Behind the success of SM – one of the largest companies in the Korean entertainment industry – are many controversial contract terminations.
As one of the leading companies in the Korean entertainment industry, SM Entertainment has always been the dream of those who aspire to be a celebrity. Trainees trained by SM are considered to be at a higher level than other trainees. The artists who debuted in SM are always called “golden spoon kids”.
However, is SM the “dream place” as people think? Is it really that great when there are a series of artists who, after a long time of hard practice, were fortunate to debut and are almost taking their first steps on the path of peach blossom, suddenly chose to leave because of the same reason: being overly taken advantage by the management company. Behind the aura of a big company, does SM still have the inevitable dark sides of the entertainment world?
1. Hangeng (Super Junior)
In December 2009, Super Junior achieved great success with Sorry Sorry. Thought this would be a great opportunity for the group in general and the members in particular to rise to fame, but in 2009 – after the group’s third album promotion – Hangeng shocked fans and Super Junior members when he unexpectedly filed a lawsuit against SM and decided to leave.
Hangeng provided real evidence as to why he abruptly left the group at the time. According to his lawyer, the contract between SM and this male singer is unfair because Hangeng‘s profit share is much lower. The contract also includes a clause that requires him to be bound to the company for up to 13 years, which is completely unreasonable.
The company also often forced him to do things outside the contract and if he did not comply, he would be fired. Hangeng‘s lawyer added that because of overwork, Hangeng at that time had gastritis and kidney disease.
In addition, during that time, due to visa restrictions and related issues, Hangeng was also able to perform all the shows in Korea. He also many times had to wear a mask and sing and dance as the “background” for other members.
To the information given by the lawyer at the time of filing the lawsuit, despite being extremely disappointed, fans still supported Hangeng‘s decision to leave. By September 2011, he had reached an agreement to terminate his contract with SM Entertainment, but in fact he had left the group and returned to China a long time before that.
Hangeng‘s most recent appearance was in early 2021 on a Chinese TV show. After a long time, Hangeng had the most honest sharing about his time as a Kpop idol under SM.
According to Hangeng, he gave up his idol career because of the difficulty coming from the company’s tight control. Former Super Junior member said: “I used to be a handsome, good dancer and had a lot of fans. But that’s in the past. The company controlled everything about me, how I looked or what I represented. I couldn’t do what I wanted. Idols are asked to put the company and the group above themselves.”
The decision to leave when he felt that he had not been given enough opportunities to show his talent was not difficult to explain. And no matter what, now Hangeng is living a comfortable life in his hometown with his own career after the “war” with SM Entertainment.
2. JYJ (DBSK)
At that time, DBSK was one of the biggest names in the Kpop music industry. The five idols nicknamed “Gods of The East” were at the peak of their fame and had a huge fan base. The three members’ decision to leave the group at that time was considered a huge shock for their fans.
The reason given by the trio was that they had suffered an unfair slave contract with the company. The contract with a term of 13 years was too long. At the same time, the members also thought that the division of profits between them and the company and many other unfair and oppressive terms was unreasonable.
The lawsuit ended with Jaejoong, Junsu and Yoochun leaving the company, forming the group JYJ and signing with C-Jes Entertainment.
3. Kris, Luhan, Tao (EXO)
EXO is one of the groups with the most controversial cases of members leaving in KPOP. In 2013, EXO began to gain certain achievements and secured a place on the Kpop map with the hit “Growl.” While they were on the way to success and preparing for the first solo concert in the group’s career, an incident that shocked the whole fandom happened: a member decided to leave the group.
In 2014, Kris and Luhan both sued SM Entertainment, accusing the company of mistreating them and considering them both as “machines” rather than people. Kris filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment with the desire to terminate his contract and accused SM of disregarding his health, unfair profit sharing, and human rights violations. It is reported that the lawyer defending Kris is also the person who represented Hangeng before.
5 months later on October 10, 2014, Luhan sued SM for the purpose of voiding his contract and bringing up health problems, accusing the company of discriminating against him compared to the Korean members.
The legal dispute between SM and Luhan and Kris has finally ended after a long period of litigation. As the result of the lawsuit, SM won for the most parts. Kris and Luhan‘s contracts will still be valid until the end of 2022, which means that both will still have to share their profits with the company even though they are no longer promoting as SM artists. .
Not stopping there, in 2015, EXO continued to face a challenge when Tao was the third member to file a lawsuit. Like the previous two fellow members, Tao cited his lack of freedom and unfair contract terms.
On April 22, 2015, Tao‘s father posted a letter on social media expressing his concern for his son and talking about Tao‘s decision to withdraw from the group. The letter specifically talks about how Tao was injured but did not receive proper treatment. In 2016, SM won the lawsuit against Tao as the former member did not pay the company after he left.
It can be seen that the common point that the Chinese members including Kris, Luhan and Tao gave is that they received a lower income than their Korean colleagues. In addition, Chinese members were also treated poorly and had fewer opportunities for promotion.
The common point of all three cases of idols leaving their groups is that the groups are all in the heyday of their careers. Despite being in such a position, the artists at that time chose to leave, which raised a big question for the management of SM Entertainment.
The dark behind-the-scenes behind the spotlight are always something we can’t understand. Although SM is always the one who has the advantage after lawsuits by proving that their contract is not a “slave” contract as many people think, the speculations of the unfair contracts are still there. Right now, what fans want most from SM is more reasonable treatment for their artists to prove that it is worthy of the Big3 title.