Ever wonder what happens to idols when they leave their agencies, the companies that they spent years training under and worked so hard just to be part of? Here are three unique cases.

Mamamoo’s Wheein: The Amicable and Trendy Standard

The departure of Wheein from the agency of her group, RBW, was one that didn’t seem like it had any animosity or bad blood. As with the trend with most idol group members who have decided to leave their agencies but not their group, Wheein did hop on to that trend when she decided to leave the group’s parent company in June 2021 while the three other members, Solar, Hwasa, and Moonbyul, continued with their contracts with RBW. However, as Wheein declared that she still has a lot of affection and affinity to her group, she decided to keep her schedule open to Mamamoo activities until 2023.

Many speculated that Wheein didn’t feel she was given much importance by the company during the first seven years of her career, which she spent with them both as a Mamamoo member and a solo artist. However, looking at the history of the group, it was actually Wheein who debuted first as a solo artist among the four members when she released her first solo single Easy on April 17, 2018, which was a few days before Solar released her first solo EP, Solar Emotion, on April 24. Looking closely, there wasn’t really much of a difference in how the four members were treated by the agency. Alas, the difference in popularity among the members, where people argue that Hwasa is definitely more popular than the three others, is not really the fault of the company, as it can be argued that actually, in terms of pushing them in other activities, Solar has gotten the most TV exposure as early as 2015, when she joined King of Masked Singer and when she was Eric Nam’s “wife” in We Got Married the following year.

Alas, when she was asked by Teen Vogue why she decided to leave RBW and join Ravi’s THE L1VE label, she had this to say: “I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to maybe experience the new environment under the new agency. That was my hope and I wanted to take a stepping stone into my personal growth in a new angle.”

With her new agency, Wheein has since released her second EP, Whee in January 2022 and has also held her first solo fan meeting ‘D-DAY’ at the Yes24 Live Hall on April 17. Looks like our Wheepup has settled in her new agency. Now, can we have new Mamamoo releases, please? 

JYJ: Messy and Unfulfilled Promise

Here is one group that made one of the most, if not the most awkward and messiest of exits from their entertainment agency in the history of Korean pop music. So, this all started in 2009 when all of a sudden, Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu, three members of TVXQ decided to quit on the group. A court battle raged on for three whole years, which was pretty much damaging for the JYJ members who had to deal with it while trying to establish their careers as a new group. 

What exactly was JYJ‘s problem with SM? It was actually the contract that they had with SM, which they stated was much too long (thirteen years total) and the idols felt that only the agency would benefit from such terms. The idols questioned its legality of it. SM, however, revealed that according to the law, a contract that binds an artist for over seven years is completely legal on the condition that the artists are active overseas. Finally, the agency also said that it was actually family members of TVXQ who insisted and requested that SM Entertainment honor the thirteen-year contract with TVXQ.

On the subject of the three claiming they were not paid the correct wages, SM Entertainment also claimed that they kept all the promises they made with TVXQ, including paying them the correct amounts for their talent fees. 

For their part, JYJ has stated over and over in the past about the issue that they were coerced into the thirteen-year contract and activities overseas and despite their unwillingness to do according to the agency’s wishes, they stated they had no choice but to remain silent for a long time since they believed in their work ethic.

The conflict was resolved in November 2012 as both parties agreed to terminate all contracts and not meddle in each other’s affairs from that point on. But then, everybody knows that engaging SM Entertainment in a legal tussle will result in dire consequences for the other party. Hangeng, Kris Wu, Luhan, and Tao may not have felt a huge impact as they transferred their career home bases to their native China, but JYJ and Jessica Jung surely felt these consequences. 

Given SME’s economic clout within the industry, the entertainment giant implemented on JYJ (and later with Jessica) that unspoken ban  – JYJ was banned from award shows, concert venues inside South Korea, and various music charts. Despite the legal battle and consequent bans, JYJ did flourish though, with all their albums and EPs charting at the top both domestically and in Japan.  Their songs also charted very well, with their lead singles all managing to chart in the top 20 nationally. Ayyy Girl and Empty managed to peak at numbers 19 and 18, respectively, while their succeeding singles Get Out, In Heaven, and Back Seat charted in the single digits, reaffirming their success after all the legal troubles and SME manipulation they went through. Even their Japanese release Wake Me Tonight, managed to peak at number 2 in Oricon. That was their last release before all three started their mandatory military duty. 

But then, trouble never left the three. Yoochun as early as 2016, was embroiled in accusations of sexual harassment. In 2019, C-JeS Entertainment, JYJ’s agency, decided not to renew his contract after he was involved in a drug abuse controversy. He served his probation, but then got involved in a dispute with an agency again as he claimed that his agency, Re:Cielo (the agency he signed to after getting kicked out from C-JeS) did not pay him correctly for his work (sounds familiar?) The court has since then temporarily banned him from engaging in activities in the entertainment industry. 

Meanwhile, Jaejoong has been more active in the Japanese market, although he released his own documentary entitled Jaejoong: On the Road in 2021. Finally, Junsu, now known artistically as Xia, has been very active in both music and television, although his music releases have been self-produced with his agency Palm Tree Island after he decided not to renew with C-JeS in 2021.

But with all the problems Yoochun has brought to the table, it is highly unlikely that Jaejoong and Junsu would want to even be associated with him. With contracts ending and personal issues occurring, it is highly doubtful that there will be any JYJ complete group comeback. Actually, JYJ did have a release for a Japanese OST in March, but then, that only had them as a duo, and using “JYJ” when the Y has been problematic as hell would not make any sense. Maybe rename the duo to The Js? Imagine that, TVXQ was forced to become a duo since 2009 and the group created by the members who quit has now been reduced to a duo as well, thirteen years later!  

One quick point: With JYJ as OT3 eventually going on a hiatus in 2015, would it be safe to conclude that the group did not really live up to its full potential? I mean, JYJ broke away from TVXQ in 2009, then only really got liberated from legal troubles in 2012, and only promoted as a complete group until 2015. That means they were really just a fully functioning group for three years, which was also how long the group was embroiled in its legal drama with SME. With TVXQ debuting in 2003, that means that the fabled “slave contract of 13 years would have been over by 2016, which would have been a year more than JYJ’s active timeline. With JYJ also having a dip in activities for those three years from 2009 to 2012, that meant that they did stand a lot to lose then. Imagine had they stayed in SME until their “slave contract” expired in 2016, how they could have not lost those three years + 1 year after 2015? It does make one question if all the trouble the two Js went through from 2009 to 2012 and beyond (after Yoochun’s mess, which also caused a stop in JYJ group activities) was worth it in the end. 

But then, all this time, I’m quite sure SM Entertainment has felt highly relieved that they dodged the toxic Yoochun bullet. 

HyunA and Dawn

Now, this is a case of slight Romeo and Juliet feels in the K -pop world not only because they’re supposed to be star-crossed lovers, but also because there was a clear case of miscommunication and tangled comms among the parties involved, leading to a bit of a disaster, which fortunately now has a happy ending. Much like the hapless duo of Shakespeare who got confused about whether the other took the poison or not, HyunA and Dawn had a weird back and forth with their agency, Cube Entertainment, which led to them getting kicked out from the company.

To start things off, HyunA was Cube’s precious gem. When Wonder Girls’ rapper left the group and JYP Entertainment only after the group debuted, people were quite curious where her career would end up, should she get better (as she left WG and JYPE because of health problems) and continue her career as an idol singer. Alas, a former JYP employee who has moved to Cube Entertainment recruited her and she became one of the company’s top acts. She got included in the company’s first girl group, 4Minute while she was also supported by the compay to release solo material. The group succeeded, though it did feel like the group was built around her as her sort of vehicle to gain more popularity, although it can be seen as unnecessary because as mentioned earlier, Cube also quickly launched her as a solo act. 

There was a small hiccup at the start as Change, HyunA’s first solo song didn’t become a phenomenon as expected, though it sold millions of copies and peaked at #2 in the national song charts. Suffice to say, the song wasn’t on everybody’s subcionsciousness as her succeeding songs would. When you think about how Red, Ice Cream, and Bubble Pop would be these iconic, massive hits, you’d understand why Change was a bit underwhelming. But we digress.

HyunA’s solo career took off, 4Minute gave her more activities, not to mention 4 backup singers and dancers. Everything HyunA touched turned into gold, and Cube was not blind to that. She signed her up for a project duo with Beast’s Hyunseung called Trouble Maker, which released two EPs with the lead singles Trouble Maker and Now, which became massive hits, arguably even bigger than the hits of her own group 4Minute

With Hyunseing and his group Beast getting de-prioritized by the company, Trouble Maker was put in the backburner even with its proven success. In comes Pentagon, Cube’s new boy group, in 2016, the same year HyunA’s group 4Minute, was officially disabnded. With HyunA only being a solo artist, Cube gave their golden girl a new group with the new boy group’s members, E’Dawn and Hui. Triple H was not as successful as Trouble Maker, but it may have triggered something between HyunA and E’Dawn, as photos of the two were released in a number of publications. Then, came the Romeo and Juliet-reminiscent events. Here is a chronological list of events:

  1. HyunA and E’Dawn photos come out.
  2. Cube, considering the repercussions of two of its high-profile talents being involved in a dating “scandal”, denies the rumors.
  3. A few hours later, Yeonhap News releases and interview with HyunA and E’Dawn, with both admitting to their relationship that started as soon as Triple H was formed. 
  4. Cube, in disbelief that two idols at the peak of their careers easily admitted to having a relationship, cancelled all previously planned performances for Triple H, on-air appearances and fan events including a fan meet-up that was scheduled on the next day
  5. Fans were divided, with some calling for E’Dawn’s removal from Pentagon, while others pointed out that the company cared more about the repercussions of the scandal rather than putting the welfare of their artists first. 
  6. On September 13, Cube Entertainment announced that they would be terminating both HyunA and E’Dawn’s contracts, as they felt that there was a breach of trust among the parties. 
  7. On October 15, Cube Entertainment officially confirmed Hyuna’s departure.
  8. On January 27, 2019, HyunA signed with P Nation, a new agency founded by Psy since he left YG Entertainment in May 2018. On November 5, 2019, she released a single titled Flower Shower, her first release under P Nation.

As you have read with those three cases, there is indeed life for idols even as they leave their agencies. Some might have their careers stalled a bit because of some issues that would arise once they decide on leaving, but as with everything in life, everyone carries on and hope their decisions would lead them to success.

Featured Image: Screengrab from JYJ Official video ‘Backseat’