This year has opened up a new chapter for K-pop. Novel names have dominated the scene, with long-loved veterans venturing out on a path never walked by others. Groups released new records, with the overall market growing annually to see the highest physical album sales this year.
But with the ups come the downs, and 2022 brought to light many problems -- old and new -- inside the industry. While some were mild hiccups, many have shocked society and remain unresolved.
With only a few days left this year, here's a recap of the toils and troubles of the K-pop world this year.
1. Disbandments, discharges
Unexpected departures of members, and in the worst cases, dissolution of groups have taken many fans by surprise this year.
Le Sserafim, Hybe's first all-female group, lost member Kim Ga-ram in just two months of its debut in May. Rumors of Kim's bullying began even before the act's official start after some people claiming to be her past schoolmates took to the online, revealing her past misdeeds.
Source Music, Hybe's affiliate label housing Le Sserafim, initially denied the accusations and claimed Kim was actually a victim of school violence. But with the snowballing controversies, the company halted Kim's activities and eventually announced Kim's "removal" from the group in July.
One boy band lost a member due to bullying rumors even before its debut. Yang Dong-hwa, who was a part of the debut team of IST Entertainment's new boy band ATBO, was dismissed after bullying rumors were confirmed to be true by the agency.
Some artists left their groups to pursue a different path.
Putting her 11 years with Apink behind, Son Na-eun in April officially left the group following her relocation to YG Entertainment last year to pursue her acting career. Jiho also left Oh My Girl and signed with acting agency P&Studio in May. Jang Gyu-ri of fromis_9 also left the group with her contract termination in August, and has since starred in SBS' rom-com drama "Cheer Up."
Treasure lost two members, Bang Ye-dam and Mashiho. YG announced in July that the two will sit out from official group activities until the end of the year, saying that Bang will focus on his producing career and that Mashiho had health concerns. YG made their departures from the group and the company official in November.
Jinnie's departure from NMIXX also shocked many fans. Citing personal reasons, JYP Entertainment announced her withdrawal and ending of her exclusive contract on Dec. 9. Fans were taken aback by the news, as she had been actively participating in scheduled activities. Many are still wondering what made Jinnie leave the group after only 10 months with NMIXX.
Some groups failed to overcome the seven-year jinx, a term stemming from the standard contract period for artists at most labels. CLC and Dia were such cases, disbanding in June and September, respectively, due to contract terminations.
DSP Media's April finalized its disbandment this January. The group has been inactive since July 2020 mainly due to the school bullying allegations raised against member Lee Na-eun. In January, DSP announced that the allegations against Lee were proven false through a police investigation before officially terminating the group a few days later.
Longtime groups also dissolved into history this year. Nu'est, which debuted in 2012, ended its decadelong journey in March, with only Baekho and Min-hyun remaining with Pledis Entertainment. AOA, which has been inactive since 2019, is also considered disbanded with member Seol-hyun's termination of her contract with the act's agency FNC Entertainment in October.
2. Singer vs agency: Power abuse or legal dispute?
Unresolved issues between artists and labels have come to a head, with many turning into legal battles that are expected to continue into next year.
Singer Lee Seung-gi is perhaps spending the darkest period since his debut in 2004 due to a payment dispute with his longtime agency Hook Entertainment. Lee is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Hook for overdue compensation, including payments for all digital streams and downloads of his songs from the past 18 years. It was revealed that not only was Lee not properly compensated, he was also intentionally deceived and insulted by Hook officials, including CEO Gwon Jin-young, as an "unprofitable singer." Lee left Hook earlier this month and nullified his exclusive contract with the company.
On Dec. 16, Hook sent an ambiguous amount of 4.81 billion won ($3.7 million) to Lee as overdue payment and said it has filed a lawsuit to confirm the nonexistence of outstanding debt. However, Lee said on social media that he was not withdrawing from the legal dispute, claiming he was not fighting for the reimbursement but because "the value of someone's honest sweat (effort) should not be taken for granted."
Lee's legal representatives said they had filed a lawsuit against Gwon and the agency's financial officials on charges of embezzlement and fraud, and is planning to claim damage for unsettled payments for songs and other illegal activities.
Chuu of Loona also left her former agency BlockBerry Creative and her team Loona this year. On Nov. 25, the agency announced her removal due to her abusive attitude and language towards the company's staff.
Her conflict with the agency has been ongoing since last year, when she applied for an injunction to suspend her exclusive contract with the company. She got a partial win in March that allowed her to continue as a Loona member while taking on solo activities. However, rumors and reports of improper compensation and unfair treatment by the agency have continued.
In a social media post made following her removal from Loona, Chuu said she had "never committed any acts to be shameful of." Many people, including Chuu's bandmates and colleagues in the industry, had been openly siding with her and denouncing the agency.
Local media outlet Dispatch revealed on Dec. 19 evidence of what it claimed to be Chuu using inappropriate language to BlockBerry Creative staff members in chat messages. In the report, Chuu admitted that though she did send those messages, it was not directed at staff. She claimed that it was directed at the company for treating her like a child and thus losing her trust.
While Chuu remains silent on her exact stance on the dispute, she is now actively pursuing a solo career in TV shows and advertising appearances.
Boy band Omega X rocked the K-pop world by exposing its agency CEO's abusive behavior against the members. The revelations came during a press conference in Seoul on Nov. 16, during which the members also announced they were terminating their exclusive contracts with the agency Spire Entertainment.
In October, an audio clip and video footage showed the former CEO, known by her surname Kang, abusing the members during the band’s concert tour in the US. The video went viral online, and follow-up reports by media showed the members were also stopped from returning home after the alleged violence was made public. Some were forced to pay for their plane tickets out of pocket while suffering from further abuse by Kang until they took the delayed flight.
In a press conference, the 11 bandmates disclosed in detail Kang’s outrageous treatment of the members that had continued in the past year since November following the act's debut in June 2021. The act also claimed that the female CEO had subjected some members to frequent sexual harassment.
3. Plagiarism mars stardom
While it’s understandable that not all songwriting can result from sheer originality, intentionally deceiving the public takes the matter to a different level.
The public was more than shaken when allegations of plagiarism against renowned singer-songwriter You Hee-yeol first surfaced in June through an online post claiming You's 2021 track “A Very Private Night” sounded almost identical to Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Aqua.”
You and his record label Antenna Music released an official statement acknowledging the two songs' resemblance, but explained it was not done consciously by You. The controversy seemed to settle after Sakamoto responded that the similarities in the two pieces were not at a level that would require legal action to protect his piece.
But public fury grew after several of You’s songs came under scrutiny, including “Happy Birthday to You” (2002) and “Please Don’t Go My Girl” (2013), for their similarities to Sakamoto's songs.
You in July stepped down from the KBS music program “You Heeyul's Sketchbook," which he had hosted for 13 years. He released a statement in which he said: "There are parts of the claims of plagiarism that I find difficult to agree with," further igniting public backlash.
With You as the start, accusations of plagiarism within the local scene continued, including those made against veteran singer-songwriter Lee Juck and breakout rookie Lee Mu-jin. Lee Juck came under fire for his 2013 song "Lie Lie Lie" for its resemblance to Brazil singer Raimundo Fagner's 1995 song "Rubi Grena," while Lee Mujin's 2021 hit "Traffic Light" was targeted for its similarity with Japanese rock band Sekai No Owari's 2015 track "Dragon Night." Both artists' agencies strongly denied the allegations.