Jennie of K-pop girl group BLACKPINK attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the 'Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty' exhibition, May 1, 2023, in New York. AP-Yonhap

A growing number of K-pop stars are establishing their own labels these days to kick off their solo projects, while maintaining partnerships with their original management companies to continue their group-based activities.In contrast to their predecessors, who either chose to extend their solo and group contracts with the same agencies or simply left them, many singers today are diverging from the traditional route so that they can kill two birds with one stone.Spearheading the new trend are Baekhyun of K-pop boy band EXO and Jennie of girl group BLACKPINK.Last week, Baekhyun made headlines for setting up his own label INB100. At the newly established company, Baekhyun and two other fellow EXO members — Chen and Xiumin — will pursue their solo careers while tackling a fresh challenge in the field of music production. INB100 will also represent EXO-CBX, a sub-unit of EXO made up of these three members.Despite the new venture, the three members have not severed ties with EXO’s agency, SM Entertainment. Although they had a legal clash with SM over their exclusive contracts in 2023, they decided to keep their contractual relationship with the K-pop powerhouse and continue to perform as part of EXO.

Another EXO member D.O. also founded a new agency named Company Soosoo. Although he is the only EXO member who terminated his contract with SM, he still plans to continue his musical journey with EXO in the days ahead, rolling out new music offerings and participating in a fan event scheduled for April.In December, Jennie of girl group BLACKPINK announced the launch of her own label, Odd Atelier (OA). She is known to have established the company with her mother in November, shortly before the four BLACKPINK members — Jennie, Rose, Lisa and Jisoo — renewed their contracts for group activities with YG Entertainment. “I cautiously set up my own company to forge my solo activities in a more free and comfortable manner,” Jennie said on KBS’ music show, “The Seasons — Lee Hyo-ri’s Red Carpet,” Jan. 2. “With its name, I wanted to tell people that I will do a good job even if the path I walk looks odd and different.”Two Super Junior members — Donghae and Eunhyuk — also became the co-CEOs of their own management company, ODE Entertainment, last year.These strategic moves reflect a growing desire among K-pop stars to exert more control over their careers.

According to music critic Han Dong-yoon, such an approach grants them more artistic freedom.”When they are in their group, K-pop singers often have to sing the songs that match the team’s image or concept while compromising their own needs and wants,” he told The Korea Times.”But they are given more leeway in terms of music when they have their own labels. Not only can they reveal their unexplored sides as singers and producers, but also broaden their artistic boundaries as actors. They can even try running different businesses (for greater profit).”However, the critic pointed out that they should take extra care in operating their companies, as they lack experience.”Performing as a singer and running a company are like night and day,” he noted. “Most singers team up with the experts in the field of artist and repertoire (A&R) or management, but they should remember that they are the ones taking the helm.”He added, “It is vital for them to get fully prepared in terms of concepts or directions so that they can avoid getting mired in management disputes or becoming characterless.”Han cited Jay Park, founder of AOMG, as an exemplary figure who has successfully navigated this path.”With the establishment of AOMG, he showed people his distinctive musical style and even propelled other artists like Loco 토토 and Gray to success.”

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