It’s not uncommon to hear about celebrities leaving their companies in the K-pop world. We have the high-profile lawsuits by artists such as JYJ and Hangeng, as well as the seemingly involuntary departures of T-ara’s Hwayoung and A Pink’s Yookyung. These artists parted with their previous companies while their contracts were still binding, but what about the ones who took their leave after the relationship with their companies ended?
Whether their time with a company was pleasant or not, a number of artists choose to transfer to a new agency when presented with the option. Following their contract expirations with SM Entertainment in 2003, Shinhwa transferred to Good Entertainment in order to stay together as a group, as SM only offered three of the six members contract renewals. After a number of solo activities, in 2011, they became the first K-pop group to establish their own company. Shinhwa’s previous labelmates, Fly to the Sky, also transferred companies in 2004 to focus more on their musical style, achieving immediate success with their sixth album after a yearlong hiatus. Even after leaving one of the biggest entertainment companies in Korea, both Shinhwa and Fly to the Sky continued to do well in smaller companies.
Perhaps the secret behind the two groups’ successes is the fact that they transferred agencies as a complete group. With this decision, the same fans would continue to support them, the group would maintain the same dynamics between the members, and the music would be created by the same talents. However, this is obviously not the case with Nicole, Jiyoung, or Sohee. KARA and Wonder Girls have lost permanent members and will never display the same five-member line-ups again, and it’s only a matter of time before the three girls’ names will no longer have their previous group’s titles attached to them. Thus, in order to succeed individually, they’ll have to separate themselves from the countless other female solo celebrities in Korea.
With that said, solo careers might not be so difficult to develop. After all, most idol group members have been exposed to individual schedules throughout their time with their fellow groupmates, and are already well-known by the public through these activities. The five members of SS501, KARA’s seniors from DSP, each signed with a different company after their contracts expired in mid-2010. Kim Hyun-joong, whose popularity skyrocketed after starring in Boys Over Flowers, was the first to announce his leave, as well as his new collaboration with KeyEast Entertainment. Along with his four fellow groupmates, Kim Hyun-joong debuted as a solo artist and continued his career as an actor. Currently, he’s starring in the drama Inspiring Generation/Age of Feeling following a year of touring around Japan and Korea. But then again, not everyone can be as much of a “lucky guy” as Kim Hyun-joong.
The main reasons behind Shinhwa, Fly to the Sky, and Kim Hyun-joong leaving their companies were the following: to keep the members together, to shift from a focus on commercial success to music, and to grab an exclusive contract that offers more potential projects than currently available.
The first reason is obviously not relevant to either Nicole, Jiyoung, or Sohee since KARA and Wonder Girls are both continuing without them. As for the second reason, none of the girls are main vocalists or songwriters, so it doesn’t seem to apply either. And there has been no announcement of a new agency for Nicole and Jiyoung, while Sohee just Tweeted her decision to sign with BH Entertainment — a month and a half after her parting with JYP — so it’s unlikely an enticing new arrangement resulted in their departures. Therefore, why did all three leave their old companies?
Even though both KARA and Wonder Girls became widely known as two of Korea’s top girl groups, Nicole, Jiyoung, and Sohee were probably discontented with their settlements with DSP and JYP. Four out of the five members of KARA previously experienced a contract dispute with DSP in early 2011, and although all the members stayed, the relationship between company and artist could have been heavily damaged. Wonder Girls, on the other hand, have been highly inactive since mid-2012. With no group promotions and also the announcement of Sunye’s marriage, the individual members barely had any solo activities.
Currently, Nicole has announced her plans to pursue her studies in singing and dancing in the US, looking to continue her musical career as a soloist in a month or two, perhaps aspiring to repeat Lee Hyori’s success after Fin.K.L disbanded. She has the advantage of reaching out to Western fans through her American background, but in order to further spread her name throughout Asia, she would still need a memorable representative project.
The trend for becoming an instant household name has been to do so through a drama. Kim Hyun-joong had Boys Over Flowers, Rain had Full House, and Suzy had Dream High so there’s a high possibility for Nicole to accept acting projects while continuing her singing.
On the other hand, Jiyoung and Sohee are hoping for bright acting careers separate from their statuses as idol singers. The two girls are most likely working to follow the footsteps of big name singers-turned-actresses such as Yoon Eun-hye, Park Jung-ah, and Uhm Jung-hwa since solo acting careers are not as difficult to create as solo singing careers in Korea. Transforming from a singer into an actor — whether remarkable or not — is also arguably easier than starting out as a no-name rookie. Jiyoung and Sohee have already both gained public recognition and built steady fanbases in the past seven years, so there’ll undoubtedly already be an audience anticipating (or dreading) their performances. The future now simply depends on whether they’ll be able to deliver impressive performances or not.
Whatever paths they take next, we’re glad that Nicole, Jiyoung, and Sohee ended their relationships with their companies on relatively good terms.
More artists’ contracts will expire in 2014, including SNSD and 2NE1. With upcoming comebacks by both groups, it’s highly unlikely they will depart from their respective companies. Are there any artists who you think may switch agencies this year?