When K-pop idols leave their agencies, fans usually assume that there’s something about the way the idol concerned was treated by the agency that eventually led to the decision to part ways. Such is the case with all members of GOT7 and JYP Entertainment, when it became blatant that the members were discouraged in terms of growing and developing artistically by the agency itself.  But is this the case with everyone who has left JYPE? Not really, if we are to examine three cases. 

What Remains a Mystery Up to This Day: HyunA

If you know HyunA as the sexy rapper who is in a relationship with E’Dawn and is currently promoting with him as a duo under Psy’s PNation label, then you must be a 4th Gen stan. If you know HyunA as the most popular member of the Cube Entertainment girl group 4Minute, then you are a late 2nd Gen stan. But if you are one of those who is not wondering what HyunA is doing in an article about female idols leaving JYP Entertainment and knows exactly why she is first to be named, then you are quite the early adapter! That’s because our Bubble Pop girl is actually one of the earliest female idols that Park Jinyoung’s company debuted in a girl group – yes, HyunA was one of the original members of the Wonder Girls!

In 2006, JYP announced that HyunA will be the main rapper of Wonder Girls. She participated in the group’s debut mini-album The Wonder Begins, which was released in February 2007, and was also part of the group’s television show MTV Wonder Girls for two seasons. If you’re not convinced, have a look at the music video for Irony, the group’s first single: 


See the girl in yellow with the shoulder-length bowl-cut hair who was first to play with the voodoo doll that manipulated the cheating guy? Yes, that’s HyunA. Aside from participating in the group’s initial promotions, she also co-hosted Show! Music Core with her groupmate Sohee and Fly to the Sky singer Brian Joo from May to June of 2007. Then, unfortunately, it was her parents who pulled out the then-15-year old from the group in July, as they were getting more concerned about her health when she experienced chronic gastroenteritis and fainting spells during her time training and promoting with the group.

But then, the next year, it was revealed that HyunA had joined another company, Cube Entertainment. In May 2009, it was announced that she would debut as part of the girl group 4Minute and only two months later, the group debuted with the single Hot Issue. Well, considering the record label changes that went rather quickly, people can’t help but wonder whether the group’s song can also refer to HyunA being a center of this “hot issue” of leaving JYP Entertainment because of health reasons only to return to the biz, but in a different company. 

As there weren’t too many idols in 2007, any news about K-pop singers, particularly idol group members which was then still a novel concept was a big deal. Thus, when HyunA left the Wonder Girls, people were shocked and the press has a field day. Also because there weren’t a lot of female idols that rapped, fans were quite invested in her. When it was known that she joined another entertainment agency after leaving JYP, people were suspicious of her reasons for leaving JYP in the first place. Did she really suffer from health problems? If she did, then why would she return to the music industry and join a different company? 

To make matters more interesting, it was also revealed that Cube Entertainment, which at that time was a very new company, was formed by Hong Seung-sung (aka Simon Hong), who was JYP Entertainment’s former president. So, was it a matter of talent piracy, where CEO Hong asked HyunA to feign health issues so she can leave WG and JYPE, only to resurface a bit later when the issue of her departure cools down, with his company? Or was there a conflict with HyunA (which at that time may have been represented by her parents since she was still very much a minor) and JYPE, with the former favoring leaving the company and joining Hong’s company rather than staying?  All parties, JYPE, HyunA, and Cube have stuck to the health issue narrative all these years. 

And we may never know if the “absolute truth” behind this because well, HyunA’s relationship with Cube has practically died, bridges burned and all following the company’s dismissal of her and then-Pentagon member E’Dawn when the two admitted to their romantic relationship. I’m not sure if Korea has a memoir culture where celebrities commit to “tell-alls” about their public life once they shun the limelight and settle into a more private existence, but something tells me there will be no HyunA, JYP, or CEO Hong biography in the future that will dish everything on what really went on during the early days of Wonder Girls and 4Minute. But we can always dream, eh?     

Differences in Artistic Expression: Sunmi

One thing’s for sure: HyunA didn’t leave her first girl group and the company because of squabbling or conflict among the members of the Wonder Girls. Since becoming a part of 4Minute and launching her solo career, she has been seen interacting with her former groupmates in music shows and industry events. One of these events was when Sunmi, who was about to promote her first single after leaving JYP, Gashina, coincided with HyunA’s promotion of her 6th EP, Following, with the single Babe. Both were seen on music shows being cozy with each other, like long-lost friends who are catching up with each other’s lives. So, fans were pretty much assured that HyunA and the Wonder Girls have never gotten into conflicts. Which leads us to Sunmi, one of the OG WGs who has had an inconsistent relationship with JYPE. 

Sunmi has stayed loyal to the company despite having had to take breaks from promoting with the Wonder Girls. From 2006 to 2009, even with their controversial promotional activities in the US, where she changed her name to Mimi, she was a dependable part of the group. However, in 2010, the company announced that Sunmi would be taking an academic break to focus on her studies and on developing her talents. However, they were quick to clarify that Sunmi would still be a talent of JYP Entertainment and that there were no concrete plans on when Sunmi will return to the Wonder Girls, if at all.

Sunmi did go to university during her academic break, studying in Dongguk University while receiving additional training with JYP. She claimed that she was only a trainee for more or less one year when she was included in the Wonder Girls line-up, so the whole time, she felt that she was pretty much lacking in a lot of skills. But while studying in university and getting additional training, Sunmi actually returned to her music career in 2013, but not to the Wonder Girls, as JYPE promoted her as a solo artist. Her solo career took off amazingly, as her debut single 24 Hours achieved an all-kill on music charts. She released an EP not long after, with Full Moon equaling her debut single’s achievements. 

The following year, JYP Entertainment announced that Sunmi would be back as a WG after five years, which also coincided with the group’s return after a two-year hiatus. The group returned as a band, with Sunmi as bassist. The group’s comebacks were received warmly by the fans, who had no trouble appreciating the group’s band concept. Though the EP Reboot did not sell as well as their group’s previous albums and EPs, the singles I Feel You and Why So Lonely peaked at #3 and 1, respectively, with sales of over 800,000 copies for both singles. 

Alas, at the start of 2017, it was announced that the group was disbanding after negotiations with Sunmi and Yeeun for their contract renewals broke down. The girls released a final single on their tenth anniversary in February before going their separate ways. The next month, Sunmi signed with Makeus Entertainment, which at that time only had guitarist Park Won and the R&B trio Urban Zakapa on their portfolio. As an old adage goes, the rest is Gashina history. 

The transfer of Sunmi to MakeUs (which has since then been acquired by ABYSS Company and has welcomed another former JYP talent GOT7‘s Bambam and former 2NE1 member Dara into their fold) is a bit weird, considering that JYP has already launched her as a soloist in 2013, successfully at that. So, why did she leave JYP? The thing is, she may have just disagreed to continuing with the Wonder Girls and still be under JYP as a soloist, as she already had experience on that since 2013. She didn’t have to leave the company, right? 

An interview in the popular talk show Radio Star may hold some answers to the questions regarding Sunmi’s decision to part ways with the agency. For one, she had objections to the signature vocal technique JYP evangelizes (well, to some, more of “force,” actually) to all his idols: the half-voice, half-air technique. It is known in the Korean music industry that this technique is something JYP himself applies and he prefers to listen to with the idols under his wing, as he feels that technique produces a sound that people can’t help but be fond of. Alas, Sunmi, as with a lot of former and even current JYP idols does not really agree with her boss’ preference. She thought she wanted to experiment with producing an airier sound or a more solid sound, depending on which fits a song. This dissent, of course, is not really allowed in JYPE, where Park Jinyoung ultimately has the final say in a lot of creative decisions. 

Speaking of creative decisions, she also narrated her experience during the time she promoted 24 Hours, her second single as a soloist in JYP. Park Jinyoung instructed her to have a plain, expressionless face on both the music video and her live stage performances as he thought a no-makeup look fit the song best. Sumni was not comfortable with the concept, as she does not feel confident without makeup and false eyelashes that leaves her with a pale look. She expressed her disapproval of JYP’s instruction, but in the end, she obviously had to give way to him. 

Finally, when the hosts pointed out that those where idols cannot object to JYP’s instructions are known throughout the industry as a reason why artists who have already worked with JYP are not planning on working with him ever again. Sunmi agreed and when asked if this issue also applies to her, she demurely agreed as well. Suffice to say that even if there was no animosity between her and her former company, particularly JYP himself, we may never see a time when Sunmi will ever record a JYP song ever again. 

Differences in Career Direction: Suzy

Suzy’s involvement with K-pop can be tracked back to the year 2009, when she auditioned for Mnet’s Superstar K. Though she qualified through the preliminary round, she was ultimately eliminated in the succeeding rounds. However, a talent scout from JYP Entertainment noticed and invited her to audition for then company. She agreed and soon enough, she became a JYP Entertainment trainee. Things went fast for her as the next year, she was chosen as a member of the company’s second ever girl group, Miss A. 

Suzy’s fast rise to fame cannot only be owed to her activities as a member of Miss A, and soon enough, she was constantly selected as an emcee or host of special events such as award ceremonies and concerts. In  October of 2010, Suzy became a fixed host for MBC Show! Music Core with T-ara‘s Jiyeon and SHINee‘s Minho and Onew. After that, she was selected to host other events such as the Seoul Music Awards, Golden Disc Awards, and Mnet 20’s Choice Awards, where she also took home an award for “Hot New Star of 2011”. Apart from her hosting gigs, she also started a career in acting, debuting in the musical teen drama Dream High, which she co-starred with labelmates Wooyoung and Taecyeon of 2PM, T-ara‘s Eunjung, IU, and Kim Soohyun.

Suzy slowly and surely earned recognition as a visual, not particularly as an acting rookie with strong thespian skills.  At the KBS Drama Awards, Suzy won the Best New Actress award as well as Best Couple award with co-star Kim Soo-hyun. She continued appearing on TV as a cast member in KBS TV reality show Invincible Youth 2. Soon enough, she made her film debut with Architecture 101. But even if her acting skills were up for debate, there was no question that Suzy was a certified star. After all, nobody in Korean showbiz has ever won a singer rookie award, drama rookie award, film rookie award, and variety rookie award in his or her first two years in the entertainment industry. Her popularity outside of Korea was also confirmed when in September 2016, Suzy’s became the first Korean female celebrity to receive a wax likeness of herself at Madame Tussauds.

Alas, with Suzy’s established popularity, fans pointed out that the group Miss A had become more of a “Suzy and Friends Group,” a distinction that is given to groups with a member that is grossly more popular than the other members or in some cases a member who is given preferential treatment by the company over the other members who as a result, appear disregarded or overlooked. Thus, you have groups like “HyunA and Friends” (4Minute), “Hyolyn and Friends” (SISTAR), and lately, “Solbin and Friends” (LABOUM), and “Sejeong and Friends” (Gugudan). But at that time, it appeared that JYPE was impervious to these opinions, although they sort of dispelled them by making Chinese member Fei the first solo artist from the group. 

However, it wasn’t too long before Suzy also had her solo debut with the album Yes? No? as its title. She achieved an all-kill on music charts with a pre-release single, Pretend. The title track, Yes, No, Maybe was released a week after. Besides, the public already had a taste of Suzy doing her own thing outside the group when she sang a duet with EXO‘s Baehyun entitled Dream, which peaked at #1 in the Gaon Digital Charts. 

On December 27, following the announcement of Min’s departure, JYP Entertainment announced that Miss A had disbanded, although Suzy renewed her contract with the company.  She had a comeback the next month with Faces of Love, whose pre-release track entitled In Love with Someone Else gave Suzy a real-time all kill. The next year, Suzy left JYP Entertainment following the expiration of her contract and quickly joined  acting agency Management SOOP.She has since then starred in numerous K-dramas, the latest being the 2020 show Start-Up

With Suzy, it appears fair to assume that the two parties have diverging goals. Suzy has made it clear that she has shifted to an acting career, while JYP is still pretty much a record label and an agency of singer-idols who may have side gigs in acting. Thus, you have Taecyeon, who has also left JYP but still part of 2PM because he is now more active as an actor than a singer/rapper. Compare that to Wooyoung, Nickhun, and Junho, who although have numerous acting jobs are still very active in promoting their music as solo artists. Suzy, like Taecyeon, have not focused on their music careers since leaving JYPE, proving that they really want to establish their careers in television and film. Unfortunately, JYP may not be the best company to support their career goals. 

There are more artists who have left JYPE in mysterious circumstances, such as Produce 101 winner Somi, who was reported to be a part of ITZY before her departure (rumor has it that she wanted to debut as a solo artist, something JYPE didn’t allow); another Wonder Girls member Sohee who left JYPE before the group disbanded, supposedly to focus on growing her acting career; former 15& member Jimin (who is now signed with Warner Music Korea as a solo artist), to name a few. 

It is also interesting to note that as mentioned earlier, JYPE has really recalibrated its focus towards supporting musical artists, which coincidentally has taken place after all the company’s actors (e.g., Choi Wooshik of Parasite  fame and Park Gyuyoung, who we can watch currently in Dali and Cocky Prince) have left the company altogether from 2018 to 2019. So, if you look at JYPE’s current roster of artists, there’s not a single actor or actress left, only idols with acting gigs, like Wooyoung and Junho as mentioned earlier. Although the company has received a lot of backlash last year with GOT7’s mass exodus, Day6 Jae’s online meltdowns, and TWICE’s spotty performance, we can still hope that the company gets its act together and protect its current artists such as ITZY and Stray Kids.

Featured Image: Youtube Screengrab from Sunmi- Gashina MV