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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, March 5, 2024

K-Weekly: The Big Three

The graphic art for the "K-Weekly" column is pictured.

One thing many people fail to remember about the K-pop industry is that it is different from Western music industries. There are definitely some overlaps, like how both industries may put together groups via music competition shows (i.e., X-Factor and I-Land), but there are clear differences between both industries. One of these is the foundation and transformation of the ‘Big Three’ in the K-pop industry, whose monopoly on the industry was more extreme than any American music label has been able to achieve.

The ‘Big Three’ refers to K-music entertainment companies SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. These three companies were once the most powerful and successful ones in the entire industry, dominating music charts with groups like Super Junior, BIGBANG and MISS A, respectively. These companies are known for starting the K-pop wave and expanding it into Japan, but they are also recognized as heavily manufacturing and controlling their groups like with SHINee and SNSD.

While these groups are still clearly successful, it is no longer typical for K-pop listeners to call these companies the ‘Big Three’ after a once extremely small and unknown company by the name of HYBE, formerly known as BigHit Entertainment, surpassed all three. 

In just the first half of 2021, HYBE brought in over $3 billion in profits. Since this power exchange among entertainment companies, the concept of the ‘Big Three’ is no longer as clear.

The not-so-secret secret to HYBE’s success? BTS.

BTS debuted under BigHit Entertainment back in June 2013 and has broken several records since. The seven-member boy group first started gaining clear recognition in the West after the 2017 Billboard Music Awards when they won the Top Social Artist award for the first time, and they have won it every year since. BTS, however, has been making waves in the K-industry long before Western audiences began to recognize their talents. In May 2016, they held the title for the longest consecutive weeks by a K-pop album on the Billboard World Albums Charts with their album “Most Beautiful Moments in Life, Pt. 2.” At the end of the year, BTS became the only artist not under the Big Three to win one of the four big awards at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, winning Artist of the Year. In the years following, BTS began to bring in significant profits for not only HYBE but also the South Korean economy. Afterward, the company was able to form more groups and to expand into other forms of profit, such as apps and webtoons.

Some would still claim that the Big Three are still top tier and that the success and fame of HYBE have no influence on the accomplishments they had in the first three generations of K-pop. The truth is, the Big Three deserve their credit for starting the K-pop wave, but HYBE deserves credit for revolutionizing it. Personally, I think ‘Big Three’ is no longer the best phrasing, since the companies are no longer the top three, but regardless, YG, SM and JYP still deserve recognition for what they started.