In recent years, YG Entertainment has not exactly been known for consistent musical output. Delays and pushed release dates have become commonplace for the roster of stars and rookies that president Yang Hyun Suk (YG) has under his wing. That’s why a lot of fans rejoiced when it was announced that one of the most anticipated young singers in his cache, Lee Hi, is set to release her next album through HIGHGRND, a subsidiary of YG Entertainment.

Founded by rapper Tablo, who is also signed to YGE along with his Epik High bandmates, the boutique label seems to be just one in a growing trend of big entertainment companies branching out into smaller, more artistry-based labels. Not only does Tablo have Lee Hi’s new album to manage, but newly popular indie band Hyukoh also made news by signing to his label as well. The benefits for indie and non-idol acts like Hyukoh or Lee Hi seem obvious–they have the backing of a major entertainment force of YGE, but also the semblance of more artistic freedom and less expectations than the idol groups that are YG’s bread and butter.


Interestingly enough, YGE is not the only major company to reach out toward the independent music scene. Earlier this year, crooner G. Soul debuted on Studio J, JYP Entertainment’s boutique label. Set to release a new mini this month, G. Soul’s marketing and musical output seems wholly uncharacteristic for an artist that’s technically backed by a major company. G. Soul doesn’t promote on music shows, and he seems to drop his R&B and soul influenced music on a whim. JYP seems to have taken a hands-off approach with the artist, who is slowly gaining buzz for his quality music.

G. Soul isn’t the only artist under the Studio J umbrella — Wonder Girl Yenny, promoting under the name Ha:tfelt, and newly debuted boy band Day6 are also under the subsidiary. Time will only tell how Day6 will fare under Studio J, but the potential for the band to grow as musicians and artists is clearly part of JYP’s intention for them.

On the surface, it seems like a win for both artists and labels. Major labels get to cash in on the growing trend toward musicians that do well on the charts independent of the idol system. The benefits for acts like Hyukoh, G. Soul or Lee Hi seem obvious: they have the backing of a major force in entertainment but also the semblance of more artistic freedom and less expectations than the idol groups that form the core of the company. As YG said in a recent interview:

I’ve always thought about how I can help[…]underground musicians. I personally wish more musicians with unique colors and characters can be produced, rather than those similar idol groups. I’ll keep thinking about what I can do and continue to work hard to support the indie music scene.

However, big companies like YGE dipping their fingers into the independent scene could cause problems for already established indie acts. A singer like Lee Hi who’s affiliated with YG might automatically get more buzz than a singer like Lim Kim, who is on a smaller label. Under the guise of helping quirkier acts make a push into the mainstream, boutiques like HIGHGRND might actually end up crowding out other artists hustling for that same piece of the market. Smaller labels like AOMG, Amoeba and Brand New, known for their independent spirit and recent success on the charts, will have to compete with HIGHGRND and to a lesser extent, Studio J, in an already crowded music scene.

20140514_seoulbeats_leehiUltimately, listeners are the true winners in this situation. Fans of Hyukoh and the other artists now housed at these boutique labels can be sure that their favorite artists will have good working conditions and lots of artistic support. A label run by a seasoned, well-respected musician like Tablo carries its own kind of pedigree, separate from the YG name.

It’s exciting to think what kind of music is going to come out of HIGHGRND, and the music released by Studio J is already pretty great. G. Soul’s debut album and subsequent releases were well-done, as was Ha:tfelt’s wonderful last album. With seemingly a lot of freedom to stretch their artistic muscles, fans can only expect that these artists will be able to get better and better and influence the market more and more.

[Source: Nate [1][2], Naver [1][2]. Images via HIGHGRND, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment]