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Wanna One looms large over K-pop : Insiders warn that group’s success hurts the industry as a whole

Aug 31,2017
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Cosmetic products used in “Produce 101 Season 2” were sold out even before launching. Their debut concert was held at the Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul, an arena that can seat up to 25,000 people. [INNISFREE WEBSITE, YONHAP]
Since their debut, boy band Wanna One has been setting record after record. On Aug. 7, Wanna One held their debut performance at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul, an arena that can hold a maximum of 25,000. Their song “Energetic” topped music charts immediately after its release.



The unprecedented popularity

The response to Wanna One has been more explosive than anyone could have imagined. Yet, the group has been met with criticism since before they even set foot on stage. The rapid rate at which Wanna One has been able to flourish thanks to the huge investment of CJ E&M, a large entertainment company, was a source of concern for many management agencies who complain that the group has a significant advantage over the competition.

Additionally, the exclusive contract members were required to sign binds the group to stay together for a year and six months, and prevents them from participating in any activities previously organized by their agencies.

Despite the criticism, the group has pushed some unexpected boundaries as well. Wanna One has demolished the invisible wall that major broadcasting companies have built up against groups created on TV audition programs. The group has made appearances on shows on most of the major networks, who have been seen competing against each other to get the hottest boy band of the moment on their shows because they guarantee high ratings.

Additionally, whatever the boys in the group wears soon sells out in stores across the country. The month-old boy band can demand sponsorship rates almost as high as hugely popular groups like Big Bang, Exo and BTS. The cosmetic facial masks used in the second season of cable channel Mnet’s “Produce 101” were sold out even before the products had officially launched.

The chief reason for this unprecedented popularity is that each of the members was chosen by the public through “Produce 101” and they developed relationships with the members during the course of the hugely popular show.

Those who voted have been keeping an eye on their favorite members from the very beginning, creating a maternal affection to the group.

Another factor that boosts the value of Wanna One is that the group has an expiration date. After Dec. 31, 2018, the group will no longer exist, and fans want to make sure that they get to see the group perform before it’s too late.



Structural problems

Market insiders are skeptical about the success of the next Wanna One. They added that they are not sure if agencies are going to want to send their trainees to be a part of the new big audition program.

Although there is a benefit to trainees developing their own fans, the agency has to relinquish control over their artists during the contract period.

For the agencies, it is the right timing to redeem what they have invested into the trainees so far, but they have to share the group’s profits with CJ E&M, the entertainment company that owns Mnet.

The share of these profits is significantly less than it would be if the artist was not contractually obligated to the entertainment behemoth.

According to the profit structure, CJ E&M gets 25 percent, YMC Entertainment, which oversees Wanna One, takes another 25 percent, and the remaining 50 percent is split amongst the 11 members and each of their agencies. CJ E&M has been criticized for taking too much from the group and not fully compensating them for their work.

After the money is split, members of the group only get access to a very small portion of their earnings. The money they earn does not reflect their fame and number of activities they did. Just because they’re gaining attention, it remains to be seen if the reward is worth all of the work they need to put in.

Accordingly, a federation of three corporate bodies, the Korea Management Federation, the Korea Music Content Industry Association and the Korea Entertainment Producer’s Association, announced in a statement on Aug. 9 that they disapproved of broadcasting companies producing audition shows that extend what the agencies are already doing. It pointed out that broadcasting companies are monopolizing the entertainment industry.



Way to harmonize

Wanna One has been called a bullfrog that is destroying the ecosystem. To prevent them doing damage, many in the industry are working to find way to coexist.

An anonymous market insider said that the concept of “Produce 101” is good, as it is a best way to introduce the singers to the public in a short period. He added, “However, there should be adjustment in contracts. For instance, shortening the period to one album could be the most plausible way.”

“Audition programs like ‘Produce 101’ surely have positive effects in growing the industry as the power of the large agencies has moved to the smaller agencies. With these programs, more people recognize that there are many agencies and trainees in Korea,” said another market insider who asked for anonymity.

Also, although a trainee fails to make the group, their chances of being able to debut with another group greatly increases, which is another positive outcome of the of shows.

BY KIM YEON-JI, HWANG JEE-YOUNG [hong.youkyoung@joongang.co.kr]