Welcome to this week’s Roundtable!

With the finale to SBS’ K-pop Star drawing near, this week we decided to ask our writers:

If you were given the choice of debuting under one of the ‘Big 3’ in Korean entertainment (SM, JYP, YG), which company would you choose to be a part of, and why?

Amy: I’m going to cheat by answering with this: My intellectual answer would be YG Entertainment. My emotional answer would be SM Entertainment. If I wanted more sick days and more dinero, YG Entertainment definitely seems like the place with the chiller atmosphere. They offer more creative freedom as well, and most importantly, it’s the company where I can probably earn more money given that there are less artists under my label and thus everything doesn’t have to split a gazillion ways amongst three dozen members or five hundred staff.

But I’m not going to pretend like I don’t like SM Family the most. Thus, I would want to be a fellow artist under that label just so that when I debut and I get to perform at all those snazzy SM Town performances all over the world, I also get to partake in the well-established tradition of taking clique-ish and I’m-totes-BFFs-with-Heechul pictures on privately chartered Korean Air flights.

Um, I mean, what?

Fannie: I’m similar to Amy in that my intellectual answer would also be YG Entertainment. I feel that it’s the place to go if you want a greater allowance for artistic freedom and to network with a bunch of creative types (as well as the coolest crew of backdancers ever). I also feel that the company genuinely cares about its artists as individuals. And who wouldn’t want to work within that amazing building? But it also takes a certain type of highly independent personality with a unique quirk to fit within that company, and that’s something that I’m quite not sure I possess.

My intuition tells me that I would fit in best at JYP. Firstly, if there’s one group within K-pop that aligns the closest to my own strengths as well as how I would like to see myself projected as an artist, it would have to be miss A. Secondly, there’s a certain unique mix of family, humility and warmth within the company as a whole that isn’t found in YG (the artists are cute but kind of awkward when thrown together) or SM’s current mammoth of a roster (I miss the old SM Town days!). I’m not saying there aren’t bonds within the other companies, it’s just that the dynamics of how they play out are different. And lastly, there’s this inherent soulful quality that emerges from JYP artists from time to time — reminiscent of G.O.D or even JYP himself as an artist — that I love. If you ever listen to Sunye or Ye-eun sing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. SM’s got popularity, YG’s got swag, JYP’s got soul.

Sorry SM, I like some of your artists as individuals, but I hate how they are managed.

Bethany: Although I don’t entirely approve of the way that SM treats their artists, I think I’d pick them as my entertainment company. Even though I don’t like the fact that they shoot every other music video in a box with their trusty matrix camera, underpay their groups, and play favorites, I would still pick them over YG and JYP. Firstly, I feel like SM would be the best at hiding my obvious lack of talent if I were to become a K-pop artist. They could autotune my voice to death and make me sound like I can semi-sing, and then, of course, allow me to lip-sync performances. Secondly, SNSD‘s stylists are amazing — and if I were a female K-pop artist, I would definitely want a closet like theirs. Lastly, SM really, really knows how to market their groups. Just look at how much coverage EXO got before their debut. I’m not even an EXO fan but I was ambushed for weeks by EXO material on various websites.

I adore YG’s artists and the artistic freedom they are allowed, but I don’t think that I’m quirky enough or willing to work hard enough (ha) to belong there. As for JYP… I think that he’s one of the coolest CEOs out there, but sometimes it feels like he has no idea what he’s doing with his groups. If I could pick any entertainment company to sign to, however, it would definitely be Cube Entertainment!

Justin: Like what most of the staff are saying, I would jump on the YG bandwagon. I can’t possibly deal with the craziness that SM artists go through. I’m not the biggest fan of stereotypes, but I feel like SM artists have the craziest fans (I’m just going to include JYJ in this). Another thing is my personality isn’t made for the clean or Disney-like image that most if not all SM artists seem to portray. I do what I want when I want.

On that note, JYP wouldn’t be the company for me either. He seems to micromanage way too much for my comfort at least from the show. He seems to nitpick at every single thing, and sometimes that can harm one’s personality. One of the issues of JYP artists is that they don’t really shine while performing. Granted JYP artists are consistent, but they just don’t have much individual charm while performing. I really haven’t been wowed by the JYP idol members (with the exception of Ye-eun and Sunye).

I would pick YG just because I feel like I can just be myself, as opposed to being a dancing and singing machine. Maybe it’s because of my “American” mindset, but I like personality and oomph, and YG artists have that X factor. Are YG artists the most talented out of all the other idols? Nope, but they sure know how to put on a show. Of course, we could all be wrong and YG could be the worst company ever, but from my perceptions about YG , I would think that I would prefer being at YG than the other companies.

Maryse: I’m not one who’s really into the whole hip-hop gangster image that YG gives, and the music direction I go for usually leans more towards the pop/rock genre, hence SM would be my pick. Other than that, I really like how strong the branding SM creates for their artists — you’ve got to admit that despite the cheap studio sets they used for Super Junior‘s MVs, the sales did well, they rose in popularity (I’m one of those new fans), and are arguably the most popular K-pop artist in the world right now. Look at SHINee and f(x) too, even though they aren’t as popular as they should have been, but because of the fact that they are SM artists, they are still getting by in the music industry. It does give me a sense of security if I were to be a part of SM as an artist.

I didn’t consider JYP because it feels like they have been lagging behind SM and YG for quite a bit. They did well when it came to miss A’s debut, but after that they seemed to have ran out of ideas with their artist concepts — 2PM‘s “Hands Up” felt like it was plucked out from watching GD&TOP‘s “High High”…and don’t even get me started on miss A’s latest comeback. It just feels like their marketing concepts have became rather deadpan and old school, which is not good for the artists’ development. I think they really new marketing people to re-invent the company and their artists.

And building on Amy and Fannie’s reply, I do agree that YG has that whole creative freedom and flair going on, but doesn’t it occur to anyone that SM artists are given that same freedom too? For example, Super Junior’s Eunhyuk and Shindong are given opportunities to choreograph dance moves, whereas Yoochun and Jaejoong produced their own fair share of music, and even Donghae, Yuri and Ryeowook have given a hand at songwriting. I think that both companies, YG and SM, give their artists equal rights towards creative freedom, but it’s probably more magnified over at YG with the way they put out/market their releases, whereas for SM, they are more concentrated on branding and packaging their artists that it overshadows the fact that they do give their artists the creative freedom they want.

But if you were to give me an option to choose outside of the big 3, I’d take Cube Entertainment. They probably have the most exciting and dynamic concepts out of the other companies — Trouble Maker was a major hit, I also enjoyed BTOB‘s debut, and even A-Pink‘s concepts were different from the other female idol groups; and personally, I’m always looking forward to seeing what’s coming next from Cube.

With that said, it’d be SM within the big 3, and Cube outside the big 3.

Dana: I’m totally with Maryse on this one, and not just because of my undying love for SNSD/the fact that SM family is totally my fave (although that is definitely part of it). Though there have been times when I could get behind 2NE1 and Big Bang, I sometimes get the impression that they are trying just a little too hard to be edgy. This is not to say that I’m a huge fan of the “oppa oppa” aegyo-laden crap that SM Entertainment has put out in the past, but conceptually, I think I prefer the direction that their artists tend to go in as opposed to the track that YG usually takes.

I think that the most difficult thing about being signed to a label like SM would be the first few years — establishing yourself and/or your group is everything. But I think (or at least, I’d like to think) that it gets better for veteran SM artists. They might even be given a greater degree of control over creative content. Tiffany herself mentioned in a SPIN magazine interview that they were slowly being allowed to show more of their personality through their work. Of course, everything out of anyone in K-pop’s mouth must be taken with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

JYP would definitely be my second choice because I would also love to be the fifth member of miss A. If I could dance like them, it would solve pretty much all of my life’s problems.

Kimberley: I’d have to agree with the popular vote so far — it’s YG for me. I’ve picked them for a lot of the reasons already mentioned above, but mainly for the autonomy in the way they handle their artistes. That covers everything from musical direction, facial appearances, and all that. I can’t aegyo for the life of me so that dwindled it down even more to YG. I’d even be content with them wanting a say in my love life, with boy in question to be put through screening by all significant male members of the YG clan. For all the fame and glitz that SM can offer, and for all the familial love among the guys at JYP, I think I could settle comfortably with YG’s arrangements.

Johnelle: There’s no hesitation to the answer of this question for me because my mind and gut both say the same thing to me–YG Entertianment

Sometimes things just click with you and YG Entertainment, and its artists have clicked with me ever since I got into K-pop. It all started with my affection for Daesung from my love for Family Outing, then getting into Big Bang, and then learning more about the other YGE artists. In my opinion, YGE is just more well rounded than SME and JYP in the way they handle their artists and their schedules, the creative freedom artists are allowed, the relationships within the company, and they seem to be pretty fair when it comes to business and profits.

I can see myself setting up bake sales for charity with Sean, eating some chicken with Se7en, partying with Psy, getting philosophical with Tablo, having my ass kicked in the gym by Trainer Hwang, dropping some beats with Teddy, knocking out some lyrics with GD, talking toys with T.O.P., having some laughs with Daesung, discussing business with Seungri, having Taeyang show me some moves, and hanging out with the girls of 2NE1. I am worried, however, that I wouldn’t be accepted because I don’t have an ‘eye smile’ which all YG artists have as was pointed out on the YG Family Strong Heart Special. And, of course, I would have to work on my imitation of CEO Yang Hyun-suk another apparent requirement. Hopefully, they would make an exception for me. YGE for life, baby!

Gil: I’m torn between both YG and SM. I would go to YG because their schedules are not as grueling or demanding as the ones SM artists have. They are also allow for more artistic freedom, and I can work with a sound that best fits me. Psy and Tablo are left alone in regarding their musical sound. Though Tablo’s outfit and excessive guy-liner in “Bad” screamed YG, I can forsake fashion for artistic freedom, so long as they don’t make me do aegyo and flounce around in booty shorts. Like Salima, I relate to hip-hop more than I do pop, and the fact that I will be able to be in the same company as Tablo has me on the verge of fangirl tears.

The only reason I would ever consider going to SM is to troll like a buffalo — meaning that I would pull a Heechul and rebel. Activities include hiding the matrix camera, stealing the full version of “Baby Don’t Cry,” and getting rid of all the crack SM management seems to be snorting.

Salima: Hands down, my answer is YG. Just the thought of me hanging out with Big Bang is pushing me to the verge of tears. But seriously, I’ve always been a huge hip-hop head and YG artists understand the hip-hop sound the most. They’ve just executed it the best. Hip-hop is not just about adding in a half-assed rap by an idol who’s never rapped one bar a day in his or her life, but it’s about the lyrics, the flow, the depth, the swag. CL, G-Dragon, and T.O.P. are the best when it comes to genuinely delivering raps. On top of that, YG artists are the only ones I’ve heard to sample hip-hop correctly. I mean GD and T.O.P. sampled Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh on their “High High” track for goodness sakes! No one even does that! If that’s not a nod to hip-hop, I don’t know what is. And who can forget Se7en’s callback to my favorite Jay-Z song, “Girls”? Not to mention, Taeyang’s dancing style is ridiculously reminiscent of the ones I see when I go to grungy hip-hop parties. He’d put everyone to shame with how much better he is than them at dougie-ing and stanky legg-ing. I would just fit in so much more with YG because they’d understand my style of music, and probably even respect it more.

On the other hand, I’d have more fun at JYP. I’m convinced that 2PM is just as fun on television as they are in real life. The three biggest draws for JYP are 1) JYP has the best understanding of Rhythm & Blues. When asked their favorite songs, a lot of JYP artists will list Tevin Campbell, Brian McKnight, and Boyz II Men. When JYP and his artists do slow jams, they do them right. 2) JYP is well connected. He’s got friends in high places. 3) The fact that Nichkhun and Taecyeon both lived in America and would be able to relate to my experiences a bit better than YG artists. Being away from my family, I’d at least like to have people who would be able to reminisce with me.

Patricia: Even though the question for this week’s Roundtable stipulates that our choice must be between one of the Big Three, it appears that Cube Entertainment has become a viable fourth contender. A part of me thinks that this is because we’ve become so disillusioned with the likes of SM, JYP, and YG to a point where their respective faults have become painfully obvious to us, whereas Cube just hasn’t been around for long enough to be guilty of any major sins.

Which is probably one of the reasons why I would choose to debut under Cube, but the main reason why I would be a Cube artist is because Cube’s production staff is basically made up of wizards who can make anyone look good. They turned a motley crew of Big Three rejects and barely-made-its into one of the most impressive boy groups to date. And 4minute is probably one of the most questionable K-pop groups in terms of overall talent, but there has been nary a song or music video that has ever made them look or sound bad. And they managed to turn talent black hole Hyuna into K-pop’s resident hottie. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.

But at the same time, I can’t help but be drawn to SM because signing on with SM nowadays basically means instantaneous long-term success. One might see this statement and point to SM nobodies like CSJH, TRAX, J-Min, and Zhang Li-yin, but these artists all debuted in the mid 2000s when social media wasn’t nearly as active as it is today, and when K-pop fans weren’t keeping track of SM’s every move. Fans have anticipated EXO’s debut for years, even without knowing that EXO was going to be this gimongous deal that’s been brewing in the SM factory since forever. No — fans put their faith into anticipating this new SM group simply because it was going to be an SM group, and SM has been around for long enough for people to put that kind of trust in SM. And I will be willing to bet my hat that people will start speculating over EXO’s girl group counterpart once the EXO debut fervor has died down.

Of course, the only downside to debuting as an SM artist is that SM doesn’t really seem to take in trainees over the age of twelve — which is pretty horrible, if you ask me. Considering how entertainment companies do a really horrible job in allowing their artists to achieve anything remotely close to their full academic potential while being signed as an artist, it basically makes for a K-pop world with a ton of teen idols with no viable skill set outside of performing and who are completely unprepared to face the real world once their career fizzles out. I think it’d be pretty sweet to see a K-pop idol debut after receiving a college degree. But with the current K-pop trend of debuting idols at decreasingly younger ages (a trend that SM has been practicing for many years already), it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any “college-dols” soon.

Whoa, tangent. Anyway, in conclusion: I would choose to be in Cube Entertainment because they would make me look pretty and that is what K-pop idoldom is all about.

(Images via SMTOWN, SBS Inkigayo, YG Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, Newsen)