Who rules K-pop? A closer look at how 'Big 3' agencies SM, YG and JYPE gave way to BTS' HYBE and IU's EDAM

BigHit Entertainment became the biggest Korean entertainment agency in 2020 after it was listed, and since, then the company has struck some major deals that have only led further to the growth of the company

                            Who rules K-pop? A closer look at how 'Big 3' agencies SM, YG and JYPE gave way to BTS' HYBE and IU's EDAM
In this screengrab released on March 14, BTS idols Jin, J-Hope, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jimin and RM perform at the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards (Getty Images)

For the longest time, the Korean pop music industry has been ruled by three agencies. SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. The biggest acts belonged to one of these agencies and the fight for the top spot – the biggest single, the chartbusters and the sold-out concerts – used to be between the three major agencies. However, things changed with the introduction of BigHit Entertainment, which is currently known as Hype.

BigHit Entertainment became the biggest Korean entertainment agency in 2020 after it was listed, and since, then the company has struck some major deals that have only led further to the growth of the company. Here's a look at how BTS not only helped put Korean pop on the world music map but also led to huge earnings for its agency. This led to the growth of fresh talent including agencies such as EDAM Entertainment finding a place to thrive as well. EDAM represents Lee Ji-eun aka actor-singer IU.


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Who founded BigHit?

BigHit Entertainment was founded in 2005 by Bang Si-hyuk who debuted BTS to the world in 2013, and since then, the agency and the band have grown leaps and bounds.

In this handout image provided by Korea Exchange (KRX), Bang Si-hyuk (C) founder of Big Hit Entertainment Co., and other attendees at the company's initial public offering ceremony at the Korea Exchange (KRX) on October 15, 2020, in Seoul, South Korea. Big Hit Entertainment, the management agency of K-pop superstar BTS, began live streaming its market debut on South Korea's main bourse Thursday. The Seoul-based entertainment company was listed on the main KOSPI and began trading at 9 a.m., the Korea Exchange said. (Getty Images)

How is BigHit aka HYBE connected to JYP Entertainment?

Bang Si-hyuk and Park Jin-young who founded JYPE are very close friends and when Jin-young had founded his own entertainment company in 1997, Si-hyuk had joined him as a producer and a songwriter and the two had worked on multiple hit numbers including the first album of famous Korean pop band g.o.d. However, Si-hyuk after a successful career as a songwriter and producer transitioned into founder with BigHit Entertainment in 2005. It wasn't until 2013, however, that BTS made its debut.

K-pop boy band BTS visits the SiriusXM Studios on February 21, 2020, in New York City.


BTS is a seven-member band whose fandom army has worked in tandem to ensure that their favorite band flourishes worldwide. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are not only the singers and performers in the band, but they also work on multiple tracks which they produce, director, and or write. Not only albums for the band, but the members also release mix-tapes, work with collaborators and even work on OST for Korean dramas. The reason why BTS struck a chord with a huge population is that the band that began as a hip hop group evolved into performing various genres with themes that touch upon very personal ideas. Mental health, troubles of youth, loss, the journey towards loving oneself, and individualism are some of the themes that brought them close to fans leading to RM's speech at the UN.


In this speech, RM spoke about how important it was to love oneself, accept oneself beyond faults and flaws. This was also just after one of SHINEE's members Jonghyun had died by suicide. This incident had spotlighted the importance of paying attention to mental health. With their personal approach towards music creation and production, they won hearts and helped Si-hyuk expand the business as well. Their success meant that BigHit was also a success and that is also the reason why in 2020, when BigHit had been listed, it ended up becoming one of the biggest companies to have undergone IPO.

The company of course ensured that BTS got its fair share of the company and a week before IPO was to take place, BTS was given 478,695 common shares. Thanks in huge part to the fans, the opening price per common share of the company was $235, and that day's market cap was $7.6 billion. Speaking about this growth Si-hyuk had told TIME magazine, "I fundamentally believe BTS’ success in the US had a lot to do with luck. It wasn’t my brilliant strategy or BTS being such a perfect fit for the US market. It was rather that their message resonated with a certain demand, and through digital media, it spread quickly. And BTS touched something that wasn’t being addressed in the US at the time, so American youths reacted, and that was proven through numbers."

BTS performs during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest 2020 on December 31, 2019 in New York City.

JYPE, SM, and YG are called the 'Big 3' within the music industry because of the number of artists and groups that they have represented over the years. In comparison to BigHit aka HYBE, all three of the entertainment agencies score high on mentoring a huge number of artists. However, HYBE is now expanding. Be it their investment in the recording company called Pledis Entertainment or the Source Music Group, the group has its eyes on a bigger and better future. They have a much more relaxed training system of young artists, according to Si-hyuk, and this has added to idols' enriched experience. There is the freedom to work on personal music through mixtapes, OST production and even free singles all of which have been adopted by the other groups signifying the influence that BigHit has had in the industry.

Singer IU arrives during the 21st High1 Seoul Music Awards at Olympic gymnasium on January 19, 2012 in Seoul, South Korea.

SM, JYP and YG giving way to HYBE or IU's EDAM necessarily don't mean that the agencies are losing out, but just that there is a new visionary now, who has helped smaller agencies thrive having been a small agency once themselves. Many of the agencies have also flourished because of how successful their artists have been. Take for instance IU. She had reportedly auditioned to become a part of JYP but had failed the audition. Jin-young had revealed "My heart hurts every time I see IU" because his agency missed out on talent as great as hers. Of course, she had then signed on with a different company, had prepared to debut with a girl group and the plans fell through before she debuted as a solo artist with Loen Entertainment. She is with one of the other promising agencies in Korea that are Kakao M."

The agency has been active since the 70s but under different names including Loen Entertainment. This agency has its hands dipped not just in music production but also shows, webtoon adaptations, and other interesting venues of the entertainment industry. Coincidentally, IU has collaborated with BTS member Suga on a single titled 'Eight'.

SHINee pose for photographs on the red carpet during the MTV Video Music Aid Japan at Makuhari Messe on June 25, 2011 in Chiba, Japan. (Getty Images)

SM Entertainment's Lee Soo-man is credited with being the person who first came up with the idea of scouting talents, training them in groups before giving them a chance to debut. Some of the acts that they have managed include H.O.T. and BoA. Some of their other popular acts include TVXQ!, Super Junior, Girls' Generation, J-Min, SHINEE, f(x), Zhou Mi, EXO, Red Velvet, NCT, SuperM and Aespa with SHINEE set to make a comeback. Quite similar to Kakao M, SM Entertainment also manages actors and quite a few of them happen to be stars. However, there has not been much change in how the agency has created content leading to the other agencies taking over. Speaking in monetary terms, however, BigHit trailed behind SM.

This then brings us to YG Entertainment. It must be noted that HYBE aka BigHit has invested in the company. In January, BTS backer announced that they will be investing $63 million in the agency that represents the other global phenomenon called BLACKPINK. BTS also made the idea of collaboration with western artists popular with their single titled 'Boy with Luv' featuring Halsey. Of course, we then saw how Lady Gaga and even Selena Gomez collaborated with BLACKPINK. These decisions have given BTS's agency the room to place it on a level playfield with the Big 3!