BTS Creator Voices Concern as FIFTY FIFTY’s Independence Scandal Rocks Korean Entertainment

Currently, Korea is experiencing the “heyday of idol groups.” New idol groups emerge frequently, produce hit songs, and then fade away. Only a few artists manage to endure. The independence scandal involving FIFTY FIFTY has shaken the Korean entertainment industry.

The reason idols are promoted as a group is because each member fulfills a specific role. The central figure is usually the visual, while others are responsible for vocals, dancing, rapping, and other roles, requiring a minimum of four members.

In Korean culture, there’s a preference for “unattainable beauty” in artists over a more approachable “girl next door” appearance. As a result, many artists are considered beautiful, regardless of whether they hold the spotlight. Moreover, there’s limited acceptance of diversity in beauty standards, leading to many individuals having similar facial features. This can make it challenging to distinguish between individuals unless one is well-versed in K-pop culture.

Despite similarities among idol groups, artists from major agencies often enjoy greater popularity. This is largely due to the substantial investments these companies make in areas such as music production, dance training, and promotional activities. This financial backing typically gives them a competitive edge in the fiercely competitive K-pop industry.

BTS's creator also complains, FIFTY FIFTY's independence scandal shakes the Korean entertainment industry

BTS emerged from a small agency, thanks to the efforts of Bang Si-hyuk, a music producer and entrepreneur who played a pivotal role in their development. Together with BTS, he dedicated himself to their success. Today, BTS has grown into a publicly listed powerhouse in the industry, far exceeding its humble beginnings.

The Global Rise of a 4-Member Female Idol Group

This year, a breakout 4-member female idol group, dubbed “FIFTY FIFTY,” emerged as the potential successors to BTS. Belonging to a small agency, they debuted in November last year. While their first song didn’t initially receive widespread acclaim, their second song, “Cupid,” became a massive hit. Released on February 24th, “Cupid” maintained a position on the prestigious Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States for 16 consecutive weeks.

It also marked the shortest duration for a Korean female idol group to achieve this milestone. Alongside Wonder Girls, BLACKPINK, TWICE, and NewJeans, FIFTY FIFTY joined the ranks of Korean female groups to enter the Hot 100. FIFTY FIFTY’s promotional strategy centered on distributing their song and video through short-form social networking sites like TikTok and Instagram’s Reels. Overseas fans contributed to the buzz by sharing “Cupid” content, often played on fast-forward, which further amplified their visibility.

“Cupid”: A Short-Form Korean Idol for the Future

“Cupid” is available in both Korean and English versions, catering to overseas listeners. The song gained popularity as background music for recent short-form social media trends, including dance challenges.

BTS's creator also complains, FIFTY FIFTY's independence scandal shakes the Korean entertainment industry

Since then, “Cupid” has continued its rapid ascent, achieving several milestones: reaching the top 10 on the UK Official Chart, selling 1 million units in the U.S., and securing the No. 1 audience record for a K-POP girl group on Spotify. It also topped the Billboard Global chart (excluding the U.S.) for two consecutive weeks and was named the best song of the first half of the year by Rolling Stone magazine contributors. Billboard staff also selected it as one of the top 50 songs of the first half of the year.

“Cupid” debuted on the World Digital Song Sales Chart at 113th place and became the shortest Korean idol group to chart on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart, remaining on the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 consecutive weeks. Initially gaining buzz overseas, the song gradually gained popularity in Korea as well. However, it appears that FIFTY FIFTY’s surge in popularity may wane soon, at least in Korea, before their faces are fully remembered.

The Scandal of Independence: FIFTY FIFTY Faces Legal Battle

On June 23rd, ATTRAKT, FIFTY FIFTY’s agency, announced that external parties have slandered their company, misled their artists into making wrongful decisions through deceptive tactics, and have unlawfully induced them to breach exclusive contracts.

Then, on June 27, ATTRAKT filed a lawsuit against three individuals, including the representative of “THE GIVERS,” who had collaborated with the agency to manage the FIFTY FIFTY project and conduct operations, alleging fraud and breach of trust. The following day, members of FIFTY FIFTY announced a provisional injunction lawsuit to terminate their exclusive contract with ATTRAKT, which was filed on June 19th.

On June 29th, THE GIVERS responded to ATTRAKT’s accusations, vowing to take robust legal action against ATTRAKT’s representatives for making false claims and spreading misinformation. The controversy surrounding this rookie group, which achieved fleeting success overseas, has escalated into a legal quagmire. While the lawsuit is ongoing, ATTRAKT alleges that after discovering and heavily investing in developing these artists, they were enticed away by promises and their work misappropriated for personal gain, with THE GIVERS’ representatives accused as the orchestrators of these actions.

By the way, THE GIVERS’ representative, a former music producer, has been overseeing the production of FIFTY FIFTY using funding from ATTRAKT. Additionally, members of FIFTY FIFTY allege that ATTRAKT violated obligations to provide timely payment, failed to manage their physical and mental health, and lacked sufficient human and material resources to support them.

In response, ATTRAKT announced that they had invested 8 billion won (approximately 800 million yen) in FIFTY FIFTY and had arranged for medical treatment to address the members’ health issues, although they did not specify the nature of the illness. They maintained that they had allowed the members sufficient rest periods and had not pressured them to continue with activities.

Hard-hitting Advice from BTS’ Creator

Amid these conflicts, the media outlet “Dispatch,” often referred to as South Korea’s “Bunshun Cannon,” reported evidence that favored ATTRAKT’s president. As the disputes persisted, several major global projects were canceled. These included the filming of the music video for the Hollywood movie “Barbie,” a commercial featuring a famous soccer player, a partnership with a global electronics company, and the cancellation of the Korean culture festival “KCON LA 2023,” which was scheduled for August in Los Angeles.

It was also revealed that the parents of FIFTY FIFTY members applied to register the group’s name as a trademark just before the trial commenced. Their applications cover a broad spectrum of products and services eligible for trademark protection. They applied for trademark rights across various categories, including broadcasting, performances, entertainment, clothing, jewelry, stationery, supplements, and cosmetics. Previously, ATTRAKT had only applied for a trademark for the English letters “FIFTY FIFTY.” The parents of the members confirmed that there was no trademark in Hangul yet and proceeded with their application.

The Korean entertainment industry is closely monitoring the ongoing situation. On July 5th, the Korean Entertainment Producers Association criticized the sequence of events as follows: “Recently, our association and member companies have been closely following the challenging circumstances faced by ATTRAKT, which achieved the remarkable feat of launching the group FIFTY FIFTY within a few months of its debut, despite harsh conditions.” They pointed out that the poaching and preemptive solicitation of current company members have disrupted normal business operations, resulting in adverse outcomes for both the company and its artists.

“Such actions undermine the foundation of growth for producers and artists who have laid the groundwork for K-POP.” The association pledged not to ignore such actions and vowed to take robust measures against them. Additionally, Bang Si-hyuk, who mentored them, reportedly could not stay silent and shared the following stern advice with FIFTY FIFTY members, which also circulated on social media.

BTS's creator also complains, FIFTY FIFTY's independence scandal shakes the Korean entertainment industry

“There should be trust between the agency and the artist. Of course, contracts and conditions exist, but success can only be achieved when both sides support each other through these. I’ve seen many aspiring idols and singers disappear without ever making it to TV, but those who want to become the next face of K-pop must understand the importance of the opportunities they have now. If you have a dream, you need to realize that your current approach might be leading you in the wrong direction.” However, it appears that the words of BTS‘s creator have not yet reached them.


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