Geum Yi

Hybe chairman says a sense of crisis, global firms like Samsung, Hyundai needed for K-pop

March 15, 2023

Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Hybe, the K-pop powerhouse behind global superstar BTS, said Wednesday it is time for the music industry to have a sense of crisis rather than being satisfied with what it has achieved.

He also raised the need to cultivate global entertainment companies in South Korea to compete with major players in the world market, speaking to a forum organized by the Kwanhun Club, an association of senior South Korean journalists, in Seoul.

Bang founded Big Hit Entertainment, the predecessor of Hybe in 2005, and debuted BTS in 2013. As the boy group rose to global stardom, Hybe has built a multi-label system, with Belift Lab (representing Enhypen), Source Music (Le Sserafim), Pledis Entertainment (Seventeen), KOZ (Zico) and ADOR (NewJeans) under its wing.

“As BTS has become loved all over the world, and I have come to do business in the global market based on this, I came to reflect on the meaning of ‘K’ in ‘K-pop,’” Bang said. “K-pop is becoming an axis of amplifying the power of the letter ‘K’ both as a culture and an industry.”

Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Hybe, is seen in this photo provided by Billboard. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Hybe, is seen in this photo provided by Billboard. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

But despite all the glories of K-pop, “there are still many mountains left to climb” when the whole global music market is considered, he emphasized.

He pointed out major K-pop companies based in South Korea still have less than 2 percent of the global market, saying the K-pop industry is David in comparison to the three global music giants — Universal, Sony and Warner — who are like Goliath.

He also noted that the growth of K-pop music is slowing in the United States and other mainstream markets, and the number of K-pop songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart decreased by about 53 percent last year from 2021. Exports of K-pop albums have also declined since 2020, he added.

“It’s time to have a sense of crisis rather than be satisfied with the proud achievements (of K-pop),” he said.

“Just as there is Samsung in the global semiconductor market and Hyundai in the global automobile market, the K-pop industry needs to have global entertainment companies that will break through the current situation facing it.”

Bang said he has exerted much effort to prepare for a “post-Bang Si-hyuk” era in Hybe, and that building a multi-label system with multiple producers and creators was a result of such an effort.

He suggested in order for K-pop to continue its growth, it is necessary to strengthen its foundation by expanding awareness and influence in the mainstream markets, and improve music production systems and introduce healthy management methods. Developing platforms to broaden the industry’s reach to the global music fans also can be a way, he added.

Hybe has recently called off a bid to take over its rival K-pop company SM Entertainment, ending weeks of battle with tech giant Kakao Corp. and its entertainment unit Kakao Entertainment. Hybe, instead, has decided to cooperate with the Kakao side in the platform business.

“Some may say you fought well even though you lost, but I’m personally very content because we reached an agreement with Kakao on matters related to platforms, which is the most important axis in our future,” Bang said of the deal.

He then said he could not sleep well for nights after seeing the unexpectedly overheated bidding and corporate mudslinging distress K-pop artists and their fans, too.

“It’s reasonable to say sorry to them,” he said.

As for the company’s plan for a 15.8 percent stake in SM it has acquired directly from the SM founder Lee Soo-man and through a tender offer, Bang said he will try to make a “reasonable” decision after all employees who handled the issue return from vacation later this week.

When asked about the agreement to cooperate with Kakao in the platform business, Bang refused to give details, pointing out it is too early to tell.