The Big 3 of K-pop: Who are They and Why Do You have to Know Them?

The big 3 of K-pop

If you’re a new K-pop fan, you probably have heard of the phrase “Big 3 K-pop agencies” a lot. 

It might be confusing for a brand new stan because there are so many Korean entertainment agencies nowadays.

So to help you, we wrote this article as your ultimate guide about the Big 3 of the K-pop industry. 

To do that, we dug deep into the history and timeline of K-pop to help you appreciate the impact the Big 3 has done on Korea’s Pop culture.

Who are the Big 3 in K-pop?

The Big 3 in K-pop are the most successful entertainment companies in history—JYP entertainment, YG entertainment, and SM entertainment. They have produced globally popular idol groups since the dawn of K-pop. 

These entertainment companies helped spread Hallyu globally and pioneered the world’s biggest pop music sensation.

Some of the biggest names in the earliest generations of K-pop came from the Big 3 (e.g., H.O.T., BIG BANG, and Rain.)

K-pop may not be as big as it is now without them at the helm early on. 

JYP Entertainment 

Jyp logo and building part of K-pop big 3
  • Founder: Park Jin-young
  • Founded: April 25, 1997
  • Headquarters: Gangdong, Seoul, South Korea

JYP Entertainment is one of the K-pop Big 3 entertainment agencies.

The company’s founder, Park Jin-young, is also a well-known artist in South Korea. 

He currently focuses on producing records and writing songs for his solo career and is “hands-off” when running JYP entertainment. 

As a part of the Big 3, the agency produced many world-renowned K-pop groups over the years.

Moreover, JYP entertainment is famous for being the “Home of Girl Groups.” 

They gained this title after creating legendary girl groups across all generations of K-pop, namely Wonder Girls, miss A, TWICE, and ITZY.

However, the roster of their boy groups is also exceptional.

What groups are in JYP entertainment?

Here are simplified tables about JYP entertainment groups. These tables will only include K-pop groups and will exclude solo artists.

Active Girl Groups

GroupPromotion
TWICEKorea (Division 3)
ITZYKorea (Division 2)
NiziUJapan (JYPE Japan Inc.)
NMIXXKorea (SQU4D)

Active Boy Groups

GroupPromotion
2PMKorea (Division 1)
Stray KidsKorea (Division 1)
BOYSTORYChina (NCC)
JYP LOUD Korea

Bands

GroupPromotion
Day6Korea (Studio J)
Xdinary HeroesKorea (Studio J)

Subunits

GroupPromotion
Even of Day (Day6)Korea (Studio J)
3RACHA (Stray Kids)Korea (Division 1)
TWICE Subunit (Nayeon, Momo, & Chaeyoung)Korea
TWICE Subunit (Jeongyeon, Mina, & Tzuyu)Korea
TWICE Subunit (Sana, Jihyo, & Dahyun)Korea

Former Groups

GroupPromotion
g.o.d.Korea
Wonder GirlsKorea
miss AKorea
2AMKorea
GOT7Korea
15&Korea

SM Entertainment

SM logo and building part of K-pop big 3
  • Founder: Lee Soo-man
  • Founded: February 14, 1989 (SM Studio), February 14, 1995 (SM entertainment) 
  • Headquarters: Gangnam, Seoul, Korea

People credit SM entertainment for leading the first wave of Hallyu. 

Furthermore, the company is responsible for popularizing multiple K-pop groups globally. 

Legendary Korean acts like H.O.T., S.E.S., and BoA found early overseas success under SM entertainment.

The company’s founder, Lee Soo-man, is a record producer regarded as the “president of the culture” for introducing “Hallyu” to the world.

In addition, SM Entertainment is also home to many world-renowned K-pop groups from the second generation.

These groups include Super Junior, SHINee, and Girls’ Generation. 

However, the company’s recent groups are flourishing in the field of K-pop as well.

What groups are in SM Entertainment?

Here are simplified tables about SM entertainment groups. These tables will only include K-pop groups and will exclude solo artists.

Active Girl Groups

GroupPromotion
Girls’ GenerationKorea
Red VelvetKorea
aespaKorea

Active Boy Groups

GroupPromotion
Super JuniorKorea
TVXQ!Korea
SHINeeKorea
EXOKorea
NCTKorea

Subunits

GroupPromotion
SUPER JUNIOR-K.R.Y.Korea
SUPER JUNIOR-D&EKorea
SUPER JUNIOR-TKorea
SUPER JUNIOR-MKorea
SUPER JUNIOR-HKorea
Girls’ Generation-TTSKorea
Girls’ Generation-Oh!GGKorea
EXO-CBXKorea
EXO-SCKorea
Red Velvet – Irene & SeulgiKorea
NCT UKorea
NCT 127Korea
NCT DreamKorea
WayVChina (Label V)
GOT the BeatKorea

Project Groups

GroupPromotion
SuperMUSA/Korea
Girls On TopKorea

Former Groups

GroupPromotion
H.O.TKorea
S.E.S.Korea
SHINHWAKorea
Fly To The SkyKorea
M.I.L.KKorea
SugarKorea
Black BeatKorea
ShinviKorea
Isak ‘N’ JiyeonKorea
TraxXKorea
CSJH The GraceKorea
f(x)Korea
Toheart (Woohyun & Key)Korea

Why is SM Entertainment so famous?

SM Entertainment is so famous because of two main things; it pioneered the growth of K-pop, and it has debuted many well-known groups.

In 2013, Forbes named SM Entertainment “The Company that created K-pop” for kicking off the K-pop phenomenon in the early ‘90s. 

Moreover, the company boasts several K-pop groups with huge fanbases. 

These reasons further cement their title as the top record label and music talent agency in South Korea.

“Korea’s S.M. Entertainment: The Company That Created K-Pop”

Forbes

YG Entertainment

YG logo and building part of K-pop big 3
  • Founder: Yang Hyun-suk
  • Founded: February 24, 1996
  • Headquarters: Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Yang Hyun-suk founded YG entertainment, a former Seo Taiji and Boys member. 

People know him as a prominent record producer, rapper, and dancer in the early days of K-pop. 

YG Entertainment is famous for its hip-hop roots. For example, one of the company’s initial groups is the hip-hop quartet 1TYM.  

Founder Yang credits them for helping YG bring its name in the mainstream media and the hip-hop genre into Korean music. 

You may also find K-pop fans talking about the swag, and distinction YG idol rappers have compared to other artists. 

However, they are also heavily criticized by K-pop enthusiasts for their “mistreatment” of some of their well-known idol groups.

What groups are in YG Entertainment?

Here are simplified tables about YG entertainment groups. These tables will only include K-pop groups and will exclude solo artists.

Active Girl Group

GroupPromotion
BLACKPINKKorea

Active Boy Groups

GroupPromotion
Sechs KiesKorea
BIGBANGKorea
WINNERKorea
iKonKorea
TREASUREKorea

Duos

GroupPromotion
AKMUKorea
GD & TOPKorea
GD X TaeyangKorea

Former Groups

GroupPromotion
1TYMKorea
JinuseanKorea
Swi.TKorea
Big MamaKorea
2NE1Korea
Epik HighKorea

What are the Big 3 K-pop companies known for?

Like we’ve said earlier, the Big 3 of K-pop is known for producing the majority of the most prominent K-pop groups in existence today. They have pioneered the growth of the K-pop culture.

In addition, these companies led the charge early on to help make the industry a billion-dollar pop phenomenon. 

Why is BigHit/Hybe not a part of the Big 3?

HYBE corporation logo

Hybe Corporation (formerly BigHit Entertainment) is not part of the Big 3 because of the simple fact that they were not one of the earliest entertainment agencies that first introduced K-pop globally.

Bang Si-hyuk established BigHit entertainment in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they signed the vocal trio 8Eight. 

Therefore, the company technically started its venture into K-pop when the original Big 3 (JYP, YG, SM) had already debuted world-renowned artists, such as BIG BANG, Wonder Girls, and Super Junior. 

The Big 3 in K-pop have established roots in the entire industry while BigHit was still struggling to make a name for themselves.

However, this does not discredit the fact that BigHit/Hybe has done incredible things in the past decade. 

They grew more significant than the Big 3 could have ever imagined. But, we would be remiss if we fail to mention the substantial contribution of BTS to BigHit’s success.

A single group singlehandedly turning a company’s fortune upside down is no small feat. 

Nevertheless, the Big 3 will never change. No matter how big Hybe will become, they cannot replace the value of being the Big 3.

K-pop is entertainment at its finest

What more can you ask? 

Everything is in K-pop, from dashing visuals, talented vocalists, extraordinary dancers.

The root of it all? Entertainment companies that train and produce great talents and wonderful human beings, and on top of them are the Big 3.

Even if we admit to it or not, we owe a lot to them. K-pop, to an extent, should not have existed without their help. 

K-pop stans should give credit towards where credit is due.

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