It used to be that entertainment agencies have “slave contracts” with their talents, holding them under their care for as long as they want. With idols starting to realize how inhumane this treatment is and taking legal action like SHINHWA in 2003, Hangeng in 2009, and JYJ in 2010, entertainment agencies, particularly SM Entertainment, have taken action by making their contracts more friendly towards idols and shortening their contracts from the usually ambiguous effective dates to very precise terms, usually at seven years for the initial contract, after which both parties have an option to extend the contract every three years.

This prevailing arrangement has caused a lot of movement among idol groups and soloists in the company’s illustrious history. Here is a rundown of the status of the various idols who started their careers in what used to be the country’s largest entrainment agency, SM Entertainment.

If you are a fan of TV’s Reply series, you would know how huge H.O.T. was. Unless you’re more of a Sechs Kies fan, it could be argued that the late 1990s was dominated by the group. That was, until 2001, when Tony, Woohyuk, and Jaewon were not able to come to an agreement with SM on the terms of their contract renewal. Thus, the group was officially disbanded in May 2001, causing a wave of protests in front of the SM HQ and the company’s behavior towards inactive groups – since then, SM Entertainment has never officially disbanded any groups on their stable.

H.O.T performs Candy for MBC TV in 1997

Kangta and the group’s leader Heejoon actually re-signed with SM after the March 2001 debacle, although the latter left the company after finishing his military enlistment. The three who left formed jtL which enjoyed success until 2003, in their new company, Yejeon Media the year they didn’t renew their contracts with SM/ Although all five members are still in the entertainment industry, only Kangta, who already happens to be a creative director with SM, is still active as a singer, having just released songs to commemorate his 25 years in the music biz. Woohyuk and Jaewon are more focused on running businesses while Tony and Heejoon have successfully shifted into careers as television personalities.

As mentioned earlier, SHINHWA was among the first group to actually bring SM to court. This all started when after the release of their album Wedding, SM offered contract renewals to everyone, except Dongwan. All members then chose to re-sign with a different company, but this also started their long-standing legal battle with SM, as then SM head Lee Sooman prohibited them from using “SHINHWA” in their activities outside his company. It wasn’t until 2014 when the courts finally rule in their favor, allowing them to use Shinhwa for their company as long as they will continue as a group.

A few seconds into the song and one can recognize it’s SHINHWA’s T.O.P. (Twinkle Of Paradise)

The group has not disbanded and all members are still active in the entrainment industry. Their last music release was in 2018 to celebrate their 20th anniversary, and they also held a 21st-anniversary concert the following year. All members have released solo albums and all of them have also established a career on television as reality and variety show personalities, Dongwan and Eric have also acted in numerous TV dramas. The two were also embroiled in a social media exchange (yea, the two of them fought), which fortunately was resolved in March this year.

SM also found massive success with their three-member girl group, S.E.S. From their debut in 1997 until their official disbandment in 2002, Shoo, Bada, and Eugene competed against DSP Media’s Fin.K.L for dominance in Korea’s girl group scene. Shoo continued with SM until 2006, while Bada and Eugene signed with other agencies. The three reunited in 2016 and released a 20th-anniversary album, complete with a reality show and a reunion concert. Bada has continued with a career in music and has also appeared in variety and talk shows, while Eugene has been killing it with her role as Yoonhee in the top-rating The Penhouse: War in Life.

Another 90s K-pop culture icon, S.E.S, performing the easily recognizable I’m Your Girl

Then, there’s BoA.


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BoA is BoA. She’ll always be my (and everybody else’s) number 1. Still signed with SM (now on her 21st year), still releasing amazing tracks, still a top endorser being pursued by just about any brand of any product, and still appearing as mentor or judge in reality survival shows. She’s set to appear as a judge in the dancer reality contest Street Woman Fighter.

Just by looking at this list, one thing is for sure: SM Entertainment sure has an eye for finding great talent.

Featured image: BoA on SBS Nightline. Photo: boakwon/Instagram