back! Sorry about taking a few weeks off without any warning. I went to Japan and Hong Kong for the first true vacation of my adult life, without a single work-related meeting (well, I did get drinks with Patrick St. Michel) and only writing one article.

Shockingly, after years of freelancing and being a journalist whose brain is constantly on, I think I had the vacation equivalent of a food coma: I got home, and, along with immense jetlag, I needed some time to recover and get back into writing. Ghost doesn't really make it easy to update readers without spamming up their inbox so I couldn't let you guys know about this kinda unconscious decision to take March. To make up for it, I'll have a few upcoming newsletters as frequently as possible so April is full of double issues.

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What I'm working on

-The series of Spotify K-pop cover songs are out, and so are all of my interviews at NME. I chatted with STAYC discussing covering TWICE, Monsta X's Shownu & Hyungwon covering 2PM, and Enhypen covering BTS.

-The Grammy Museum is doing a LOT of K-pop programming in upcoming months, starting with a KQ (ATEEZ & xikers) pop-up exhibit this spring. And I'm helping out with these as a guest curator alongside a bunch of amazing people. Stay tuned, I'll share more information as it's announced.

Some press releases from my inbox of note

Because I'm not covering news at the moment, and I'm not really talking publicly online as much as I was during my Twitter heydays, I feel like I've been not talking about things that are happening, so wanted to start this new little segment where I copy and paste the headlines of press releases of interest without any further comment.

"HYBE AND UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP ANNOUNCE NEW GLOBAL ALLIANCE The new global agreement will give UMG exclusive distribution rights across HYBE’s roster of artists and labels" (March 26)



What I'm reading

-Fan perspectives on AI usage in ARTMS's promos, plus Jaden Jeong's statement about how they're using it to.. critique generative AI? - There's been a lot of concerns coming from K-pop fans about AI for years, and this is the first time where we're seeing a creative producer address the discontent in such a way.

-Active Faults' "Sound the Horn(y) - Fandom Word-Twisting and Audio Porn Manipulation" - The sexualization of idols, and the sexualized fictionifying of idols, is of particular interest to me. Active Faults always has interesting insight into what is going on in Chinese fandom spaces.

-Relatedly, Exiled Fan's "The Tyranny of Stans: 'Let people enjoy things” has become “make people afraid to dislike things.'" -"There are three fandom mottos that have fallen out of favour, but I wish would make a sincere return: Don’t Like, Don’t Read, Ship and Let Ship, Your Kink Is Not My Kink"

-Embedded's "The TikTokker on the red carpet" is a great interview

What I'm listening to

ILLIT's Super Real Me and NCT Dream's Dream()scape make an excellent playlist.

The Culture Journalist's "Antitrust 101 for culture workers" episode. If you've been reading my SM Entertainment x Kakao coverage, you'll see a lot of similarities, I think, between the two markets.

Antitrust 101 for culture workers
Why we should be paying attention to policy as much as private companies, with Future of Music Coalition’s Kevin Erickson