United We SONE – 8/16

For those of you who have been here for a while, you probably know me.
Some of you may disagree with my how I conduct myself, but you know where my heart really is.
You also know, whenever things are serious, whether you can or cannot believe what I write.

For those of you who are new, hello and welcome.
Try to keep up with the rest of the pack because this patch of fandom is going to be a bumpy ride.

I’ve done a quick scan on twitter before writing this and I think most people have gotten the gist of my preliminary tweets, whether directly or via SONE hivemind. That’s encouraging since you’ll know where this post is headed.


I’m cobbling this together as quickly as I can because I genuinely wasn’t prepared for how quickly SM would start the mediaplay. In hindsight, that was stupid and I should have been prepared so I want to apologize for that and will try to keep on top of things again – real life work commitments have been making investing time into fandom a hard task. The funniest part is I was just DM’ing a friend in Singapore about the “one week promo” situation at the time… so really caught with my trousers down.

I will apologize in advance because the following text is not exhaustive account and summarizes/streamlines things.
Details of deals that each member has or is negotiating won’t be talked about here: it’s a distraction.
Please understand the position that I am in, like people used to understand back in the old days of fandom.


Bringing you up to speed

SM’s contracts and negotiations were under wraps for the most part until I posted about how it worked, and luckily as it’s become common knowledge it makes my job easier.

  • SM usually start their idols off on a 5 year contract.
  • Idols are then usually offered 3 year extension deals with wholly different terms from their first contract (read: a lot better for them).
  • Idols are made to negotiate individually.
  • In SNSD’s case, like with almost all idols, their parents get involved with the negotiation (because Korean system of seniority and hierarchy makes negotiation between the agency and young adults very difficult).
  • Terms are loosely “renegotiated” at the beginning of every year of their employment, using the original contract as a framework.
  • Actual renewal negotiations are also done during the beginning of the year that it expires (so for SNSD, 2014 and 2017).

January is a pretty tense month for every idol under SM.


Where the the timeline begins

Take yourself back to 2014. I think I was the first person to break the news at the time.
SM usually likes to wrap up everything by the end of January but things went a few days over the deadline as SM were still finalizing terms with Jessica.

SNSD were doing great in January 2014. “I Got a Boy” had gotten them more critical praise and attention, they’d won all the awards, they were sweeping through with album sales, merchandise…
More importantly they’d proven that they could divide themselves up to find successes in multiple fields.

I can’t go into any details on the terms but understand that SM gave them a very nice and cushy deal. Things went south towards the end of the year when things played out the way it did. I will still maintain to this day that no matter how many OT8 or Golden Stars will accuse someone or another, the fuller picture that I’ve been privileged enough to see has been that neither SNSD nor Jessica can be blamed for what happened in that time. I didn’t want to touch on it but I have to because it’s a relevant event on the timeline. Since I do, I need to stress that point as much as I can before moving on.

In the remaining contract period, SM got distracted with huge plans involving China and groups that were going to debut.
Talk to anyone who claims to be an insider in SM and they will tell you that they are woefully understaffed and their leadership easily distracted by grand plans and ideas.
It’s SM’s fault for not making full use of SNSD but try telling them that.


The events of this year

Fastforward to the end of 2016 and January, yes the all important month of January, of 2017:
SM want to average out what they had wanted from the previous three years with what they will be getting in 2017 to 2020.
They want SNSD members to take the lowest possible deal.

SM are fielding several plays at once right now.

  1. Carrot and stick the girls: Show the girls how much SM can give SNSD, and then snatch it away abruptly.
    You’ve probably seen enough gangster movie stereotypes to know a “play ball and things will stay nice.” when you see it in real life.
    I’m telling you as someone who’s been watching this play out for years from different companies… this is the entertainment industry version of it.
  2. Carrot and stick the fans: Show the fans how much SNSD they could get, and then snatch it away abruptly.
    They want us to be worked up into a fever pitch and then beg for more, ignorantly, because we don’t know what’s going on under the surface.
    I’m telling you that begging SNSD members to “PLEASE STAY UNNIEEEE” is playing right into their hands.
  3. Divide and conquer: they want to divide fandoms into pressuring individual members into doing what SM wants, since the public will be somewhat indifferent and fans will be the tastemakers in the community campaigning and complaining about the situation. I’m going to go deeper into this below.

I think they’ve already released to the media that some members have re-signed contracts and while that is “technically true”, “technically true” is dangerously misleading. Contracts are individually different and each member wants different solo activities (whether it’s acting, singing, variety shows) so all of the terms are different. The situation is intensely complicated and SM are taking advantage of that and trying to make sure that their misleading, simple narrative “some members signed but some members won’t”.


When in doubt, SONEs, where do we look?
We look to the girls.

During this comeback, when have the girls ever looked like they were singling anyone out?
They don’t blame any of themselves for the choices they have made or the stance that they stand.
You can feel how much they respect each other’s positions.
You can feel how much trust the intentions of every other member in the group.

The picture of a divided group that SM wants to paint is a lie.

SM want there to be confusion and in-fighting, because we all know how in-fighting ends:
we flock to our main biases and start pointing fingers at individual fandoms of other members to blame.

This cannot be allowed to happen because that is clearly not going to help the girls in any way.

They know each other better than anyone, and we trusted them before.
Trust the girls again now, in trusting the other members.


As much detail as I can share about “right now”

The member(s) who are still fighting SM at the negotiation table have refused to give in, even when SM issued an ultimatum to decide by January 31st (or else). To be quite honest, things didn’t look good in December when preliminary talks were coming out of SM to draw up the new extension contracts. It became rapidly clear as January started that things were not going to be easy.

I mean it’s crazy that they’ve been able to hold against SM for EIGHT MONTHS without giving in; our girls are strong women but I also don’t think you could do that without being able to believe in the support of the girls who had already re-signed. The crazier thing is that winning in small incrememtns right up until the comeback too; they were successful in negotiating SM to make changes to make the unfair contract fairer but quite frankly, it still is unfair.

It’s only now that SM are dangling a lot of different group projects in their face, hoping they’ll cave in for short-term things when the remainder of the three years .


Going forward

There is no grand conspiracy from the K-Pop industry to dismantle SNSD.
K-Pop is a business and if you’ll excuse the pun, you’re seeing the business end of it courtesy of SM Entertainment.
This is brinksmanship at best and feels more like an inside job.

SM doesn’t always do this but when they do, things can get ugly.

This whole promo cycle. Being edited out of shows.
Being excluded arbitrarily after those amazing teasers and a full week of epic promo.
Drawing huge numbers to TV shows and album sales outpacing manufacturing speed.


As fans, I don’t think we should, however passively, rush the girls, or pressure them into making decisions.
SM is trying to use SONEs as a weapon against SNSD and we cannot allow this.

Trust in SNSD to make the right moves and continue to love and support them without picking sides.

  1. What Girls’ Generation’s Members Leaving SM Entertainment Says About Gender and Power in K-Pop – Egghead

    […] However, internationally successful groups that are credited with leading the Hallyu Wave, such as BIGBANG, Super Junior, TVXQ and Girls’ Generation have been perceived to be immune to the threat of disbandment because of their immense success and the thousands of loyal fans they attract. Not only are the groups still incredibly popular, but they are equally as profitable: In 2016, BIGBANG brought home $44 million and in 2014, Girls’ Generation’s Japanese tour alone brought in $31.6 million in revenue. Unlike SNSD, BIGBANG was expected to re-sign and actually renewed their contracts two months before they ended in 2015. Though both groups have attained incredible success, have had their fair share of scandals, and can still sell out concerts in minutes, SNSD’s contract renewal has been the topic of much more speculation (especially because their contract negotiations are still in process and they already lost a main vocalist and popular member, Jessica, in 2014.) While awaiting news about the group’s future, SNSD fans have even speculated that SM is trying to set the group up for failure and intentionally sabotage their promotions. […]

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