In my blog, I've written, IN DETAIL, about the top three major record labels in South Korea: S.M. Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. However, I believe there is one more label company that deserves recognition, Big Hit Entertainment. The little engine that could and DID is the perfect way to summarize Big Hit’s story. It was a label frowned upon right from the get go, but despite constant criticism, Big Hit made a name for itself with the help of one major group, BTS. Yes, Big Hit is made up of ONLY two groups, overall only nine individuals. The source of their revenue comes from this extremely famous and extremely marketable group BTS, that has taken over the international music industry, but strangely is still not popular in Korea. Why? Because the group produces a new sound and new perspective that is heavily encouraged by Big Hit Entertainment. So, without further ado, let’s learn about Big Hit Entertainment!
Established in 2005 by Bang Si-Hyuk, Big Hit originally began signing artists like 8Eight in 2007, and underwent a joint management contract with JYP Entertainment over 2AM. 8Eight was a musical trio consisting of two boys and a girl, and although they never gained mass popularity, no one can deny that the group had unique voices that matched well together. Their most well-known song, Without a Heart, was released in 2009 and showcased the usual pop sound that was popular in the late 2000’s, mixed in with Big Hit’s usual hip-hop influences.
The song showcases the amazing old days of K-pop, with a sound that has generally been lost in the current techno, EDM filled world of modern music. Once the contract with JYP Entertainment ended in 2014, 2AM member Lee Chang-min stayed with Big Hit to form a duo group with the leader of the disbanded 8eight co-ed group, Lee Hyun. Together, the duo has created powerful, ballad music commonly produced by BTS leader, Rap Monster, and Bang Si-Hyuk. The song, Dilemma, pulls at the heartstrings with a tragic love story between a troubled man and woman.
In 2012, one year before BTS was set to debut, Big Hit debuted a powerful five-member girl group called GLAM. The girls debuted with the song, Party(XXO), with lyrics that were pro-LGBT, which is rarely seen in the K-pop community and frowned upon in Korean culture. The girls were daring, passionate, unique, and weren’t afraid to break boundaries by singing about controversial topics like the importance of self-confidence for women, insecurities, and the perks of being a strong single woman.
However, the group had to disband after one of the members was found to be part of an extremely scandalous blackmailing incident. After the scandal that rocked Big Hit Entertainment subsided, the record label has since refused to sign women, not even signing female backup dancers. But, the girl group should always be remembered for their bold music and lyrics, especially in the song, In Front of the Mirror.
In 2013, Big Hit debuted with what would be one of the biggest K-pop groups of all time, but no one EVER would have expected that when they first debuted. BTS is a seven-member boy group that is heavily influenced by hip-hop music and culture but were heavily criticized for being ‘wannabe’ hip-hop stars.
BTS debuted with the song We Are Bulletproof and No More Dream and were considered instant flops. Their music videos were low quality and the group wasn’t respected against larger record labels like S.M. Entertainment and JYP Entertainment. The group was so poor in fact that they regularly skipped meals, had to use staff members in their music videos, and recycled clothing during live performances. But, one couldn’t deny that the group had stage presence and never showed their struggle on stage, letting their unique music shine through instead.
Album after album, the group slowly grew in popularity, but were still considered bigger in countries like in Brazil and the USA than in Korea. One could attribute this to the obvious Western influences that the group adopted and made their own, a style still not well-recognized in Korea.
In 2016, the group reached ultimate fame with the release of the title song 'I Need U' from the album The Most Beautiful Moment In Life Part 1. All the cards were put on the table in this song, and it can be seen by the group's compromise in using more pop influences and an artistic approach to their music videos.The group took a risk and it paid off MASSIVELY. Out of nowhere, the group was finally winning music show awards, gaining millions of views on YouTube, selling countless albums, and making their way to stardom in Korea. 'I Need U' was a pivotal point for not only BTS, but also Big Hit. The company was finally recognized in the stifling world of Korean music labels and even beating them!
What made BTS and Big Hit different is the absolute creative freedom that Big Hit gave BTS. The group was able to flourish BECAUSE they were the only group. As a result, interesting and intense storylines for music videos (yeah, for theories!) were created and approved with controversial lyrics. The group didn’t just sing about love, but sang about addiction, self-confidence, loneliness, and suicide. BTS showed their flaws in an industry that demands perfection. A group that was nearly disbanded due to lack of funds had now made it, but they weren't done yet.
With the release of the album Wings in 2016, the group grew even more in popularity with Wings becoming the most sold K-pop album. A company, once worth only thousands, was now worth millions. Yes, a company with only one group and a duo, were surpassing major companies with multiple active groups and solo artists. It was a feat that was never seen before in Korea and Big Hit was definitely the ‘little engine that could’ even when no one thought it would be possible. In only three years, BTS had dominated the Korean and international music industry, even gaining a spot on the Billboard Top 200!
It's no surprise though since the production value was incredible, with fanciful outfits, top-notch producers, grandiose music videos, intricate choreography, and epic concert shows showcased throughout the era.
Thanks to BTS, it was even revealed that the likelihood of Big Hit Entertainment filing for an IPO grew in 2017! For those unaware, an IPO, or initial public offering, is when the stock of a private company is offered to the public to buy and sell. It’s crazy to think that a company with only fifty-two employees has the ability to produce such profit in such magnitude.
Part of the success, has to, obviously, be accredited to the founder, Bang Si-Hyuk, who still helps BTS with producing and writing their song lyrics, winning him multiple producer awards. Together, BTS and Bang Si-Hyuk have helped grow Big Hit to a company that is able to compete with the big dogs, and with the release of 'Her' on September 18, it will be their biggest test yet. All the pressure is on, and only time will tell whether or not BTS and Big Hit can handle the pressure by themselves. Regardless of the outcome, Big Hit Entertainment will go down in history as one of the most successful small record label companies ever.
What do you think of Big Hit Entertainment? Let me know in the comments below!
Stay Kurrent. Stay K-pop.