TS Entertainment is once again in the midst of legal disputes with ex-Secret member Jun Hyosung for violating her exclusive contract with the agency. The company claims that they have faced losses in revenue between the months of May and August 2017 due to Hyosung strike that halted all her activities. On May 7th filed a lawsuit against Hyosung for 1 billion won (approximately $848,800) for refusing drama roles, commercials, appearances and more during that strike which incurred losses equaling 1.4 billion to the company’s revenue.

Moreover, the agency claims that the ex-Secret member embezzled money made outside of contracted deals. TS Entertainment has said that Hyosung has conducted her own deals for advertisements using her personal social media platforms without the company’s consultation or distribution of profits — thus violating Hyosung’s exclusive contract. Hyosung is not the only ex-member of the group facing legal issues with TSE, as Jieun is too in legal disputes for the same issue of revenue losses for her choice in leaving the agency.

The relationship between the agency and Hyosung began in 2008 when they signed a contract with the promise of debuting Hyosung within a four-member girl group, Secret. The girl group was successful but experienced trouble with TS entertainment with payment, management and transparency issues. This triggered, then Secret member, Jieun to file charges against the company for the unfair distribution of payments. After months of disputes that began in August 2017 between her and TSE, the idol finally announced in early 2018 she was leaving the group and company.

Following this issue, Hyosung disclosed that she was also in disputes with TSE for overdue payments in 2017. The ex-Secret member claimed that the last payment she received was 6 million won ($5,300) and that TS entertainment has not paid her since 2015. Hyosung’s lawyer stated that the agency was not willing to negotiate and reach an agreement on the issue, which resulted in filing for a civil lawsuit against her own management. Hyosung halted all activity with the company until a conclusion or an agreement on the extremely overdue payments. The agency insisted that there is no truth to Hyosung’s claims and that she has been paid as agreed.

As the dilemma showed no sign of improvement with both sides refusing to yield, Hyosung stated that she would give up the overdue payments in exchange for the nullification of her contract. After months of back and forth between the court and the representatives, the court sided with the idol and demanded TSE pay back more than $115,000 and the majority of the legal fees. Leaving Secret to disband after Hyosung and Jieun’s departure.

Amidst all the issues and charges surrounding Secret and TSE, Hyosung is preparing for her first comeback with her new label Tommy&Partners. This vicious cycle of lawsuits tends to delay and affect both parties negatively. Surely, TS entertainments as a company is affecting the way fans interact and trust the label and artists signed under them. It not only reflects on their name negatively it will undoubtedly affect the trust between their remaining idol groups and the agency in the future.

Despite the unsettling nature of this dispute, Hyosung tells fans that she is working hard on her new album and remains active with fans on social media. Although she has not set a date for her comeback this issue is bound to affect her work and when fans get to see her perform again.

Looking at the bigger picture, it seems wildly ridiculous that idols of that caliber and popularity would be living on less than the minimum wage and result in negotiating for their own basic rights. Of course, it does not help to have Western artists living lavishly as a point of comparison. However, it’s common that idols earn mere fractions of the revenue they bring in.

Famously, all six members of the boy group B.A.P filed a lawsuit against TSE in order to nullify their contracts. B.A.P claimed that TSE was not fair in distributing profits and that group received a minute percentage of what came from album sales, concerts, appearances, merchandise and more and that they were not the only group that was suffering. Interestingly, Hyosung was one to defend TSE from the fan’s backlash at the time and reassure her fans that the group in the statement was not Secret and that they are not involved in the scandal. Unfortunately, not long later the girl group found themselves in the same situation.

B.A.P’s main issue was, once again, TSE’s lack of transparency and loss of trust, which seems to resonate throughout the company. The year of 2017 put TS entertainment on news headlines again for mistreatment and overdue payment issues. This time the employees were the ones that came forward on social media demanding their wages to be paid. One employee spoke online on how it had reached the third month without payment with expectations of employees to keep at the same level of work standards.
The issues did not stop there, in fact, managers have stated there were points in which the company has told them to pay out of their already minute wages for company expenses. Although the agency published a statement saying that its revenues were low and the agency was suffering financially, it is hard to sympathize when considering TSE’s past.

Other artists have famously been involved in disagreements with their companies on various legal issues such as ‘slave contracts’ in which government passed laws preventing the exploitation of young idols and keeping maximum durations of contracts at seven years. Trademarking names has also been an issue with the recent legal disputes between LM entertainment and Kang Daniel. And sadly, sexual harassment cases, although seldom spoken of openly in fear of negative effects on idol’s careers and names in the industry. The list goes on and calls for the attention of lawmakers and committees in charge of putting laws in place for its prevention or at the very least, guidelines for entertainment companies to follow.

It’s not a new issue that artists or employees sue their agencies, but the issues keep recurring and affecting everyone involved. It undoubtedly has a knock-on effect on image, revenues or even fans getting caught up in the crossfire.

It’s hard to say whether TSE’s endless series of conflicts is to prove a point, set an example for the remaining artist or just a matter of pettiness as it seems. It goes without saying, however, that a lot of issues are resolvable through negotiations and even avoidable in the first place if the agencies are transparent enough. This does not seem to be a learning curve for TS entertainment as history repeats its self on an almost annual basis.

With the growing attention on the K-pop industry, it will be interesting to see how lawmakers and agencies adapt to the international fan base’s demands for their idols. Will these issues be more prevalent or will the government take action? For an industry that is so central to the South Korean government, the needs of its idols seem to be overlooked at times or take longer to be dealt with.

(Instiz, SBS Aus, MoneyS, Naver entertainment [1][2][3][4]. Images via, Mnet, TS Entertainement.)