[Trans] JYJ and the Law on the American Agency, Part I

Editor’s note: This is the first of a 2-part article written by a Korean-American lawyer.

Spanish translation by our reader Bea is available (traducción en español aquí) HERE

JYJ and the Law on the American Agency, Part I

Among the Korean celebrities that I have been following with interest lately are the three members from Dong Bang Shin Ki who have since formed the group JYJ. Although they are undergoing difficulties now, their current situation when examined through the eyes of the law is piquing my interest and leaving an impression. Even if they, with their handsome faces and flashy dance moves combined with their stellar vocals, never find out.

What drew my attention the most was how these young and weak men were fighting against the organised strength of the Korean entertainment industry. Bringing up the issue of “slave contracts”, they filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment, the company that raised them, and the minute they started activities independent of that company their promotions were blocked here and there as if those doing the blocking were lurking in waiting for them. (The legal implications and meaning of those restrictions will be dealt with in further detail later)

It’s clear that SM is smarting from the incredible loss they’ve incurred through the separation of Dong Bang Shin Ki, and, claiming to avenge the honour they lost through [JYJ’s] ungratefulness, they are also at the same time sending a message to their up-and-coming idols, “if you do the same thing [as JYJ], you’re dead.” SM might as well stand for Small Mind.

It is doubtful that SM’s small-mindedness will be cured on its own. SM is a highly successful big entertainment company that undoubtedly knows the importance of image but is staining its reputation by obsessing over a prey that’s already fled; it’s a kind of behaviour I find hard to understand. But perhaps it’s because there is more at stake than simply an urge for revenge and the need to send a clear message.

The world is wide and their talents are manifold for the idol group that [SM] lost, while younger and fresher idols don’t yet measure up. In any case, the career lifespan of an idol is short and when considering that the members of JYJ are now in their mid-20s it is even more difficult to accept SM’s position. There’s more to all this than fear of setting a judicial precedent on “slave contracts.” Because already within SM the basic contract is being modified without a hitch. There’s already legal precedent regarding 13-year exclusive contracts, and even in the US, the biggest and strongest market for entertainment, the limit on contract length is clearly stipulated in the law as 7 years. It is inevitable that this shift in thinking will also come here. And not just for SM but for other similar entertainment companies…whilst the KFPCAI is attempting to paralyse JYJ and dress them in the clothes of social criminals. Why is that?

In my opinion, it is because JYJ is introducing the idea of the American-style “agency” as an alternative, which threatens to erode the influence and market share of the big Korean entertainment companies.

The key point of view here is not why or how JYJ pulled out of SM but how they (JYJ) are going to succeed in pulling out of the established mold.

This is to say, JYJ’s success could lead to an increase in celebrities/artists who choose to operate with the American-style “agency”. Faced with the special qualities of the “agency”, existing Korean companies are afraid that they will soon face extinction.

The concept of the “agency” turns existing company-celebrity relations on its head. Until now, the management company is the owner and the celebrity is the owned, but under the structure of the “agency” the celebrity becomes the owner and the management company the hired hand. The law in the United States regarding the status of the “agency” is robust with a long history. And the relationship between the “agency” and their signed celebrities is known in legal parlance as that of the Principle Agent. I will now proceed to describe this relationship.

1.      The agent (*in this case the “agency”) can only act with the permission and approval of the principal (*in this case JYJ); it cannot go beyond the requests of the principal or attribute any legal responsibility for its own wrongdoing on the principal.

2.      The agent is obligated to fulfil the tasks assigned to it [by the principal].

3.      The agent is obligated to fulfil the tasks entrusted to it ‘with care and due diligence’

4.      There must be no conflict of interests in the contractual relationship between the principal and the agent.

If the American-style “agency” spreads, it will inevitably confer more rights to working entertainers, and those who make a living on the talents of these entertainers will no longer be able to have it all their way. This is why Korean celebrity management companies are hoping for, praying for, JYJ to fail, so that it would be announced to the entire world that in Korea one cannot survive without the management company, no matter how beautiful or ugly one is. And this is probably why, throwing all consideration of company image aside, [SM] is doing all it can to deprive JYJ a chance at success.

It is true that the system itself in America is different from that in Korea. The practice of entertainment companies at the scale of Korea’s that train idols to place on the market does not have a direct equivalent in the US. However, this does not mean that the legal protections guaranteed under US law in the realm of show business cannot be applied to the practical reality of the Korean entertainment industry.

First of all, it’s just a matter of scale, as there are plenty of small and mid-size management agencies/companies in America that scout and train emerging talents and handle the career development and marketing for the success as well as the protection of their stars. The songs, choreography and other miscellaneous affairs will be handled through liaising with the singer’s agent. In fact, these companies exist solely for this liaison. However, the agency does not exist solely to “pour coffee” for the artist either. The majority of big management agencies in America make most of their revenue by taking on the role of assistant to a certain number of big-name stars, then reinvest some of that profit into scouting, training and supporting rookie artists. American agencies also cooperate with their more famous signed artists to secure radio and media spots for their debuting artists.

In any case, a nameless singer is a nameless singer anywhere. Just as debuting in America [where there is a better system] as a rookie doesn’t guarantee one success, relying on the strength and influence of one’s management company as opposed to one’s talent in Korea doesn’t always bring success either. Just as the three members of Dong Bang Shin Ki did not reach their current level of fame on their own, American stars likewise rely on the professional and systematic investment and support of their management agencies. The difference is simply in the degree of that investment and support.

Unlike in Korea, there is no unilateral provision of living quarters, daily necessities, plastic surgery costs, etc. for trainees.  The majority of America’s rookie artists are required to chase their career on their own two feet in terms of living expenses (and here it is the duty of the agent to assist in this by making/arranging as many opportunities for the rookie to showcase his or her music as possible), and in the beginning it is possible that the management agency takes more money from the artist than it gives back. Because no one sets up a business to lose money. Even so, even with the special case of rookie and debuting singers factored in, agencies tend to lose more money in the beginning of promoting such artists than they gain, which is why they include a “sunset clause” in their contracts (translator’s note: A sunset clause is, “A statutory provision providing that a particular agency, benefit, or law will expire on a particular date, unless it is reauthorized by the legislature.” source: Legal Dictionary).

I don’t know how much money SM dispensed to train the members of Dong Bang Shin Ki. I also don’t know if the Dong Bang Shin Ki members received a set salary from the get-go, or if they only received bare-minimum stipends, if they had no other source of income when they were trainees except what was distributed to them by their company, or if whatever they received was enough to cover their basic living necessities. However, regardless, even if SM spent a significant amount on “raising” the members of Dong Bang Shin Ki, this is not the priority issue. Although they do spend less on the practical aspects of rearing talents compared to the big Korean companies specialising in idols, American agencies are not any less free of short-term loss or financial risks. In essence, they are no different from the Korean companies in that they also have to invest in no-name artists whose talents have yet to be fully verified. Nevertheless, in American culture “the concept that the investing management company has ownership of the artist” is simply unacceptable. Instead, the relationship is seen as a partnership uniting the “talent” of the artist with the “support” of the management. I personally don’t understand the logic, “because I raised them I naturally have the right to eat them alive.” I don’t see the logical or evidentiary connection between the fact that these big entertainment companies invested in an artist in the early years and the need to degrade the status of artists to mere property.

Naturally, companies aren’t expected to survive on dirt but exist to make a profit, and only making a profit guarantees continued investment into rookies. However, it is still possible for this to take place in the context of a relationship between equal partners and not one of owner and owned and in the context of negotiation on the distribution of profits. In the case of SM and Dong Bang Shin Ki, SM would have received and did receive as profit many times or many hundred times over the amount they invested in Dong Bang Shin Ki anyway. Therefore, there is no reason for current existing Korean entertainment companies to impose on artists an ‘owner and owned relationship’ in a patriarchal setting, and there is no rationale as to why these companies can’t treat their signed artists as equals.

Secondly, one notices that the relationship between the idols and their management company in Korea is like that between a company and its workers. This is correct. That’s also what I thought. The problem is, this is an outdated and anachronistic relationship. In America too a similar relationship existed—it reached its peak in 1930-40 (also known as the Golden Age of cinema)—centred around the “studio”. In those days, exactly like it is in Korea today, MGM along with five other big and influential companies in Hollywood scouted and raised talents, attributed to their celebrities the status of property and controlled every aspect of their professional and personal lives. Notably, these stars, even if they reached a phenomenal level of fame and success which increased their market value, could not re-contract with any other studio due to their 10-year long exclusive contracts. This was finally put to an end when the state of California passed a law restricting the length of contracts to 7 years maximum. This legislation is often referred to as the “7 Year Itch law” after the famous film starring Marilyn Monroe.

The Golden Age of the American entertainment industry passed as well as the system that manufactured stars. Instead, a system centred around the freedom of entertainers and their independence took its place. However, this was not just because of the “7 Year Itch law” of California. In the case of New York, even without civil legislation on the matter, the courts uphold the claims and requests of artists to have their contracts invalidated easily. In America, there hasn’t been any legal precedent set in the area of “long-term contracts” of entertainers in the last 20 years. There is no concept even of the slave contract. Why? Is it because Americans are more morally developed and ethical than Koreans? No. It is simply because Americans believe that capitalism is best realized when artists, in a free and fair market and system, are given respect and competition is not threatened by the fattening of two or three dominant corporations.

Written by: Junebug of Junebug36

Translated by: Jimmie of TheJYJFiles


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88 thoughts on “[Trans] JYJ and the Law on the American Agency, Part I

  1. Fascinating. This line of thought has occurred to me before, and it’s very interesting to hear it from the perspective of someone with know-how.

  2. Thanks Jimmie. Have I told you that I love you? ❤
    My question though: to what extent can this agency system lead to monopoly, if it can at all.
    I am very wary of monopoly/oligopoly in any industry and if the old system is clearly an oligopolistic one, I hope that the agency system can somewhat eliminate that.
    Plus how do you think the Korean government react to this kind of agency system – if it were to succeed?

    • The Korean government already facilitated (sometimes imposed) this American-style agency system on the film (and to some extent TV) sectors in Korea after the 1997 Financial Crisis. There’s no reason why it can’t do the same with the music industry…the only obstacle would be immense lobbying by companies like SM

      • okaaay..great to hear that – I mean the fact that SK government have already imposed the importance of this kind of system to the film industry.
        for me, it kinda explain the increasing public support to JYJ..which is only a good thing.
        I mean the way things are ‘reported’ in the fandom so far gives the impression that SK governmet endorses this kind of behaviour, to the extent that it sponsors them (which irks me to no end since I believe that most modern day democratic government regardless whatever will actually try to eradicate monopoly).
        Am assured now, that the case of JYJ is a really strong case to start with.
        Thanks so much again Jimmie!!

  3. I agree with him 100% on the last paragraph. Even Japan follows the agency system like the US, and it is a matter of time before Korea follows the same system. They need more people like JYJ before things change.

  4. another awesome article. Thanks admin and Jimmiw to translate it. The article is very informative.
    I study economisc and business as well. That is the reason why I always support JYJ from the beginning. I do not see this matter is only the conflict between JYJ and SM, it is the conflict between young artists and the whole entertainment industry system. And our JYJ is the brave one who start this revolution in the entertainment industry first.

    Hope things will change in the better ways for JYJ and also other artist in the industry.

  5. I’m not a lawyer, nor am I particularly versed in the law, but I’ve been saying this for a while so thank you for eloquently and statistically expounding on this train of thought. If fans would put aside their more emotional leanings and look at the bigger picture, I think they would eventually come around to this extremely plausible explanation.

  6. Extremely interesting read.

    “Instead, the relationship is seen as a partnership uniting the “talent” of the artist with the “support” of the management. I personally don’t understand the logic, “because I raised them I naturally have the right to eat them alive.” I don’t see the logical or evidentiary connection between the fact that these big entertainment companies invested in an artist in the early years and the need to degrade the status of artists to mere property.”
    Also, this, this, and this. While it’s true that companies invest money and take a risk on rookies they’ve trained, artists risk their futures, careers and well-being. The risk goes both ways and profit should be reaped by both parties. That’s why a fair contract is necessary.

    Thank you for translating 🙂

    this is amazing…u know, im prayin for JYJ to win the lawsuit, seriously, if they win, maybe korean ent. system could make an important change. We already knew why SME is doing this kind of bullshit to JYJ…they are afraid. Such cowards.
    They will win this lawsuit…im sure…lets pray for them ❤

  8. Thank you for your awesome translation!! I have heard your name and trial for JYJ from other fans! I want to introduce this post to many fans who are looking for correcting unethical and immoral blame on JYJ. Thank you again!

  9. ” capitalism is best realized when artists, in a free and fair market and system, are given respect and competition is not threatened by the fattening of two or three dominant corporations.”

    completely true

    love this site so much.

  10. exacly..that what I tought to a first time I know about JYJ case and that why I support them, i can’t believe agency system in korea still like that. Honest before compare with other Asia country goverment system I think SK will the most open, but this really disapiont me…Any change Korea Goverment can do something about that?? how the pupblic react right now?

  11. wahh…awesome!

    this information let me open a new window of perspective… this reasoning is so acceptable….
    This is great as to stand in positive and objective point..
    Thanks for sharing ^^

  12. Sometimes I get on the American system of capitalism, it has it’s good and bad points. Shoot the American music industry to me is cut throat as well but when you relate it to other forms of economic systems and musical industries it’s good side shows the protection of free agent rights of the person at work for the most part. I forget about that aspect of the American system maybe because I live in it everyday. I’m not saying it like it’s freaking 100% free in America (gosh no, America takes freedoms too some order and constraint is needed in a body of people duh going off tangent) anyway but after reading this I was like “Okay okay…American system has some positive points I admit” This brings me back to my philosophy class, learning about John Locke’s philosophy on possession and ownership liberty etc. We all are independent free people from birth, it’s our god given right. No one point blank period has the right to ‘own’ us or the things we LABOR INTO. That’s why I was bewildered when I read their contract and it said that the company will own every right to the products produced and can do anything with it as they pleased. The contract had it’s give and takes. But that right there was lil too much taking. The only thing that comes close to owning us is our parents and even they have to hang that up after a while. Other than that, no one has the right.

    Great article. See this whole JYJ thing is deeper than I thought. I think most fans don’t realize how deep this this thing is. I don’t think SM artist realize it either cause they’re ‘trapped in their mind’. Or trapped in the status quo and don’t realize there are other forms of laboring your talent.

    This is all new to me. Even musical industries around the world differing by law is new to me. My small-mindedness thought everything was similar to “America” -_-. Never heard of such “7 year itch law” cause I wasn’t living in Monroe time. It makes me want to do some research. Become more wise on stuff like this. More wise on different ways people govern, different economic systems, etc. Just more worldly.

    Thanks for the article, can’t wait for part 2.

  13. Thanks Jimmie, I like your analysis.
    I also wonder why Korean (democracy) use system in which singer is one who owned and agency is one who own because even in China (communist), most of artist there use American Agency System. So, celebrities in China is very rich unlike Korean and Japan idol system. You thought it was vice versa.

    • Funny thing is, I find the situation ironic as well. Why is Korea, a democratic republic, tainted with communist-like entities?
      This situation is eerily reminiscent of the late 1890s to the early 1900s when corporations such as J.P. Morgan’s railroad company and J.D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company became trust giants — like SME. We need someone like Theodore Roosevelt to regulate or break apart — but not completely dissolve– offending businesses through anti-trust law suits (like Roosevelt’s Sherman Antitrust Act) and to monitor companies in order to weed out violations on existing laws through the establishment of executive and legislative bureaus.

      Furthermore, the lack of transparency is a serious problem. For example, based on my research, it seems as if nobody knows exactly what is going on behind SME’s closed doors. This is especially dangerous: the people’s ignorance act as fuel for lawlessness or immorality. For if the public is unaware of such acts, then criticism and public pressure on corrupt businesses are absent. The power of the collective voice is evident in history, the best example being the publishing of Upton Sinclair’s book, the Jungle, which showcased the exploitation of workers in the American meatpacking industry to the general public. There was an uproar. Then change.

      This is why I believe JYJ is setting a precedent. Through their lawsuit, they have brought the issues of an archaic and oppressive system to the forefront of the public eye and debate.

      Thank you JYJfiles for sharing such a clear, well-articulated article.

  14. indeed very educational article.. feel like im studying again,hehehe…
    this should be read by many cassie out there, to be not emotionally judged…
    thanks for translating this…

  15. This is one informative and interesting article to read. Give me broader view to this issue. I love this site. Thanks for sharing…

  16. TQ jimmie, you educate us to another level. I couldn’t agree more for what was written above. Everything is spot on. Being JYJ/TVXQ fan, i learnt a lot from their case and their life and also know you and learnt from you to make me a better person. I’m looking forward for the 2nd part….come on….

  17. I hope the court would read this over and over and I hope JYJ’s Korean lawyers raised the points that this lawyer stated above in court as well so the court could give us an acceptable result. Even if they can’t make any major change in the Korean entertainment industry, the court should order SM to let them go and work freely on their own.

  18. I was thinking the same thing when I translated your other article (btw thank you so much. every people in the forum appreciate the article when I posted it the other day <3)

    I was thinking that may be JYJ will make a new chapter for the industry. I meant Korea Music industry now is like 20 years behind US and it's not like US got it right the first try either.

    So I believe Korea's music industry still have room to improve and it is so good that you guys can IDENTIFY what need to be corected.

    And although the system now is gross, it is a period that a country must go through?! I meant they never learn if they don't get hurt. But I wish the govts of other countries will look this up and try to avoid this situation, one way or another.

    Best wish to the artists worldwide that are creating the music we appreciate and once again thank you so much. This has been a great article.

  19. Thank you for the translation! Everyone here is working very hard to share view on JYJ that are very educated and well-thought of. Also, translating from reliable sources (like lawyers, etc) is impressive, because these persons are familiar with what they are talking about. I love this site! Looking forward to part 2, and I love every article here so far. More power to admin and writers!

  20. Jimmie Jimmie Jimmie I miss you Jimmie ^^
    this is awesome post u know
    this article show the core of problem between JYJ-SM and the invisible hand !!!
    I believe JYJ is making the revolution for the Korean entertainment industry!!!

    • btw GOOD JOB Jimmie ^^
      I am so proud of you ^^
      and I know JYJ is also proud of having a fan is you Jimmie ^^
      Hugs and Kissed for you ><

  21. Thanks for translating! I learn so much from reading things like these. The original blog in Korean should be posted everywhere in Korea and this link should be spread to the international fandom. I’m looking forward to part two.

  22. First off, I love this site. It provides very interesting discourse. I think the article understates the role of Korean agencies in creating the ‘talent’. One of the things that surprised me the most when I was first introduced to kpop was the fact that the singers are not expected to sing well (openly admitted by the stars themselves). And when they venture into acting, there were also very low expectations. That’s because idols are entertainers first, not singers or actors.

    What Korean and Japanese agencies emphasise the most is personality and good looks through variety shows and flashy promotions. They even put idols together like a jigsaw puzzle to maximise appeal. It’s this winning formula that creates fangirl fervor that prompts album sales to soar, not the singing voices. Sure, you could say the same of American talent, but nowhere near the extent of their East Asian counterparts.

    I would argue that idols, harshly put it, are a manufactured product. Agencies like SM put in a huge investment to makes these idol groups attractive. The success of idols is completely dependent on them following the strategic direction of their agency. They have very little input creative and probably even less on the business side of things. In other words, they’re just fulfilling a role which makes them no different from employees at a normal company- as the article notes.

    And I don’t see how the Korean Agency model isn’t a capitalist one. Korean Agencies dictate every detail of their idol groups according to market demands inorder to maximise profit.

    Anyhow, all that was to say that I think the article needs to acknowledge how much of idols’ success is attributed to the agency. That being said, I completely support JYJ in their lawsuit. 13 years is far, far too long. I think even without a slave contract, there’s a massive deterrent for leaving an agency like SM. There are no more guaranteed hit songs, no more polished MV concepts and no more widespread media coverage. The issues with going rogue are evident when you compare homin’s promotions with JYJ’s.

    But still, they’re willing to risk it all for independence as if you can go against that.

  23. well written and a great article ! wow, this blog is so different than any other blogs ! it gives us a lot of new perspective, and open our mind in seeing things. it’s already on my bookmark list and become my favorite blog. thank u so much, jimmie ! can’t wait for the 2nd part.

  24. Thanks Jimmie for the translation. Very informative on how the Korean Music Industry works.

    Fans should really read this, and then can see from both sides. SM is very obviously threatened by what could become a reality, in actual fact, it has to a certain extent when the courts ordered that JYJ’s activities are not be interfered in any way by SM.

    SM is also using ‘family’ as a trumpcard and terming JYJ as betrayals, turning their backs on family.

    A littel skewed from topic. t is also apparent that JYJ is blocked from the media, even to the extent of Yoochun’s appearance in a drama, they had in everyway blocked him from interviewed in both paper and TV media. However, I will have to add that how JYJ strategised their move in both a musical and a drama had at least put them in the news — was indeed quite tactical on their part too.

    Lastly, I have to thank the admins for putting up this blog, putting things into perspective. Hopefully, things will turn out brighter for JYJ. Looking forward to your next article.

    • they can block them all they want but they cannot deny JYJ is a force to be afraid of! their new album their rooms is still on the top of the charts~~~even hyping so much attention that it’s even great than HARRY POTTER BOOKS LOL XDDD

    • truly.
      SM unleashing their mighty forces at no cost to hide JYJ from the public. So blatant and yet this is the harsh reality of the SK music industry. JYJ has massive guts to be facing them straight on.

  25. thanks for sharing the article!
    i really don’t like the way of SME doing things.. gosh they’re totally looked like cowards rite now.. why don’t just being fair..let your artists to compete with others..geez!

  26. love it ^^ thanks for translating this piece! i wish more fans can see this article about why JYJ did the lawsuit…and the benefit if they win the lawsuit! this will change the korean music industry way and younger generations will live happily and freely =) i support JYJ for this! nothing more said~~~ i want korea music industry to change it’s way….everyone has the right to be free and happy ^^ hwaiting JYJ~~~

  27. Thank you Jimmie and the admin for sharing this very informative article for the enrichment of JYJ’s fandom. I’m very happy that i have come to this site, the ambiance is very smart and intellectual.

  28. Even though I thought it might be a somewhat ‘dry’ read, I found this article very interesting. The subject of the article is one that comes across my mind also – how the entertainment industry is managed in Korea (and also China/Japan) compared to American systems, the pros/cons, and how this relates to law. So thank you for choosing a nicely written but informative article to translate! It’s somewhat satisfying to gain more general knowledge in this fandom 🙂 and have thought-provoking discussions.

  29. ….ottoke…why am i feeling down right now in disbelief…TT it sort makes sense why are they doing this…..just like junsu said start new start new a new beginning….

      • just saw something unbelievable in twitter..but so far it’s just a rumor >< anyway JYJ HWAITING! i see their NII PICS GORGEOUS ^^

    • chibi-chan, let “Spread Our LOve” more here. We’re going to be the best fandom right? We have to cheer up as JYJ fan and as JJ did to us ^_________^

      • yes unnie~~~^^ gotta be strong for our boys especially being blocked and rejected by the COWARDS media stations =D i love their NII pics cute~~

  30. I hope the media gets to see this article and instead of focusing on twitter-war they start creating awareness amongst Korean people as well as other artists. I really hope that JYJ wins this lawsuit because not only their future depends on t but also the futures of many others!

  31. A good piece of analysis writing, thanks for sharing…
    It’s more substantial coming from a lawyer’s perspective, his having knowledge on the American system is a plus for the comparative analysis. I’m looking forward to Part II, more about the Korean legal system related to the music industry would be great…

  32. Thank you for the translation! I just found this site yesterday, and I must say I am really enjoying reading everything here. There was a comment earlier mentioning that there should be more credit given to Korean entertainment companies for basically nurturing people from scratch to big stars, and I must agree that this is one of the biggest differences between the American and Korean industries.

    I feel that in the U.S., there is a whole lot more emphasis on artistes developing their own talents to a certain extent and doing something with their talent on their own (playing gigs, establishing their own industry contacts) before a company picks them up and nurtures them. In Korea, however, from watching certain SM audition videos, I would say that the talent requirement does not seem to be equally important at all. Sure, the kids in the videos probably had potential, but a lot of them are certainly not as polished as say, Justin Bieber (sorry, he was the only example that came to mind in the same age range as these Korean kids join the companies as trainees) in his Youtube videos before he was picked up by the industry. One of the biggest attractions of the Korean system is that anyone can become a star, even if you only have mediocre, average skills at the beginning.

    I would argue, therefore, that the role of a company like SM is really far bigger in developing the skills of its artistes, even if we ignore its investments in promotion and getting their artistes greater exposure post-debut. It also allows trainees with various talents to work on their other skills (like how people who get in through their dancing work on their vocals etc.), whereas an agency model (though I must admit I have extremely little knowledge in this field) might simply have filtered out many artistes we see successful in the Kpop industry today. I do think that the idea of an entertainment company internalising a training academy is an extremely efficient way of organizing labour and minimising transaction costs associated with finding talent.

    Finally there are very little companies that go all out to promote debut artists as in Korea. When one compares the promotion strategy of TVXQ in Korea and in Japan, it is easy to see that the production costs that go into ‘Hug’, their very first Korean single effortlessly trumps that of ‘Stay with me Tonight’, their first Japanese single released by avex. It is not somewhere until the ‘Choosey Lover’ single release period that avex really started to go all out to promote the boys in Japan. I do not know if what SM spends to nurture and develop their artists are really as big as the company declares, but they definitely seem to be taking a larger risk and investing more heavily at a much earlier juncture then companies elsewhere, which might justify the 13-year contract.

    And this became way too long. = =;;; I would just like to add in conclusion that I definitely support JYJ’s decision, but at this point in time I’m not sure if the implications of employing a fairer model like the agency model in the U.S. would live up to the expectations of the Korean audience in terms of its output.

    • Hi there^^,

      You bring up good points. However, I want you to consider, just because a management company has centralised/absorbed into itself all the operations that go into training (singing lessons, dancing lessons, language lessons, etc.) does it mean that it MUST? You know, the entire situation that people think justifies unfair contracts in the music industry–namely, the training expenses incurred by the company–can be solved by simply decentralising/outsourcing all the components of training to academies, schools, private institutions, etc so that the artist-hopefuls that come to audition are already trained up or sufficiently trained up to the point the company doesn’t need to spend so much money.

      • Also, the marketing and promotion can be outsourced to PR firms…this way, the risk is spread out but the returns are not compromised.

      • That makes plenty of sense to me, it’s just thinking about how it’s going to work realistically. I do suppose it is possible for the artist-hopefuls to train outside of these entertainment companies (e.g. Kyuhyun being a music major at school or something to that effect and entering singing competitions before being scouted by SM), but the question is again, who will pay for the training, and if it will be more expensive if outsourced. And the social attitude towards pursuing music as a career. It’s one thing to allow your kid train at an academy, and quite another to pay for your kid to undergo vocal and dance training. It seems like a lot of the stars we see today did not necessarily receive support from their families, so the draw of company-sponsored training will be a lot bigger.

        Then again, it might also be that Korea is only used to one type of system (the trainee system). We never know until the alternative it actually in place whether it will work. But it’s fun getting a different point of view. Thanks for the reply! 🙂

      • No, thank YOU for bringing up good points that will contribute toward generating feasible ideas for reforming Korea’s music industry!^^

        There is substantial risk involved in whatever mode or manner one invests in unproved talent, whether one does it centralised in a single company or decentralised through many competing sub-institutions. As I said, the risk won’t decrease…it’ll just be spread out. But I agree that decentralising the training components could have the negative consequences of shifting the financial burden on potential stars who don’t have a lot of money but plenty of talent. In this case, it’s true we risk setting up an indirect form of discrimination. This is why I think this would be a great place for the Korean government to step in by setting up scholarships or subsidies…a good model in this area is France, though I would advise the Korean government to set their subsidies at a lower rate to avoid the rampant dependence that the French ones have unintentionally bred. Hopefully, once the Korean government leads the way, this sector will attract private, corporate sponsors too.

    • Well since I do not know much about the entertainment system and how it works, I could only compare it to the industry I’m in, which I think could be somehow similar?

      I work as a part of the IT Consulting for a special software involves a lot of money for training. That’s why we are bonded for N number of years. (but never 13 of course!) Let say 2 years if you do not have these skills yet prior to job application. We are given trainings and we gain valuable work experience from big clients and projects. Sometimes the company offers skill certification to further enhance your “marketability” to clients.

      I think this situation is very much comparable to the Korean Entertainment Agency. Although the difference is the number of years that is stated in the contract. Whereas we are trained to do the job the company hired us to do, we are allowed to transfer to a new company with the skills we gained or stop work and pursue our personal lives etc after our contract ends – Korean Entertainment Agencies limit the ability of these artists to do that by lengthening their contracts to a ridiculous period of time and the compensation is also almost barely minimal. That’s the fight that JYJ is trying to do.

      Anyhow, I just realized I went a little overboard to the point of this article, but I like the comment above. I occasionally think about these things as well, that’s why and I try to understand it by an analogy to own POV. ^^;;

      (This site is such a refreshing place for discourse by the way, and I completely appreciate that)

      • I kind of love this site because people from all walks of life and occupations share their thoughts on the issue, and we all end up learning more. And yeah – your description of the IT Consulting industry does sound similar to the trainee system. I guess one of the biggest problems stems from the fact that SM does not disclose exactly how much they spend on training potential stars and all so it’s almost impossible to know if the contract length is resonable or simply unfair. :/

  33. All of those against JYJ are purely authoritarian sell outs.
    The USA and Japan do not “own” their artists.
    Agencies as in Japan and the USA do not expect “gratitude” for their services as if they were some sort of bizarre adoptive parents. No, the Agencies of Japan and the USA are are professionals, not authoritarian dictatorships that should have all disappeared in the ROK in the late 1990s.

    Shame on all of them against JYJ.
    Shame on ROK for still tolerating the operation of authoritarian groups inside the ROK.
    Any support of authoritarian ownership of people is a type of support for those who admire the DPRK.

    • o.O
      thats a tad overreaching dont you think??? (the DPRK thing)
      but mostly agree with your first paragraph, but even the Japanese and American markets are essential oligopolies, and have their own dark underbellies and command undue influence due to their market power

    • I’ll disagree with you about the Japanese part.
      As far as I know, Japanese culture emphasizes “loyalty” even more than Korean does, because of the influence ever since the samurai era.
      Artists hardly switch management company, even when their contract already expired. Leaving the management company that debuted them is considered disloyal & ungrateful. The artists who switched agency will find it really difficult to go on shows, events, etc… Avex is 1 of a few companies which pick up artists who switched agencies (like Koda Kumi, Namie Amuro) and still can promote them without difficulty.
      Maybe I’m wrong though…

      • I think you’re right about Japan. They may have an agency system legally, but culturally, it is just as paternalistic as Korea. But it is still a bigger market with more agencies, so there isn’t the stranglehold on the industry that the big 3 have over Korea. I’m very interested to see what JYJ will end up doing.

      • But the definition about loyality is different between country to country.

        Loyality = mutual respect, reciprocal responsibility/benefit

        Loyality can not come from one side.

        I do not think that Japanese public have bad image about JYJ, because in Japan they do not have 13 years contracts, unfair conditions, unclear profit distribution…..

        in Japan, they make the employees to commit with the company for long-life based on good treatment and benefit/ personal well-being development….

        Japan always become mysterious for Western country

      • @jejeliebling But the fandom turned against JYJ after they left Avex. It had nothing to do with the Korean contract. JYJ didn’t like the offer that Avex was making, so they didn’t take it. The company wasn’t bad, I think it helped them thrive, but it wasn’t willing to go along with JYJ’s new vision of their career. Were JYJ disloyal according to the Japanese definition?

      • I’m going to revise the above. I have no idea about the state of the Japanese fandom other than there are a bunch of organized (sponsored?) antis making noise.

      • @Eliza:
        My perious comment is applied for the relationship between JYJ and SM.

        I am not sure how do japanese public think about JYJ and Avex, whether JYJ are perceived as unloyal one or not???

        However, Bigeasts (some, not all) also regconized that it is not about loyality matter and turned back Avex, when Avex announced that that they will work with SM.

        JYJ has anti in Japan is not only because of the broken relationship with Avex, but also many bad rumors spreaded. I do not want to go futher in this topic because I may start to mention about another side. I do not know about How is Anti-JYJ organized? Who sponsor them?… but it seems very professional and well organized. I do not think that fans can do that.

        Like you said, “antis making noise”, I think there are many Bigaest still support them ( 2500 bigeasts attending in JYJ concert are not small number)

      • @jejeliebling JYJ still has antis in japan O.O…i thought bigeasts would change…i guess they are still thinking that dbsk will come back if they support homin…total opposite…from k-fans

  34. Very well informed and well written article. You know your stuff. I’ve just taken a few law and economics classes and I remember reading about a lot of what you wrote. I’m very impressed and am happy to admit that I was suspecting those reasons to be the same. JYJ has started a bit of a revolution~ =) I have alot of respect these guys and do what I can to support them by buying their albums. Again, great article. I’m new to this site. I’ve been following JYJ through jyj3.wordpress and I’m glad I have another site to check up on these guys too. (^.^)

  35. Jimmie… can i just hug you???!!! *sobs*
    unfortunately, the fight JYJ is fighting is taking soooo very long because of strings being conveniently pulled here and there, but! there is hope and we may well see that in the near future!!! *crosses fingers it will be this year*
    SME will have its laugh now, but JYJ will have all the smiles later!!! (while SME is boo-hooing their lot…)

  36. Sane people will find JYJ’s case is interesting. I must say, I agree w/ what the writer described JYJ as “…young and weak men were fighting against the organised strength of the Korean entertainment industry”

    I read news on koreaboo, titled “Is SM Entertainment blocking JYJ from appearing on Korean TV?”

    Some parts of the news said “SBS explained that they did interview them (JYJ), but there was nothing newsworthy about the story”
    And I’m so speechless. How could JYJ case is nothing newsworthy when their lawsuit benefit many artist by contract revising and even further (maybe) revolutionize the korean music industry? Or is SBS just trying to imply that act-cute butt-dancing-artist is more newsworthy? I really don’t get it.
    *SBS, please be creative in reasoning next time.

    This is an another proof how chronic the state of status quo in korean music industry (which is inevitably happened in every area and country). JYJ is against a giant systematic clout holder incumbents. If they win, they will be a part of glorious history. But, it definitely will take a long time.

    • Your comments made me cried honey….I really want to dressing-down these people badly but what can we do to make them hear us out?

  37. Thanks Jimmie.
    Fantastic read and gives us readers a clearer picture and better insight on the whole matter. I admire the boys more because I’m sure they knew what they were getting into by going against the “organised strength of the Korean Entertainment Industry”.
    Can’t wait for the second part. Keep up the great work.

  38. Jimmi ah,
    It really takes time just to read through out the article and understand its analyses properly. So, i’d really love to thank you so much for your trying and dedicating to bring us such useful and informative articles as usual.
    Reading the analyses in this article made me so hope that K-entertainment would have a healthy and fair environment like America’s. But it actually needs a revolution of the whole K-artists’ community especially idols’ commutity those have a singleness of mind.
    However now what we’ve been seeing is so sad. JYJ is the brave one who started the revolution but they just received little supports which mainly came from their fans together with several reporters, two radio stations and only one TV station. It’s easy to understand and sympathize towards someone’s silence coz the story actually relates to the ones who have the most powerful hands in the K-entertainment market. Besides, JYJ also said that they had totally prepared to face all the worst to come and they definitely acknowledged to whom they are fighting. Yet, the bitter and ironic reality that those artists who has enjoyed the initial achievements of JYJ’s revolution and even who were supposed to be JYJ’s friends and family are standing up against them surely makes them suffer from more pain and difficulties.
    But we all know that there will be no success without sacrifice and i do believe that our JYJ is gonna stay strong and wise as they used to with our cheers and supports.
    Hopefully that we JYJ fans will always act possitively and wisely together to give them the most support.
    Love you all ❤

    • To Ceci: Terribly sorry for not saying tks so much to you who has founded and managed this page. I also appreciate your opjective point of view as a fan of both JYJ and HoMin. I wished that every fan of the two groups had such a beautiful mind as yours.
      Tks again, bb ^^

  39. As someone studying Entertainment Management, this was a very very interesting and informational read. Thank you for always putting such well-thought articles on here~ And thank you for your translation!

  40. Thank you so much for this JYJ needs all the support they can get and this reallu pits it into perspective.
    The only thing i dont like is the comparison to America as Korea seems to have a completely different music industry than that of America. definitely alot more time and effort is put in by both the music company and the artists in Korea and American artists usually dont last as long probably because not enough effort is put in.
    Also, the company chooses to spend their money on the training therefore they should do their best to support the band and no matter what the costs are to train the idols a 13 contract is overly extreme. Its not just the company spending time and money to train these boys, the idols obviously trained hardcore to get a band as well known and amazingly talented as the 5 membered TVXQ.
    I am hoping that JYJ wins, they have my full support. <3<3<3
    Also I was wondering why it is that only these 3 members left and why Changmin and Yunho fecided to stay with the company? Thanks


  41. Pingback: JYJ and the Law on the American Agency, Part II | The JYJ Files

  42. My english are not good as u guys but i try to understand u’r briliant describe bout korean music industry compared to us music industry. it’s not as simpe as i think!! i just simple think that it’s a problem between jyj against slave contract in very-big-management SM, that’s all! and maybe it’ll gave an impact to other sm artist contract. i didn’t has the idea that it’s all bout jyj want to change whole korean music industry that as u describe above ‘more communist’ than music industry in comunist country. thx for u’r explanation, it’s made sense…i’m ready for part 2 ^^

  43. (slightly off topic) Hmm . . . a well written article, but extremely biased. A typical American article that glorifies the American way of life. GET REAL! Just because it works in America, doesn’t mean that it can work the same way in other countries. Asian countries shouldn’t strive to be American. If we change all of our social structures and our way of life altogether, we will lose our identity. Korea’s entertainment industry works for them. We don’t want Korea to produce the Asian Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber now, do we?

    • We don’t want Korea to produce the Asian Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber now, do we?

      Um… Are you familiar at all with K-pop?

    • I’ve now stopped laughing at you last sentence and will address the rest, because you do have a point. Korea needs to decide how to fix their own problem–but they have to admit there is a problem to fix first! JYJ are not the first group to have these issues. This article is advocating one alternative because it’s the system most common in the Americas (S.American readers confirm this please) and in Europe, which includes the USA, the largest market. The Japanese system, from what I know of it, would be another good option to look at.

      What really bothers me is the idea that there is only one right answer or that the right answer will magically appear fully formed. Why can’t all three (or more) contract systems co-exist? The Korean musicians and the producers and the consumers will decide which is the better one eventually.

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