More groups fail than succeed in the oversaturated K-Pop industry. Yet even those lucky enough to last the test of time find themselves calling it quits when their contracts expire. K-Pop contracts typically last around seven years, which means that as we approach the half-way mark of 2019, the infamous ‘7-year curse’ has begun to hit the 2012 K-Pop debuts.
2012 saw the debut of some prominent boy groups, including B.A.P, BtoB, Exo, NU’EST & VIXX. The girl groups struggled much more, with even the more prominent ones such as Hello Venus, Crayon Pop and SPICA fading into obscurity over the years and even disbanding prematurely. Hence, the unusual history of the success story of EXID is one that stands out from their peers.
Backed by producer Shinsadong Tiger but hailing from the then practically-unknown Banana Culture Entertainment, EXID debuted as a six-membered group. Not many know about the first few difficult years of EXID’s career. Their debut single “Whoz That Girl” was met with considerable success, earning over 800,000 downloads on the Gaon Chart. But the group hit its first obstacle when they lost three members all at once for different personal reasons just two months after their February 2012 debut. They were quickly replaced by Solji and Hyelin, completing the line-up that still remains till today. However, EXID struggled to keep up the momentum even with the quick recovery from the member losses, and their subsequent comebacks faced underwhelming success that left the group on the brink of disbandment for years.
The turning point for EXID happened in late 2014 and is a familiar story for most. “Up and Down“, which is now considered a classic K-pop track, was initially a sleeper hit and charted poorly all through its promotions. This was until Hani’s fan-cam went viral several months after. To date, the video has over 29 million views on YouTube, and is often considered what not only saved EXID’s careers but popularised fan-cams in K-Pop. “Up and Down” was then re-promoted on music shows, earning the group their first win since debut on M!Countdown on 5 January 2015. Solji becoming the first winner of MBC’s King of Mask Singer with her impressive vocal skills shortly after also earned more recognition for the group.
With consistent promotions in both South Korea and China, things were going well for EXID till the end of 2016 where they were hit with another blow. Solji was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and she went on an indefinite hiatus. The remaining four members soldiered on to keep the group’s name and music out to the public through her hiatus that ended up lasting two years. EXID finally returned in full force late last year with “I Love You“, and begin a contract for Japanese promotions.
It thus came as a surprise when the expiration of their contracts earlier this month ended with members Hani and Jeonghwa leaving the company. It was also announced that EXID will go into a ‘resting period’ as the members focus on individual activities. Although both the members and company have both stressed that EXID has not disbanded and are finding ways to promote together, fans have not reacted well to EXID being part of a growing trend of senior groups under different managements yet insisting that they have not disbanded.
In 2017, Seohyun, Tiffany and Sooyoung of SNSD similarly left SM Entertainment while insisting the group had not disbanded. Two years since their contract expiration, SNSD has yet to have a full group comeback, but fans remain hopeful since the only release since was branded as the subunit SNSD Oh!GG instead of the overall group name. Individually, the members have pursued acting and solo music releases in and out of South Korea.
Last year, Block B’s Zico left KQ Entertainment in favour of opening his independent company KOZ Entertainment as group activities are put on hold due to military enlistments. The latest addition to the list is VIXX, where all the members have re-signed with Jellyfish Entertainment except leader N, who will discuss contractual terms upon his return from the military. Ravi’s solo activities will now be handled exclusively under his own established label The Crack Kiz. However, unlike the earlier cases mentioned, Ravi is still signed onto Jellyfish, and thus his involvement in VIXX’s activities is unlikely to be affected in any way. Each time, fans seem to think that the arrangement is idealistic at best and only raises false hopes, especially since there hasn’t been a successful case study to date.
Of course, there are companies and idols that choose not to raise hopes of fans entirely. AOA’s Mina and most recently, Taeha from BerryGood left both their respective companies and groups upon contract expiration, with no mention of a possible reunion. When B1A4’s core members Jinyoung and Baro did not renew their contracts, WM Entertainment stated that while they are not ruling out the potential of a reunion, B1A4 will be moving forward as three members.
For boy groups, there is the added obstacle of enlistments. When 2PM complete enlistments within the next two years, it will be the soonest indicator of how well the arrangement can work out for boy groups going through enlistments. All of 2PM re-signed with JYP Entertainment except Taecyeon, with his new company agreeing to provide full support for his 2PM endeavours. Similarly, it remains yet to be seen how this will play out for Block B, but all the members, including Zico himself, have asked for fans’ patience and support for their individual activities until the group’s eventual return as seven.
The option of idols being from separate companies without disbanding is also a privilege that only decently popular — and therefore profitable — groups can consider. From a company’s point of view, besides assessing the continued demand for a group’s music, this option is plausible only if the group is worth the additional inconvenience that comes with not having full control over all members of the group, as well as the possible financial losses of not having certain members on board. The members themselves need to have a shared desire to continue their run as a group, something that is harder than it seems. People change through the course of seven years, and naturally personal interests, goals and priorities shift, no matter how much they might be grateful towards the experience or the fans.
Thus, even to the casual follower, the split in company felt especially untimely for EXID, as a group that clearly cherish one another and has yet to sufficiently savour the success they’ve built as a complete group. Nonetheless, fans of EXID will have much to look forward to presently. The group is currently promoting their final album for now, and Banana Culture has also clarified that all five members will continue with Japanese promotions under the company till next year as originally planned, including their upcoming Japanese summer tour.
Fans of older K-Pop girl groups in particular will not be new to disbandment news that has led to the loss of the majority of K-Pop’s most well-loved girl groups, so EXID’s close bond and strong determination to stay together to continue the legacy they’ve achieved through their past seven years of ups and downs, is something that should bring great comfort and reassurance to fans.
Although unprecedented lengths of hiatuses and complications have followed the groups that have attempted this path, the circumstances differ from group to group, and in EXID’s case, favourably so. Without military enlistments and their respective careers based in mainly Korea, EXID will find it much easier to meet somewhere in between, especially compared to their peers. As the members of EXID embark on their individual paths and explore new areas of growth, it seems to mark not the end, but a new beginning more than anything. Chances are that when they reunite again, they’ll be back stronger. The future might be uncertain, but it is looking very much bright.
(Gaon Downloads Chart, YouTube , Instagram. Images via Banana Culture Entertainment, KQ Entertainment, SM Entertainment.)