Grading the K-Pop Agencies 2020: JYP ENTERTAINMENT

After taking a deep dive into both SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment, it’s time to move onto another of K-Pop’s bog four agencies: JYP Entertainment.

As usual, the thoughts are my own and aren’t privy to any insider information. I’m not taking into account things like profits and stock value. The purpose of these articles is to determine how well K-pop agencies are serving their artists and fans.

The Good

From the perspective of an outsider looking in, JYP Entertainment continues to have smooth operations. Generally, they’re able to juggle their roster of acts much better than many of their competitors, giving each an opportunity to shine. From what I can remember, the company is broken up into clear divisions that are each devoted to specific acts. This targeted work makes for a seamless promotional rollout, and helps each act have their own personality and justification for existing.

Of all the big four agencies, JYP’s roster feels the most diverse. GOT7, DAY6 and Stray Kids are all quite different from each other when it comes to sound and image, and JYP has done a nice job maturing Twice’s sound while ITZY steps up to take over the younger, trendier style. This line-up covers a lot of bases, which is important when it comes to the breadth of an agency.

But, JYP’s biggest success in 2020 might not be Korean at all. J-pop girl group NiziU seems poised for superstardom. I knew they’d be popular, but I’m legitimately surprised at just how successful they’ve become right out of the gate. The actual music might not be quite there yet, but JYP definitely has the lucrative Japanese market covered.

JYP’s artists got a late start this year, with no major release until March. But after that, their release schedule remained pretty constant. Barring one or two standouts, the actual music was solid if unspectacular. Stray Kids didn’t quite live up to their excellent 2019, and neither did ITZY (though the girls did release almost three times the amount of material).

Twice released title tracks on both extremes – the excellent I Can’t Stop Me and the not-so-excellent More & More. But, even when the music was only so-so, it all felt authentic to the groups that were releasing it. That’s important, and a testament to the A&R teams’ clear vision when it comes to concepts and group idiosyncrasies.

JYP also gets credit for giving its artists a pretty generous level of creative control. As a fan, I don’t really care if an artist writes their own material as long as the song is good, but I imagine it’s pretty rewarding (and potentially lucrative) for performers to take greater charge of their music. This can also lead to a strengthening of their group identity.

The Bad

There was a time when the iconic “JYP whisper” gave most of the agency’s tracks an identifiable commonality. But as happens with most flourishing agencies, the need for a higher volume of music forces the company to outsource. JYP is generally very good at finding great songs from composers around the world, but I do miss the sense of continuity that JYP artists used to have.

It’s a double-edged sword, but sometimes it feels like each JYP group is operating in its own bubble. That’s fine if you’re just a fan of one or two groups. But, if you want to embrace the entire agency roster, it can be fun to see more interconnectivity – even if it’s just via a similar sound or producer.

It’s hard to find much fault with JYP as a whole, but if I was going to be nitpicky, I might complain that their 2020 was just kind of… boring? The agency released a couple excellent songs, and nearly everything they produced had some merit. But compared to 2019, nothing seemed particularly exciting. We didn’t have a dynamic new group like ITZY, or a promising transformation like Stray Kids’ embrace of psy-trance last year. The agency’s acts just released sturdy material without many surprises.

JYP also tended to bury many of their most exciting songs as b-sides. I could level this same complaint at almost any agency, but JYP seemed especially guilty. Stray Kids, DAY6 and even ITZY had a few mega-smashes waiting in the wings, and they really should have gotten a chance at promotion.

Finally, with the departure of Yubin and Hyerim in 2020, JYP Entertainment has now lost all of its Wonder Girls. This wasn’t really unexpected, but it does feel like the end of an era. At least we had the great Park Jinyoung/Sunmi collaboration as a de facto parting gift!

Previous years: 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016