K-pocalypse 2014?: Contract Disputes, Unanswered Questions and EXO

Fans of K-pop have dubbed 2014 the year of Kpocalypse in light of a spate of  lawsuits by members from EXO.  While it’s hard to separate fact from speculation as a global K-pop fan, these lawsuits do say something about the role of nationality and the motives of the members who bring lawsuits.

The landscape is always murky when trying to make sense of what’s going on in K-pop if you live outside of Korea.  Some English-language outlets report events as they happen, relying on information that may be incorrect, uncorroborated or just plain speculation.  Other outlets rely on multiple Korean media sources, which results in second-hand information, which also may be skewed or contain bias.  Nevertheless, such sources shape global fans’ understanding of what happens in K-pop, and it is possible to get a good idea of a story if one consults a variety of sources.

A cursory look at the lawsuits by Kris (Wu Fi Yan)and Luhan of EXO reveal some interesting similarities.  Many see their claims as an extension of the legal claims by Han Geng, former member of Super Junior, and interpret the lawsuits as evidence of bad faith on the part of SM Entertainment.  However, Han Geng, Kris and Luhan also pursued or expressed an intent to pursue film careers in China in the wake of separating from SM’s groups.

Since his departure from Super Junior, Han Geng has starred in several films, including My Kingdom (2011) in addition to releasing two albums.  hardcorefan at jpopasia reported on Kris’s lawsuit on May 15, 2014, but by August 12, 2014, allkpop reported that Kris was cast in Xiao You Qiao Mu, a Chinese movie also starring Han Geng. Following the filing of his lawsuit, Soompi reported that Luhan’s representation “expressed great interest in taking the male lead role of the new drama “Zhu Xian” to Yang Mi who manages her own agency,” which was denied by a representative of Yang Mi.  napthesoul reported that “before his contract termination, [Luhan] received nearly 15 film offers, but they were all refused by SM. Luhan has enjoyed extreme popularity across all of Asia, but SM only allowed him a supporting role in the film “Miss Granny.”

Moreover, all three are Chinese members of SM’s Korean pop groups. They achieve a measure of fame in the Korean entertainment industry, then seek to return to China to continue their careers.  Some reports indicate that Chinese nationality is an issue, for Luhan’s lawsuit claims: “SM treated EXO-K, filled with Korean members, differently from how they treated the EXO-M members with Chinese members. From the beginning of our debut, EXO-K received support from SM and actively did promotions, but EXO-M had no promotions, received no financial backing, and endured a difficult time” (Venture Capitalist Post). In addition, some see the shift by Chinese artists as a strategy that has been dubbed meokwi:  “The practice has negative connotations, referring to people who are driven by their own interests.”  Within the context of Korean entertainment, “some see the stars who attempt to leave their groups as people who ‘eat and run’. . . after gaining sought-after popularity.”

The narrative is further complicated by civil relationships between other Chinese artists and SM.  Zhou Mi, the Chinese member of Super Junior M, has just embarked on a solo career after six successful years with the group. Zhou Mi remains a member of Super Junior M.  Why are Kris and Luhan so unhappy, but Zhou Mi is so content? One reason may be that Zhou Mi is a musician, and not an aspiring film star. He’s contributed creatively to songs and he’s a musician and vocalist:

Han Geng, the former Super Junior member who filed the lawsuit to which the most recent SM lawsuits are linked, recently expressed a more positive view of his relationship with the Korean agency on his Weibo account:  “No matter how time passed by, the things that I achieved in the present and future are through their (SM Entertainment) help. Although the road that I have chosen is a different way, even if I continue going my own way, I hope that everything goes well for them.” (Pao).

Because of varying interactions between Chinese artists and Korean agencies, I do not see these lawsuits as evidence of  “the dark side of K-pop, ” which is contrary to what many people believe.  These are contract disputes that do not even rise to the level of epic contract disputes we’ve seen in the United States, such as Prince v. Warner Bros. And yet, Prince and Warner Bros. buried the hatchet, with Prince recently signing a contract with Warner Bros. I think that these disputes do have an impact on the perception of SME, especially from a global point of view, but not a huge one.  Let’s put it this way: SME will not be moving operations into a cardboard box any time soon. It also raises questions about how SM manages its Chinese artists.  What is the impact of political and economic relationship between China and Korea?

At the same time, these high-profile lawsuits do benefit Kris and Luhan.  They keep them in the media eye, and help them to parlay their fame from EXO into successful future solo careers. Kris and Luhan can depend on the recognition from an established and active fanbase to propel their post-EXO careers.

Ultimately, these lawsuits are complicated by multiple motives and nationality.

Images

Philip. “Was EXO Kris planning a solo debut? Why did he file the lawsuit?” hellokpop. 22 May 2014.

“Luhan  – EXO-M Photo.” Fanpop. N.d. Web. 11 Dec 2014.

Video

“110429 Zhou Mi Singing 终于说出口 on 非常不一班.” YouTube. 29 Apr 2011. Web. 11 Dec 2014.

Sources

hardcorefan. “EXO’s Kris to Terminate His Contract, Files Lawsuit Against SM.” jpopasia. 15 May 2014. Web. 25 Oct 2014.

“Kris To Star Alongside Hangeng and Joo Won in Upcoming Korean-Chinese Movie.” allkpop. 12 Aug 2014. Web. 25 Oct 2014.

napthesoul. “Sohu Analyses and Compares Luhan’s and Kris’ Lawsuits.” hellokpop. 14 Oct 2014. Web. 25 Oct 2014.

Pao. “Ex-Super Junior Member Hangeng Confesses Innermost Feelings: “Everything I Achieved Was Through SM.”  Soompi. 13 Aug 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014.

—–.  “Luhan Reportedly Considers Role in Chinese Drama, Production Company Denies.” Soompi. 15 Oct 2014. Web. 25 Oct 2014.

“Luhan claims SM treated EXO’s Korean members differently than Chinese members; Two parties to enter a court-referred mediation.” Venture Capitalist Post. 28 Nov 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014.

Sung, So-Young.  “”Why K-pop Idols Flee From Their Groups.”  Korea Joong Daily. 20 Oct 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014.
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K-pocalypse 2014?: Contract Disputes, Unanswered Questions and EXO by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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