After terrible year, YG hopes to turn things around in 2020

By Yim Hyun-su

Industry experts weigh in on fate of label going forward

Published : Jan 9, 2020 - 14:19
Updated : Jan 9, 2020 - 17:54

Less than two weeks into 2020, YG Entertainment has revealed that new boy band Treasure is on the way and Big Bang will perform at this year’s Coachella music festival in April.

Treasure is set to become the first new all-boy group from YG in over four years, as Big Bang’s performance will mark the group’s first as a four-piece act.

YG has also been hinting that Blackpink is aiming to release new music sometime early this year, having said the group is recording multiple tracks in a statement.

Big Bang (YG Entertainment)


As the company, once seen as one of the three major labels in Korea’s music industry, kick-starts the new decade following a terrible year, the sheer volume of releases and announcements is already translating into good news on the stock market.

In a report earlier this week, analyst Park Sung-ho at ‎Yuanta Securities suggested investors buy YG stock, citing a high likelihood of the remaining members of Big Bang renewing their contracts, the debut of Treasure and that the company is withdrawing itself from loss-making businesses such as its broadcasting production and food business.

But culture critic Jung Duk-hyun is more cautious when it comes to envisioning 2020 as a better year for the label, after it suffered what many see as its worst year in 2019.

“It would be difficult for YG to improve its image quickly. What happened last year was not confined to that particular year but something that had accumulated over a long period of time,” he said.

Jung referred to the Burning Sun scandal that ignited early in 2019. Seungri, who was then a prominent member of Big Bang, sat on the board of directors of the club Burning Sun, which became engulfed in layers of scandals involving sex, drugs, bribery and other improprieties.

The scandal saw YG’s stocks tumble, Seungri leave Big Bang and founder Yang Hyun-suk resign as CEO. Yang recently updated his Instagram account with the news of Big Bang’s Coachella booking.

And according to Jung, many see the scandal not just a problem involving some artists at YG, but a systemic problem within the label.

“In fact, the public worries for artists at YG and we see fans cheer when they decide to leave the label,” he said, explaining that while there is support for individual artists, whether that could galvanize into support for the label is another matter.

YG could continue to lose artists if that support does not lead to an improvement in its image, he said.

Tamar Herman, K-pop correspondent for Billboard, believes in 2020 it is crucial for YG to turn around its image after a year marked by warning signs.

“YG has always had a ‘cool and bad guy’ image in South Korea, especially because of drug-related incidents, and last year kind of honed in on how prevalent that is at the label,” she said.

Blackpink (YG Entertainment)


Last year, Blackpink had only one release, the debut of Treasure -- then named Treasure13 -- was delayed and CL and Lee Hi left the label. And it becomes a real problem when business issues end up affecting the content, Herman said.

With Big Bang’s first announcement as a four-piece act at Coachella, she believes it’s a sign YG is looking to dominate internationally “in the hopes that the ripple effect of last year’s numerous scandals remain localized and don’t follow their artists across oceans.”

“I think that Coachella and K-pop are a good match, as Coachella is increasingly looking for viral moments -- think Beyonce’s Homecoming -- and K-pop is built for that. Big Bang’s first stateside performance in years, and first without Seungri, to be there is quite a statement.”

As far as Mimyo, editor at online music magazine Idology, is concerned, YG’s ability to create content remains the same and there is still demand in the industry. To him, the bigger question is how far the company can bounce back.

“I believe there are better chances in terms of business this year (for YG), but being better than last year probably isn’t their objective,” he said.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation