YG vs. SM - Fight!

Okay, so we all know that YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment are two of the biggest entertainment companies in Korea. Recently, a friend asked me which company I thought was currently winning the battle for k-pop domination, and I had to think about it. Here's my take on the situation:

SME: So far, they've released SNSD's Oh!, Super Junior's BONAMANA, f(x)'s NU ABO,  SHINee's Lucifer and BoA's Hurricane Venus. It's kind of unfair to compare them to YG at this point because YG has yet to pull out its own juggernaut groups, but SM's not holding back at all this year. Oh! is the most popular k-pop album of the year so far, and BONAMANA is arguably one of the year's most successful singles, as it cleared the weekly music chart awards week after week. Then they came out with "No Other" and continued to win awards and the hearts of their adoring public. Surprisingly, f(x)'s NU ABO didn't do as well, despite being popular with the fans. In comparison SHINee's Lucifer has won four chart awards and is still charting high, with album and digital sales looking very good. Finally, BoA, SME's shining star, is back to Korean music after ten years of winning over Japan and the rest of Asia, and testing out the waters in the US. Hurricane Venus is currently being well received, and BoA had her first K-Chart win last week. Despite concerns that her new, mature image might distance some fans, Korea still seems to be in love with BoA. SME has had to deal with a lot this year: they've officially lost Jaejoong, Junsu, and Yoochun from TVXQ, signaling the end of the reign of Asia's hottest boyband; they've lost a member of Super Junior, relinquished another one to the military, and can't seem to keep a hold on the other one who's pursuing his acting career. Despite all this, they forge on, and will likely continue to deliver hit singles through the year's end.

YG is like the rebellious middle child of k-pop. It purposefully avoids copying the style of what's currently popular in k-pop, and its artists all lean towards R&B/hip-hop as opposed to pop. I personally think that they're less rebellious than they make themselves out to be, as they often make overly grand gestures such as pulling their artists from major K-pop concerts in order to distance themselves from other management companies. That being said, they shake up the Korean music world with every release. This year, it's been Gummy with Loveless, TOP with his single, "Turn It Up",Taeyang with Solar and Se7en with Digital Bounce. Gummy's album seemed to be well-received, as most of kpopdom has mad respect for her and her pipes. Se7en just returned to kpop after four years with "Digital Bounce", an electrified album much more adventurous than your typical electro-kpop, and so far things are looking good for him. TOP's good looks and smooth flow were showcased in "Turn It Up" and it seems a solo album is on the way for him too. Taeyang's much-anticipated solo album is doing well despite having a slow start, and he's busy charming the girls on the music shows as always. However, most people are waiting eagerly for the promised returns of Big Bang and 2NE1 later this year. This will be Big Bang's first Korean album in two years, after traveling to Japan and taking their pop music scene by storm, and people are itching with anticipation. 2NE1 had one of the most successful debuts of 2009, and everyone's so excited about new material from them that YG decided to gift the fans with a music video for the song "Try To Copy Me" which was originally only a promotional track for a Samsung phone. YG is saving the best for last this year, and you can be sure that they will deliver.

I think that so far, there's no clear winner. SM may have topped the charts with Oh! and Bonamana, but the albums that accompany those singles are average at best. NU ABO was disappointing, especially since those girls are so talented. Quality-wise, I feel SM put all its effort into SHINee, and their album is full of good track after good track, such that they could legitimately promote any of those tracks after "Lucifer" and do pretty well. It's unfair to the other groups, but then SHINee's success depends on the quality of their material more so than SNSD's or Super Junior's does. f(x) are the losers in this case, and I can only hope SM steps up its efforts with them, lest they end up like the girl group M.I.L.K, who we recently learned suffered from underpromotion by SM. SM has claimed that they'll treat their artists better, but that's yet to be seen. BoA has made an impressive return, though for some strange reason I prefer her non-pop tracks to the pop tracks, with the exception of "Game". She and SHINee in my opinion have the best SM albums of the year, but with 5 album releases this year, that's not saying much.

YG, on the other hand, has been holding back, and they're losing out because of it. Gummy's album was okay, but not amazing, and she only promoted for a brief moment before disappearing again. Solar is probably my favorite YG release this year, despite it having only three songs that I love and two other tracks that I like, not including previously released singles. Digital Bounce grew on me, and the success of that and Solar showcase YG's talent for bringing different sounds into k-pop and onto our headphones and speakers. I loved Try To Copy Me, and am itching to see 2NE1 come back. Turn It Up has a sick beat but not much else - the song pretty much rides on TOP's charismatic presence on screen in the video, which actually isn't a bad thing. Despite all this, they haven't been able to top the charts this year the way SM has. The Big Bang/2NE1 comeback has to be explosive (no pun intended - okay, maybe a little) in order for them to claim the crown of best entertainment company of 2010.

Now, obviously there are other successful companies in the industry. There's Pledis, which released new material from Son Dambi, After School and Orange Caramel. There's DSP, which brought back by popular demand SS501, and dominated charts with Kara's "Lupin". M.net Media swept up a number of awards for T-ara's "I Go Crazy Because of You", and Lee Hyori's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", although Hyori's album promotion has been set back considerably due to plagiarism on the part of the album's producer. And of course, let's not forget JYP Entertainment, who this year saw a burst in popularity for their vocal group 2AM, consistent popularity for 2PM despite Jaebeom Park officially leaving the group and the company, the return of the Wonder Girls, if only for a brief moment, and a decent run for rookie groups Beast and 4minute, and new solo singer G.NA under their subsidiary Cube Entertainment, not to mention a hot debut for their female dance group Miss A. However, none seem to have the dominance over the k-pop scene as YG and SM have. They are the hitmakers and the charttoppers, and in the end, the k-pop crowns belong to them. Who will win this year? Only time will tell.


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