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Big Hit Labels concert: The start of a new tradition, or a trend that’s getting trite?

“2012 New Year’s Eve Live - presented by Weverse” poster (Big Hit Labels)
“2012 New Year’s Eve Live - presented by Weverse” poster (Big Hit Labels)

Fifteen years after its launch as a small company by producer Bang Si-hyuk, Big Hit Entertainment is starting a new chapter of its history with its first “labels” concert, which brings together artists from the company’s now-expanded portfolio.

Taking place on the very last day of the year, “2021 New Year’s Eve Live – presented by Weverse” is expected to feature K-pop sensation BTS and other Big Hit-affiliated K-pop idols such as Tomorrow X Together, Enhypen, GFriend and NU’EST.

Ensuring Big Hit’s brand identity

“You could say that it’s like a pinnacle goal of a music agency, to hold a year-end concert solely with the company’s artists,” pop culture critic Kim Heon-sik said. “No company would not hold one if they were able to.”

Indeed, the concert is more than just a party for the Big Hit family and its fans. It’s more like a debut performance for the company as Big Hit Labels -- the name it uses now to reflect its embrace of affiliated music agencies Source Music, Belift Lab and Pledis Entertainment.

According to culture critic Ha Jae-geun, “Publicizing the company is the most urgent task for Big Hit for now. While Big Hit now holds a fandom of its own, the general public is unaware of most of its artists other than BTS, and this presents a risk for the company’s management.”

Kim agreed, stating that a joint concert might be a natural next step for the agency.

“S.M. Entertainment, for instance, has been hosting label concerts both in and out of the country to introduce its rookie artists and also strengthen the brand identity of the agency itself,” Kim said, adding that the formation of SuperM, consisting of seven members from the label’s four boy bands, is an example of the company’s efforts to enhance brand value and fandom.

Big Hit has continuously faced doubts about the company’s value, especially with its listing on the nation’s biggest stock market index on Oct. 15. In the past three years, BTS alone made up around 90 percent of the company’s total revenue. Although that number has dropped to around 70 percent this year following Big Hit’s acquisition of boy band Seventeen’s agency, Pledis, its efforts have yet to change the public’s perception.

Ongoing feud with MBC?

With the upcoming concert Big Hit will hopefully not only prove itself to investors, but also to the domestic music scene, which depends heavily on the major broadcasting networks and their productions.

News of the concert initially caused a buzz since it’s scheduled the same day as MBC’s year-end music show, making it official that Big Hit’s artists will not be at what has long been considered one of the biggest events for both the channel and K-pop idols. 

BTS (Big Hit Entertainment)
BTS (Big Hit Entertainment)

While both sides have denied speculation, it is no secret that the two firms have been on bad terms since MBC reportedly mistreated BTS during its 2018 year-end music show. BTS attended most year-end music shows last year but stayed away from MBC’s, and Big Hit’s artists, including those of its sublabels, have been absent from MBC’s music show lineups since. This year SBS has included BTS in the lineup for its year-end music show slated for Dec. 25, whereas KBS has not confirmed its list of artists yet.

While some local media outlets assumed Big Hit holding the concert Dec. 31 was part of its feud with MBC, critic Kim looked on the brighter side, saying it could mark the start of a new paradigm in the domestic music industry.

“The South Korean music industry is too dependent on the broadcasters. It’s difficult for musicians to expand themselves if they don’t have independent stages and simply rely on television shows. This will slow the development of the music industry itself,” Kim said.

“Moreover, especially in the case of K-pop (idol music), the industry is mostly propelled by fandom outside the country, so even aside from the discord between the two firms, it’s wise for Big Hit to focus on its independent businesses and distance itself from broadcasters, while maintaining a cooperative relationship with them if possible,” the critic added.

Local fans turning cold

Although the concert may be a new beginning for Big Hit, the label has setbacks to overcome if it is to make the event an annual tradition.

A union of BTS’ domestic fans last month released a statement lashing out at the company and announcing that they were officially boycotting the concert because Big Hit was using its artists and fans as tools for business.

“The artists of Big Hit Labels are mere members of sublabels that have been merged together by Big Hit to bulk its size up for the market listings,” the statement read. “The musicians and the fans do not feel a sense of belonging to the same company, and a concert conducted in such a situation can only be considered a promotional play for the firm,” the statement read.

Though the on-site event has been canceled due to the resurgence of COVID-19 in South Korea, ticket prices for the planned event came under fire for being too expensive, even considering the high baselines set by other K-pop concerts. With tickets going for anywhere between 154,000 won ($138) and 275,000 depending on the benefits included in the package, they were available only to members of the official fan clubs, who also pay yearly membership fees.

“Big Hit is facing the pressure to expand itself, especially with the disappointing stock debut results. Holding fancy events and breaking issues are the easiest choices to make now,” Kim said.

“While the label has been promoting itself as a value-oriented label, a crack in that reputation may be the end of it all. With its expanding size, the key lies in managing a crisis. Throwing concerts and adding new artists to the list are not everything. How Big Hit manages the upcoming concert will show where its values lie.”

Meanwhile, the concert, kicking off Dec. 31 at 9:30 p.m., will be exclusively livestreamed through the fandom platform Weverse. Along with the five K-pop idol groups, singers Lee Hyun and Bumzu will also take the stage. Fronted by the main theme “We’re Connected,” the concert will not only include performances, but also a New Year’s countdown and a virtual fan meetup in studios. As part of the concert’s “Connect Stage,” global artists Steve Aoki, Lauv and Halsey have been invited as special guests.

By Choi Ji-won (