The Great Pledis Turnaround (2015-2017)

by: Ellie posted: 2 years ago


With some solo female artists under your wing, a popular girl group making money and a newly debuted boyband with plenty of media traction working the studios, what could possibly go wrong?

…a lot, as it turns out, and it all centres around two boy groups.

Two years later, by the end of 2014, Pledis Ent. was on its last legs, and it was well-known. Everybody expected the company to fold while they still could, file for bankruptcy and release their artists from their contracts, unable to sustain them. But in six months Pledis was making money once more: by 2017 they were headlining constantly. So what exactly is the Great Pledis Turnaround, and will we be expecting it to repeat?

To examine the effect that came over Pledis Entertainment, we must rocket back aaaall the way back to 2012, and observe.

In 2012 Pledis was almost considered high-end drugstore: they weren’t quite in the Big Leagues yet, but they had successful artists, After School and Orange Caramel. In order to keep their status elevated, Pledis needed something fresh, something new. And they just happened to have a handful of male trainees in prime condition to be debuting. 1+1=5.

Nu’est debuted early in 2012 with what is possibly one of the most spectacular and iconic K-Pop songs and music videos to date: Face. An addictive, gritty song that sent a hard through-and-through message regarding bullying was well-received by the public, and grew to be one of the most-viewed debut videos of all time relatively quickly. The follow-up to Face was Action and it followed more of the same – a similar music style, similar vocals needed, similarly harsh choreography and a similar music video.

You’d think that the repetition would have crushed them, but not quite. Action never received the same amount of attention Face did, but it was far from unpopular. The style of music was in, and Nu’est was a contender at end-of-year award shows together with EXO and BAP. But the next comeback was not to be so successful.

Hello was Nu’est’s third comeback title track, and it deviated wildly from what had been seen before. Where were the five strong men with stunning visuals, breath-taking vocals and rock-hard choreography? They had transformed into five men in long coats and sad faces, reaching out to a lost love.

Switching up concepts and images for idols isn’t a new concept: in fact, it’s worked very well in the past for groups to garner extra attention. Unfortunately, switching out one image for another is all about timing.

Nu’est had had two comebacks, sure, but they hadn’t even reached their first full year since debut. They had had a successful debut, yes, but mostly with international fans. They had a successful single, yes, but with little long-term effects. Changing the image of these serious men to love-sad puppies caused the fans who were following them diligently to lose focus. Who was this? Why were they so soft all of a sudden? The Nu’est previously shown had disappeared. There was some interest, predominantly from international fans, but it was waning – quick.

So Pledis needed a back-up. Pledis needed something to recapture the public’s eye. Pledis needed a spectacular summer bop!

Pledis needed to cool its heels and think about what it was doing for two and a half seconds before making any executive decisions, but then the story wouldn’t have been as miraculous.

Sleep Talking is one of my personal favourites from Nu’est. It really is a summer bop. It’s a great one. It has a techno feel, bright colours, handsome men, and an absolutely amazing choreography. But bright colours and smiling boys wasn’t the serious leather and shine of Face and Action nor was it the soft, slow pace of Hello – it was another image change that failed drastically compared to its predecessors.

Pledis is starting to lose money, and it’s doing so a tad faster than expected. Studios of popular variety shows aren’t calling to get Nu’est on their programmes anymore. They’re taking a look and thinking we don’t know who Nu’est is, and if we don’t know then the public doesn’t know, and if they don’t know they won’t watch. Nu’est is dropping off lists, so the race is on.

Pledis’ first priority is money. It needs to be generated in order to promote artists. No money? No comeback. Pledis has always had an idea of being global, and the Chinese market is sitting right there, so why not go for it? Add a Chinese guy, Jason, as a member – temporarily, of course – and have the artists do some of their songs in Chinese.

This would have worked if Nu’est was reasonably popular in China, and if more than 1/6 members spoke Chinese. Those promotions ended sooner, rather than later.

And it’s now that Pledis realizes that the best way to make more money is to prioritize their idols’ popularity first. A little late on the ball, but they did actually understand in the end. Acting has been the saviour for idols before, and the men of Nu’est weren’t incapable, but their acting prospects were on the lean side to start with. Some members served in some roles, and particularly Ren continued to receive some attention for his astonishingly feminine looks. Even if it was just shocked international fans, there was a spark of interest back.

In 2014 Good Bye Bye happened, and honey, even I can’t excuse whatever that was. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Good Bye Bye is a great song. Interesting and very artistic music video about depression and lack of success as well, which had to come very close to the hearts of the members. But oh, honey, we were desperate. We were wondering if Pledis couldn’t scout out a new Head of Concepts or something, because Good Bye Bye didn’t really seem to fit into any one category. It had a medium tempo in the chorus, and a medium-slow verse, but there was nothing dazzling or special about it. Even with limited resources – and they really were limited, given Pledis’ financial situation – Good Bye Bye came and passed, with less attention than anything ever before.

It seems to be a very common occurrence for entertainment companies to look to Japan as soon as things in Korea start looking down. Japan is a hotbed for K-Pop fans. You think K-Pop is popular in California? You think the cool so-cal socialites of Youtube enjoy K-Pop? They’re not even on the radar compared to the Japanese market. All kinds of groups enjoy popularity and wealth when promoting Japanese singles, from the ever-headlining Big Bang all the way down to the near unheard-of U-Kiss. In order to generate money, which is absolutely necessary at this point, Nu’est have to make a killing in Tokyo.

Or, you know, not. Because I love Nu’est, more than I care to explain, but Shalala Ring was not a high point. It was cheesy and badly promoted, mostly because there was no money left to promote the group. Do you see the vicious circle?

2015 breaks, and things are looking bad for Pledis Entertainment. There is no money left – there’s no money in savings, no money coming in, and no investors to be seen. Pledis is only barely hanging on by the skin of its teeth. It’s now, or it’s never. They need to give it one more shot. They’ve done the research, they’ve looked at their past mistakes with a critical eye, they’ve seen where they went wrong. They have one more chance to make it alright.

Seventeen debuted in May 2015.

Previously, the gaggle of underaged but incredibly talented young boys had been running a programme called 17TV for two years, consisting of a 2 or 3-hour free livestream twice a week where fans could sign in and watch the members train. They had some – not much, but some interest.

(Side note: 17TV was my jam. When my school schedule finally changed and I was able to watch all of a Friday livestream if I raced home in time after class, I died and went to heaven. 17TV was great. That’s it. That’s all you need to know.)

Seventeen debuted with what little investment Pledis could scrounge up. They didn’t even have money to pay for the whole comeback to be constructed by others, either. The members would have to put in their own work – their own lyrics, their own music, their own choreography – before they could make a comeback worthwhile.

Seventeen’s first mini-album, 17Carat, sold 50.000+ pieces before the end of 2015. Their first comeback in the same year, Boys Be, sold 122.000+ and was the 15th highest grossing album of the year.

It’s often controversial to say something as melodramatic as Seventeen saved Pledis, but it’s not really deniable. It’s a fact. Title track Adore U was an undoubted success – money began to flow in the longer Seventeen stuck around, they were able to build comeback upon comeback, show upon show: their name became more well-known, both in Korea and outside. The necessity of having them write their own songs became a point of pride that catapulted them even further into high regard. Seventeen were the up-and-coming boy group to look out for.

Pledis Entertainment were saved.

And, in their defence, they made a very honest attempt at saving Nu’est, in return. Nu’est was given another Japanese single, a Japanese album, and two Korean comebacks (Overcome and Love Paint) one after the other in an attempt to rouse the public. Look! Seventeen’s seniors! You may have forgotten them, but they’re here! They have excellent technique, strong vocals, they’re handsome, they’re good dancers! Look at Nu’est!

It was in vain. The more popular Seventeen seemed to become, the less popular Nu’est became. They were forgotten by the public, left behind in the dust. You can’t build popularity when nobody knows who you are anymore.

By the end of 2016, Nu’est weren’t just not popular – they were in debt to Pledis Entertainment, with no way to negate the debt at all.

The vast majority of those who supported Nu’est, liked them, or took a passing fancy to them at all, were horrified when JR, Minhyun, Baekho and Ren took to the programme Produce 101 Season 2. I was, to start out with, too. Horrified, upset, disappointed, hurt. But it didn’t take long for me to see the other side. The girls who had come out of season 1 had enjoyed immense popularity after IOI split up: there was no reason to assume the boys wouldn’t enjoy the same recognition. Everybody was hurt and mistrustful, but whether it was the members’ decisions themselves or with a gentle push from Pledis, it was the only thing Nu’est could have done.

How do you try and gain popularity for a group that’s been around for 5 years that nobody knows about? When everybody is deaf to your pleas and blind to your needs, how do you turn their hearts and get them to adore your idols?

Promotion from Pledis hadn’t worked in four years. Help had to come from another quarter.  It was time for Nu’est’s talents to speak for themselves.

With one member in the ever-successful Wanna One, and the other four creating Nu’est-W, things could not be better. Nu’est-W sold out fanmeeting tickets within minutes; Minhyun is the #3rd most popular male singer; there are now thousands of adoring Korean fans streaming their music, kissing their posters, doing anything they can to get close.

The fairytale has a happy ending. Nu’est has become successful, and their anticipated comeback in October will surely confirm this. Seventeen never lost popularity. Pristin, the newest group, is enjoying plentiful success. After School will most likely be joining The Unit for their own turnaround story.

So, will we be seeing this kind of miracle more often? My heart says no – for another company to be so on the brink of collapse and to come back in such a way that people are calling for it to become a member of a ‘Big Five’ is an unimaginable thing to happen once, let alone twice – but oh, my head says maybe. My head says maybe there’s a chance for other underappreciated idols out there. Maybe there’s a chance for the AlphaBATs, the Cross Genes, the Hello Venusses and the Global Icons of K-Pop.


What do you think? Will there ever be another Great Pledis Turnaround? Did I leave out any defining factors? Let us know in the comment section below!

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