In May of last year, the inevitable finally happened: Dara, formerly of the mega girl group 2NE1, announced that she has parted ways with her entertainment agency for more than 17 years, YG Entertainment.
It was indeed the end of an era, as the groups that we have always associated with the company are pretty much gone or are on an extended hiatus. BigBang remains quiet despite everyone in the group being done with military duty, Seungri left BigBang and the entertainment industry altogether since his scandals became public, all four 2NE1 members are with new agencies after Dara’s departure, Lee Hi is now with AOMG, Nam Taehyun has been out of WINNER since 2016, B.I has been out of iKon since 2019, Psy also left the company to make it on his own with the establishment of PNatio, and the company’s resident hip-hop group, Epik High, also called it quits in 2018.
And if you think that these have been only the huge departures from the company, here are three YG artists that have left the family before the ones we mentioned finally decided to pack their bags, too.
Se7en: Was he dismissed or did he decide to leave?
Back in the days when there is still an option for Korean male singers to find fame as soloists of any genre and not be confined as balladeers, rappers, or group idols, Se7en debuted and shot to fame. It was 2003 and the likes of Usher, Craig David, Mario, and Chris Brown (not to mention Latino singers like Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin) were dominating American, European, and even Asian music charts, so becoming a male R&B or soul soloist somehow became trendy.
Thus, when YG Entertainment introduced Se7en to the Korean public as a soloist who’s not particularly associated with sappy ballads or trot, people took notice. He also received several Rookie of the Year awards in his home country, a testament to his popularity throughout the first decade of the 21st century. And having a signature fashion statement such as wearing roller shoes or heelys (for Generation Z readers, they’re shoes with retractable wheels in them, which distinguishes them from roller skates as the wheels in the latter cannot be hidden) in every public appearance and music video really helped in Se7en‘s name recall.
He continued to maintain his popularity through Korea, which eventually spread throughout the rest of Asia, as he also debuted in China and Japan. As with most K-pop acts at that time, there was a clamor for Se7en to debut in the rather finicky and fickle-minded American market (something which the Wonder Girls and Girl’s Generation attempted to do), so, he made his American debut in 2009 with a song Girls that featured rapper Li’l Kim. And like all K-pop acts attempting to make it big in the American music scene, Se7en received a lukewarm welcome in the US.
The lackluster US debut did not diminish Se7en’s stardom in his native Korea, where his comebacks until 2012 were still unquestionable successes. He even figured in a first as his 2012 comeback, When I Can’t Sing, was written and produced by Park Jinyoung aka JYP of JYP Entertainment himself. That title track was the first official collaboration between YGE and JYPE and it was also his first number 1 under the Gaon chart system.
Se7en enlisted for his mandatory military service in 2013 and was finally was discharged from the military in December 2014, but not without scandal. Not only was it reported that he broke curfew, but he was also spotted visiting a massage parlor famous for prostitution. His contract with YG was slated to end two months after his discharge, but maybe because of the scandals during his military service, both parties decided mutually not to renew his contract. To add to this, two days before Christmas, the agency of his then-girlfriend for 12 years Park Hanbyul announced that their talent’s relationship with Se7en has ended.
Se7en then established his own agency, ELEVEN9 Entertainment, but it took more than a year before he released new music. He first released a single entitled I’m Good in July of 2016 before releasing an EP entitled I Am Se7en, with the carrier single Give It to Me in October. The EP managed to sell more than 8,000 copies, although his songs failed to chart.
Se7en has been busy with musical theater, having headlines a number of musicals such as Dogfight and I Loved You. He also hosts a web show on YouTube entitled Seven Golf Courses. He signed with a new agency, Dmost Entertainment in 2020, although he hasn’t released new music since 2016.
Katie Kim Breaks Free From the Dungeon
If there is one thing YG Entertainment is very famous for when it comes to how they treat their artists, it’s that they rarely give them comebacks. Once an artist is established and has acquired some semblance of popularity, the company opts to make sure that his or her next releases are of premium quality.
Unfortunately, the process of ensuring this takes a long time, and for most YG artists, it takes years. Lee Hi famously cried on an episode of Party People hosted by JYP (the guy we mentioned earlier, as in Park Jinyoung) expressing her frustration that she has had only four half-albums in her four-year career. Thus, the birth of the YG “dungeon,” where the company allegedly keeps their artists until they (or an in-house YG producer like Teddy) give them materials of superior quality.
If you think that Lee Hi’s time with YG was tragic, wait until you read the entire story of Katie Kim. Like Lee Hi, Katie was also thrust into the spotlight via a singing audition program – K-Pop Star 4 in 2015. Not only did she participate in that season, she actually won the show and got offered contracts with the companies partnered with the program. She decided to sign a contract with YG Entertainment. And that may have been a not-too-good decision.
For the next three years, as in the moment she won until 2018, she recorded several songs and produced music videos, and went back and forth between Seoul and the US, as YG noticed that her style leaned more towards American music – jazz and R&B, to be precise. So, she participated in songwriting camps and wrote songs for her album that has been a year two years three years in the making. With her songs finally available, what does YG do? Continuously delay the development and release of her solo album to ensure the finished product is up to “YG standards”.
The release of Katie’s album has been exaggeratedly delayed that even the creative director who was in charge of Katie at YG Entertainment had quit the company and started a new record label. Katie with nothing to show for her “career” after three years followed him to his new label, AXIS Entertainment. Finally, in June 2018, Katie debuted with the album Log under AXIS, but guess what? YG Entertainment was still involved with her career as the company was the distributing arm of her new company. Even the music video for her debut single, Remember, is housed in YG Entertainment’s YouTube channel, where, as of press time, it has amassed close to 15 million views.
Alas, it seems that the search for perfection and high standards that is YG’s signature trait has rubbed off on Katie, who only released her second EP, Our Time is Blue, with the single Our Time, in December last year. She had not promoted any of her songs in Korea. Her second single off the EP, Faux, has been seen by casual listeners as shades against her former record label. In an interview, she claims that “The song was inspired by “an experience with a record label. I thought everything went super well and we were getting ready to sign the paperwork, but everything fell through. I later learned that they were looking for a K-pop artist and I wasn’t really K-pop. They were interested at first, but later realized I wasn’t what they were looking for.”
If that’s not a reference to her time in YG, then I don’t know what that statement is all about!
Gummy: When the Queen Left Her Kingdom
If we’re talking about the pillars of YG Entertainment, there’s Gummy. When she debuted in 2003 (coincidentally the same year as Se7en‘s debut as well), she immediately took the position as YG Entertainment’s biggest female artist with her title track We Should Have Been Friends.” After all, not everyone (if not anyone else) can boast of winning the Bonsang at the 19th Golden Disk Awards with her debut single. Close to 20 years later, We Should Have Been Friends remains one of the most popular Korean pop songs ever. It is constantly being used as a contest piece in singing competitions and is still one of those songs Koreans recognize and pick in their noraebang sessions.
The awards and recognition continued in her debut year as Gummy won earned the Mobile Popularity Award for Memory Loss, the lead single of her second album, It’s Different, at the 2004 Mnet Km Music Festival. Despite suffering from vocal nodules between preparing her first and second albums, Gummy was on a roll. Her third album, For the Bloom, kept her at the top of both album and song charts. Then, she altogether stopped releasing music and went on a hiatus that lasted for three full years.
In 2008, she released her fourth album titled Comfort, which saw her officially ending her hiatus. The lead single I’m Sorry features BigBang‘s T.O.P and immediately charted at #5 in music charts in the first week of its release. She then took another two-year break before releasing a mini-album, Loveless, in April of 2010.
Things between SM and Gummy finally came to a close after the singer marked her tenth anniversary in the music business. After celebrating with a fan meeting and releasing her OST for the drama, That Winter, the Wind Blows entitled Snow Flower (which charter as high as #3), she also released a Japanese album, Fate(s). She also had a duet with Daesung from BIGBANG. Then, just like that, it was reported that she has left YG Entertainment, her home agency for 10 years, and has transferred to C-JeS Entertainment in October 2013.
Gummy hasn’t looked back then, as she has thrived in every aspect of her life. Since leaving YG, she has married Hospital Playlist actor Jo Jungsuk in 2018 and gave birth to their first child in August 2020. As for her music career, she has continued her reign as the OST Queen while still releasing new music, the latest being a single titled It Was Still Love in October this year.
Which brings us to: Why did Gummy leave YG in 2013? In a 2014 interview, she said, “It has been a little over half a year since moving to a new agency. My former agency had a [particular] tendency [in the way they do things]. YG is not the type to release albums often… When good music comes out, you release an album. Artists agreed on that, and each artist had a lot of ambition to promote with good music. I also made an album at YG, which fell through about two times. After thinking about it a lot, I decided to switch agencies.”
Quashing rumors of bad blood between Gummy and her former agency, she clarified, “We did not go our separate ways on bad terms. [Yang Hyun Suk] CEO actually felt sorry towards me. He told me that if there is a place where I can get cared for more, then let’s do that comfortably. I think it came about naturally.”
Therefore, we conclude that even the queen of YG during her reign still felt like she languished in the YG dungeon as a lot of her work was refused.
So, who are we left with in YG? The depth of talent is still mind-blowing. Sechs Kies, the legendary 1st generation boy group that joined YG when the members decided to revive their group in 2016, just released a top 10 single in February this year, still under the company. Digital monsters AKMU just released an EP in July, with a collaboration with The IU entitled Nakka topping the charts, and is still charting as of press time. WINNER is still with the company, despite having changes in their line-up and inactivity due to Jinu and Hoony currently serving in the military. While iKON members won’t be starting their enlistment until next year, they have also experienced a line-up change with B.I’s departure and the sudden revelation of Bobby being a father as he plans on marrying his partner. Of course, there’s the biggest girl group BLACKPINK and the promising Treasure. Finally, we still hold out hope for a BigBang comeback.