K-Pop is facing a “very clear slowdown in growth” that has inspired his company’s expansion efforts in the U.S., Bang Si-Hyuk, chairman of HYBE, the company behind bands including BTS and other acts, told CNN’s Richard Quest in an interview published Sunday, as HYBE seeks to expand its holdings in the South Korean music market by acquiring a large stake in competitor SM.
The genre, which has boomed globally over the past five years, “is not as hot in the market as you might perceive,” Bang said. “Globally, it’s not occupying much of the market. On the other hand, Latin music and Afrobeat are very rapidly growing. So being where we are, it is more urgent to increase the exposure. … Looking at our export indicators and streaming growth, the slowdown in growth is very clear.”
While he says it’s possible the slowdown could be due to BTS’ members facing a hiatus due to mandatory service in South Korea’s military, “I doubt that,” he concluded, which is a reason why the company is acquiring or buying interest in “labels and management companies in America, to be able to build the infrastructure.”
In 2021, the company struck a $1 billion deal to acquire Ithaca Holdings, the company headed by Scooter Braun that is the longtime home of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, and one last month to acquire the company behind hip-hop powerhouse Quality Control, which has Lil Baby, Lil Yachty, City Girls and Migos.
Bang also spoke to accusations directed at his company of monopoly in South Korea’s music by its proposal to acquire a bigger stake in SM, home to major K-Pop acts like NCT 127, EXO, BoA and Girls’ Generation. HYBE initially announced it would acquire a 15% stake in the company for around $334.5 million, but then said it would work to raise that holding to 40%. Controversy ensued on a scale rarely seen in the Korean music business:
Last month, SM CFO Cheol Hyuk Jang posted a 15-minute video called “The reason why SM is against HYBE’s hostile takeover.”
Bang responded to CNN, saying “I think it’s propagandistic to call it a hostile deal. Even through purchasing agencies, with all the CDs sold in Korea, [from] both SM and HYBE combined, it’s very difficult for us to monopolize the market.” A shareholder decision on that deal is expected as soon as today.