After 20 years of continuous growth, the second chapter of YG is beginning… “more money does not guarantee bigger success”

YANG HYUN SUK (48), the head producer of YG Entertainment that leads the Korean Wave has no specific hobby. He even does not play golf which is regarded to be essential for business. The only exercise he does is walking and he works with the physical strength he built as a dancer when he was younger. His parents are Buddhists and even run a Buddhist store near Jogyesa temple, but he does not have any religion. He does not have “any” interest in politics.

“I’m so busy just doing what I like. Other fields are difficult for me and I’m not interested in them.”

YANG HYUN SUK said on January 17 at the YG office located in Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, “I drink with YG actor GANG DONG WON sometimes and we have sometimes and found out that we are likeminded people. It is of course important to to what I like, but what is more important is that I don’t wanna do what I don’t like.”

The only thing he continues to enjoy is African-American music, which was his favorite genre from long ago.

The best moment for YANG while performing as Seotaiji and Boys was when the team was performing “Come Back Home”. “Hayeoga” and “Dreaming for BalHae” were based on rock, but “Come Back Home” was slow hip-hop. It was the best song for YANG who liked dancing following his feelings rather than focusing on fancy techniques.

After beginning the music label business by establishing HYUN company in 1996 when Seotaiji and Boys was disbanded, YANG launched YG in 1997 and continued to focus on only one or two fields. YG produced JINUSEAN, 1TYM, BIGBANG, 2NE1, etc., differentiating YG as a label specialized in African-American music based on hip-hop.

After being listed in KOSDAQ in 2011, YG began to recruit top actors and actresses including CHA SEUNG WON, GANG DONG WON, LEE JONG SUK, and KIM HEE AE from 2014. Since then, YG has expanded its business to have 14 subsidiaries in the fields of fashion, cosmetics, and food. Now, YG is a big company with 668 employees, whose market capitalization amounts to 454.4 billion Korean won (65th largest in KOSDAQ). Beside the current YG office, a new YG building is currently constructed on about 4,000 square meters of land lot, which can be directly seen from YANG’s office on the seventh floor.

After consistently growing and expanding its business for the past 20 years, YG is now kicking off a new plan for the next two decades.

YANG said, “I have just completed volume one of a think book with a fun and rich story. Volume two begins now.” We asked about people’s curiosities about YANG HYUN SUK, such as what he thinks about the past two decades, this year’s focus and vision, and plans for YG.

The following is the interview with Mr. Yang.

How do you evaluate YG’s growth for the past 20 years?

Yang Hyun Suk: At the beginning, the pace of growth was slow despite the success of JINUSEAN and 1TYM. No matter how successful we were and how many times we won the competition in Korea, the profit base was not solid enough. But now, thanks to the evolution of the Internet, PSY was “forced” to penetrate into the overseas pop market and BIGBANG took No.1 on charts of 20 countries. If Samsung or Hyundai had continued to run their businesses only in Korea, they could not have become the world-class companies as they are now. I thought that in these times, I have to focus on how to offer quality music, not on how to make more money. Just as being rich does not guarantee a good sense of fashion, more money does not guarantee the success of a contents business. It requires brain and good senses. The thing that differentiate YG from other music labels is its sophistication. I could never give up that.

I guess you are quite proud of the success of your company.

Yang Hyun Suk: If a Korean singer draws popularity and makes profits overseas, that is another way of doing acts of patriotism for Korea. Korea has no natural resources, so the overseas popularity of Korean dramas and movies and music all thanks to the human resources who are talented in creating contents. Seotaiji and Boys enjoyed great popularity in Korea but had limits because the market was still too small. We debuted in Japan but were not successful in the country, as at that time, people regarded Japanese culture as more advanced one. Now, it is the other way around and I’m proud in such a change. The reason why people around the world like Korean contents is because it is much more well-made and sophisticated. I’m proud in that, too.

From this year, BIGBANG cannot perform as a complete team for a while because of T.O.P’s military service and 2NE1 is disbanded. Some people are concerned about such vacancy in YG.

Yang Hyun Suk: BIGBANG achieved greater success than what I imagined. Everybody is concerned about the vacancy of BIGBANG, but from the very beginning of their career, all the members of BIGBANG performed as great solo artists. G-DRAGON kicks off his solo career in earnest from this year and he is very passionate about it. I also told SEUNGRI to complete his solo album until this March. DAESUNG will hold solo dome tour concert in Japan and TAEYANG will also release a solo album.

But still, 2NE1′s disbandment was too abrupt.

Yang Hyun Suk: Even after MINZY moved to another company, I still wanted to keep 2NE1. The reason why I made such decision was because I was concerned about BOM’s psychological health. After “that happening” (the controversy about drug), she had to face enormous criticism. I believe that she still wanted to perform in 2NE1, while feeling much stress and guilt. I told her, ’2NE1 is of course important, but I hope your body and mind get well first.’ No one know what the future will be like, so someday, 2NE1 might be reunited again just like S.E.S. Even if it takes some time, I guess that day will come.”

  I guess you had difficulties with managing risks from your artists.

Yang Hyun Suk: When there were only a few artists at YG, I did everything with them, so I knew everything about them. However, now that the company manages many artists, more crisis do happen for us. My principle is to predict and prevent risks as much as possible, but what is more important than that is to prevent the same thing from happening again. As I have gone through some incidents and crisis, I built a structure for prevention of them and give a lot of advice. A genuine boss is the one who smile behind the scenes when the company is doing well and comes upon the frontline when there are problems. I believe I’m still that kind of boss. Leading my artists is the first thing I should do.

Last year, there were rumors about YG that YG was sponsored by the Park Geun-hye administration or that it received a special treatment through Choi Soon-sil, and so on.

Yang Hyun Suk: I actually avoided the political circles intentionally while running the entertainment business, not to be one-sides. I once refused the Presidential award during the Lee Myung-bak administration as I didn’t want to take off my hat. Then, people from the presidential office visited me to give me the prize. I’m so busy just doing what I like and I’m not interested in any other fields, let alone politics or power. I even thought Jang Siho(Choi Soon-sil’s niece whom mentioned by rumors that she joined YG as an employee) was a guy. Plus, PSY recorded the great hit with “Gangnam Style” and the happening regarding YG artists took place all before the inauguration of the Park administration. The reason why YG’s president YANG MINSUK could become the member of the culture committee of the government was all because of PSY’s global influence. We had no such intention of exerting power for our own good or something. We were rather used by them and there have been no special treatments for us. I’m so regretful that such groundless rumors spread.

Next-generation artists to follow the footsteps of BIGBANG have debuted from three years ago and YG has also recruited top actors and actresses.

Yang Hyun Suk: The biggest focus for YG for this year is WINNER and iKON. They are still not skilled enough to replace BIGBANG and I myself is still not fully satisfied with them yet. However, they are drawing bigger attention than BIGBANG was in the first year of their debut. As BIGBANG has become today’s BIGBANG after 10 years of hard work, WINNER and iKON will also grow bigger and bigger with YG’s full support and help. Actors such as CHA SEUNG WON, GANG DONG WON, KIM HEE AE, and LEE JONG SUK pick their own works, so there is no room for me to get involved in their careers. I feel so rewarded when they express gratitude for YG’s system and support.

What’s the reason for the expansion of YG’s business to the fields of fashion, cosmetics, and food?

Yang Hyun Suk: They are businesses connected with entertainment including K-pop. Traveling around the world, I thought “why there is no fashion brand that represents Korea, even though Korea’s culture contents are spreading throughout the world.” Even though people around the world watched drama series “Dae Jang Geum”(Jewel of the Palace), Korea’s rich culinary culture has not been fully introduced to the world. I want to create a brand that can represent Korea, in connection with YG contents. Plus, my new responsibility is to return profits to shareholders who invested in the future of YG, by running the business well.

YG singers enjoy especially outstanding popularity overseas, but the external conditions are not favorable these days. The Korean Wave in Japan has stopped growth for some time and China is imposing restrictions on Korean contents. What is your breakthrough?

Yang Hyun Suk: I have never created any contents for China only and I have not made any special efforts to enter the Chinese market. There are some diplomatic issues at the national level, but I just think that there are rainy days, too, because I don’t create contents just for the country. I’ll never make contents just to make money. YG entered the Japanese market long before the spread of the Korean Wave, so iKON is well-received there. One day, I read an editorial titled, “No one can intentionally block the spread of the Korean Wave”. It’s just that we cannot make money in China. People are still consuming YG contents any way, so Korean contents are still popular in the country.

What’s your ultimate goal?

Yang Hyun Suk: People liked Japanese culture and Hong Kong movies in the past and they are now good old memories. I hope to lead the competitiveness of the Korean Wave until my last day. It must not stop at a temporary vogue of one time. So I must create better contents than others. The happiest moment for me is when many people like what I made. Profit is created following the popularity of my contents. I like new things because they make me excited. I want to feel excited until my last day.