[Editorial] A David squeezed between three Goliaths

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[Editorial] A David squeezed between three Goliaths

Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of entertainment company HYBE and the creator of K-pop sensation BTS, has raised awareness about the complacency in K-pop. In a forum hosted by the Kwanhun Club, an association of senior Korean journalists, earlier this week, Bang pointed to the stagnation in the growth of the K-pop industry. “Just like we have Samsung Electronics dominating in the global chip industry and Hyundai Motor in the automaking field, we need a global entertainment name to break the stalemate in K-pop,” he said.

The comment came after the discouragement to his ambition to build a bigger K-pop dynasty through the acquisition of SM Entertainment, one of its rivals. Still, the voice of concern from the top producer of BTS demands close attention. Since BTS went on a hiatus as a group last year, postings of K-pop names on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart fell by 53 percent from the previous year. That’s not all. Music exports growth also has been falling since 2020. The share of K-pop in Spotify chart in Indonesia also declined 28 percent last year compared to 2021.

Chairman Bang reminded the participants in the forum of the sudden fall of Hong Kong films and Japanese cartoons after their peak time in the 1990s. K-pop must not go down the same path, he stressed.

One of the biggest reasons for the red light on K-pop is a critical lack of BTS-like global phenomenon. K-pop growth has plateaued in line with BTS peaking in 2020-2021. The K-pop industry could not move beyond the BTS ripple effect.

Bang also cited the “overrating of K-pop rank” as the reason for its slowed growth these days. He likened the K-pop industry to David in a fight with three Goliaths — namely, global music labels Universal, Sony and Warner Brothers — which command a whopping 67.4 percent of the global music market. Fandom-based marketing also has hampered with sustainable growth in K-pop. For instance, sale of million-seller K-pop albums owed much to entertainment companies’ deliberate packaging of the sales with photo cards and signatures from the stars. “We will go down if we indulge in current achievements,” Bang said.

The industry must go back to their early devotion to overcome the growing pains. Bang singled out “talent” as the strongest component of the competitiveness of K-pop. The pipeline must continue to produce global stars like BTS. Above all, industry insiders must establish mature infrastructure for systematic and transparent management. All the mud fight over the acquisition of SM Entertainment between HYBE and Kakao only prompted greater demand for systematic and transparent management system in the entertainment industry.
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