The Big 3 is a term coined to three of the most influential entertainment companies in South Korea. With years of legacy and most importantly their contribution to rising and shaping Korean Wave or Hallyu, these companies are and were homes to some of the largest acts such as TVXQ, BoA, Wonder Girls, Big Bang and Girl’s Generation. With their own distinct styles these companies have produced countless numbers of hits and successful groups. It has come to a stage where anticipation for their next début has become a given.
However, with this anticipation, comes a cry for equality from fans of K-Pop groups from smaller companies. To some the Big 3 has become an excuse for success, a label tacked on that will automatically allow a group’s smooth rise to stardom. For a long time the debate of whether new débuts in the Big 3 are deserving of their position or whether they have it easier than groups from smaller companies, has become a popular topic. Today, we share the opinions of OH!Blog’s authors on this discussion.
A popular question that circulates among netizens once in a while. Do groups from the Big 3 had it easier than groups from smaller or lesser companies/labels? Let’s break it down into perspectives and terminologies.
We start with the term “Big 3”. What’s that? Big 3 is consists of three of K-Pop’s biggest players; SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. Basically the dominant forces behind Hallyu’s rise to fame. Big names like TVXQ, BoA, Big Bang, Wonder Girls, Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, 2PM, and EXO to name a few are all from the Big 3. K-Pop without their drives and influences is unimaginable. The Big 3 made Hallyu.
What about the term “easy”? I’m not going to shroud the actual context within the question. Easy as in if it is easier for groups from the Big 3 to hit daebak (Koreaboo’d I know, we all are). Idol groups from the Big 3 have huge financial backing from their respective companies to promote high quality productions that include music and et cetera. Not only they have such a huge financial advantage, the companies can also use their influence to push the group members to feature on drama and variety show, to extend their careers and gain more profit while at it. Profit, as we speak, does not solely contributed by their rosters but also from other businesses. Unless they splash so much money on a group’s debut, productions, and promotions; below par revenue doesn’t mean much to them and they can still continue to do it until their products (in this case, idols) reach considerable return on investment (ROI).
The answer to the question is both true and false. They had it easy but at the same time it is not simply a walk in the park. You have to go through rigorous trainings before making a début, assuming you were accepted from auditions, against thousands of other hopefuls. You have to be special among specials. You must possess many talents and great attributes like good look and great personality to stand out and not being overlooked by recruiters. In the end, only a few would make the cut. Expectation to succeed and deliver is another thing. If you don’t, better get ready to be scrutinized by your employer and the public. Not easy to get in, not easy to get out.
None of those seems facile to me, but is the probability for them to succeed is higher than non Big 3 groups? Absolutely, the truth is crystal clear and need no further elaboration.
It’s true that coming from the Big 3 guarantees a certain amount of prestige, endorsements, public interest and fans upon début, or even before. I won’t deny that any group coming out of the SME, YGE and JYPE is practically gifted with a silver platter and a large amount of fees to push them into stardom. However, this does not mean artists under the Big 3 have it easy. It’s undeniable that skills alone doesn’t guarantee one a spot in the big agencies, most of it is unfortunately luck. But luck alone doesn’t suffice, determination is also a very strong factor.
An analogy I like to use when thinking of this scenario is “Is it easier to become successful as an entrepreneur or to rise your way up the corporate ladder and become a frontrunner of large firm, such as Deloitte or Ernst and Young?” It’s undeniable that the previous success of these large companies grants this future frontrunner with an abundance of wealth, however the competitive nature to reach this position is one thousands aim for. Of course that’s not to discredit that becoming a successful entrepreneur, in a society so demanding, fluctuated and dominated by bigger companies, isn’t easy.
The Big 3 have amazing conditions that any idol would want; an abundance of resources, no debt and an automatic following. Many including the prettiest and most talented would fight for this position, so most of the fighting for groups in the Big 3 start predébut. However, being from the Big 3 is not a recipe for success and mismanagement is a common problem. Whilst for groups that come out of small agencies, where there’s no guaranteed future, the fighting begins when they début and unfortunately if they’ve chosen a company that has sufficient funds to support them. But in the end it’s a choice that these idols from small companies have chosen, you must remember they were never stopped from auditioning for the Big 3.
I personally don’t believe it’s easier being part of one or the other. All idols fight for what they have. Some are obviously lucky enough to survive in harsh environments and be given the conditions of the Big 3 and some are not. They all have their battles and really your idol is no special snowflake when it comes to determination, because it’s a quality they all must have to persevere in this environment.
The way I see it, the Big 3 are a little like the South Korean entertainment equivalent of an Ivy League school. They are prestigious. They are hard to get into. And a successful graduation, or début, from any of them will boost your career in a way that isn’t replicable in another environment. To get in you may not be the smartest, or the most talented, or the most entertaining individual. But you must have a certain quality the recruiters are looking for.
It’s no coincidence that SM debuts some of the best main vocalists in K-Pop in each of their groups. Nor is it a happy accident that YG is generally recognized as the company with the strongest rappers. JYP consistently puts out variety idols and powerhouse rookie girl groups and, which I highly doubt South Korea collectively decided to love simply because the JYP label. I think each of these companies have a unique strategy to who they accept in as a trainee and who they choose to début. And this strategy is part of the reason generally the most recent Big 3 groups can stay afloat in an oversaturated industry.
Another part, however, is entirely dependent on the label. Much like a shiny new diploma from an Ivy League, debuting in one of the Big 3 provides idols with a certain value to their name right out of the gate. Is that value warranted? Yes and no. To me, that really depends on what you as an individual expect and appreciate in a K-Pop group. One fact of the matter is that these groups have the financial support, connections, and public interest that accompanies their ties to a huge entertainment company. Much like an Ivy League graduate.
So now onto the question: are the Big 3 idols taking the easy road of idol life? I don’t think so. The intensive training, hours of sacrificed sleep, and foregone meals that these idols face isn’t something exclusive to a nugu group scraping by. There’s no “easy” in K-Pop to me, and the amount of work members of these groups put into their job doesn’t differentiate between no-name and Big 3, especially at the beginning of a group’s career. Big 3 groups undeniably benefit in publicity from their label, and the messy matter of company stans’ blind support, but don’t work any less because of it.
Do absolute gems slip through the cracks? Of course. Of course. You can see the evidence in nugu groups, mid-tier groups, and trending groups that are not connected to the Big 3 and have risen up past their agency. And that’s much like most universities: people can find success and be extraordinarily talented without having set foot in a single college, let alone an Ivy League. And it is an absolute shame that some very talented idols, and groups collectively, never make it big. But in the end the entertainment industry is rocky and unpredictable. There’s a certain risk attached to any début, and sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing is for sure: Big 3 idols risk a lot less with their debuts. But the work to get there, and the work they put in after, shouldn’t be diminished because of this.
Rewind to about a decade ago, there was a massive advantage of being part of the Big 3 entertainment companies. Débuts seemed smoother, financial support was marginally better and some degree of success was a given. However, within the last three to five years, more groups from lesser-known and smaller companies have hit it big. The second tier of companies such as Cube Entertainment, Plan A Entertainment, FNC Entertainment and Starship Entertainment have also closed the gap.
Some of the older groups from the Big 3 have now dropped in popularity compared to their younger counterparts, parted ways from the company or even disbanded. However, active groups such as Big Bang, 2PM, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior are still raking in the income and may still be the breadwinners of their respective companies. But the younger groups such as GOT7, IKON and NCT are arguably less popular than stiff competitors like Seventeen and BTS. Other than EXO who have dominated the K-pop scene in the last four years and TWICE and Red Velvet who are still riding their rookie success, there is not a lot of indication that Big 3 idols are better off. Individually, there are some young idols who are recognised but have not become household names early on in their careers compared to Yoona, Taecyeon and G-Dragon. Times are changing and it seems like Big 3 groups are not as dominant in the first two to three years of their careers like their seniors were.
K-pop is a tough industry. Talent, financial backing and appeal are really important factors for success. Belonging to a Big 3 company nowadays does not guarantee an easy path to the top. There has to be some strong selling points and a niche for one group to achieve glory. However, despite the advantages are less than before, there are more chances to breakthrough for Big 3 idols compared to the ones from a smaller company. Unless a group has one or several massive hits that go viral, survival in the business in the long run is less likely.
The belief that groups from the Big 3 are automatically put on a pedestal and have a head start in the entertainment industry has been around for years. While it may seem as such at first glance, I think the Korean Entertainment industry is far too complicated to preach this comment as the gospel truth. One thing Korea’s top three companies, SME, YGE and JYPE partake in that helps their groups get exposure is garnering traction from listeners and potential fans before the début of a group. Various examples of this are groups such as Twice of JYPE and Winner of YGE, who’ve participated on survival shows in order to début. This, in a way, helps fans become acquainted with various members of groups and creates a sense of attachment and excitement between the public and the upcoming group. However, this is not just a feat companies from the Big 3 have; groups such as Monsta X from Starship have also been formed this way. While this is a solid way for groups to gain more fans and exposure, success in the Kpop industry is not always a result gained from strategical scheming done by corporate companies.
So, of course with the networking and exposure the Big 3 have in Korea, it may seem like their groups have it easy. However, due to the company’s popularity, idols and trainees must go through gruelling training schedules and put numerous amounts of hard work into persevering to attain their goal of success. Companies such as SME are known for their rigorous schedules and the hard work trainees must endure, and as the fight for début is so much more competitive, they must work even harder for any kind of recognition. In this sense, being one of the lucky trainees that gets to début is so much harder, as the competition is so much larger and challenging.
No group has it easy in the entertainment industry, and yes, the Big 3 does provide more resources for their groups than others, and has a certain amount of power that leads to their groups gaining recognition easily and being in the public’s eyes from début. Though groups may have a higher chance of success due to being from the Big 3, they in no way have it ‘easy’; mismanagement or simply fans losing interest could cause a detraction in their popularity and nothing is certain in a field as competitive and diverse as the entertainment industry. Saying that the easiest way to success is to join one of the Big 3 isn’t necessarily true, as many other groups from smaller companies have gained success and the chances of actually making it to début in a largely acclaimed company are miniscule, just because of the sheer scale of the competition.
K-Pop groups from the big three are more likely to succeed as a group, given the right push and management. Like Rinne and Alisonn said, more established companies very clearly have larger access to resources, be it in terms of financial means or influence. I’ve always agreed with that, and never minced my words, even after growing emotionally invested in EXO.
For instance, things do seem to be looking up for some JYP idols now. TWICE is undeniably a force to be reckoned with. Groups like GOT7 and Day6 appear to lag behind in terms of public interest, but boy groups (well, technically Day6 is a band but) rarely push through that particular ceiling anyway. They should be fine as long as their fandom growth is steady. Especially GOT7.
So, sure, they do have it easier since they’re more likely to stand out in the chaos of a market as saturated as K-Pop.
But can we really say that idols have it any easier as individuals? Here, I would strongly agree with Wasta. I would even say it’s cruel to say that it’s easier for them in that sense. It’s definitely no walk in the park, having to stand upright long enough with barely sufficient sustenance to go through their hectic schedules, among others.
Take a look at SM Entertainment. It is a little ironic that people would claim that their idols have it easy, all while accusing the company of unethical treatment.
Meanwhile, YG idols are often thrown into their fancy dungeons for extended periods of time. They then lose much of their initial hype to an idol’s biggest enemy: time. They had it easier. But the longer they disappear, the more difficult it becomes for them to come back. (Rest in peace, 2NE1.)
And JYP? The same company that houses the swiftly rising Twice as well as their main moneymaker 2PM? 2PM found success, but former member Jay Park revealed that JYP trainees “would get hit and cursed at” in a recent interview. Maybe it’s partly their culture. But it’s still no piece of cake. And yes, there are smaller companies that were legitimately convicted for abuse. But that isn’t my point. The point here is that none of these idols had it easy. It would be pointless to make blanket statements, declaring how much easier they’ve had in comparison.
I’ll ask you again: is it really easier for these idols?
Agree or disagree? Leave us your comments!