Let’s Talk About Kris, EXO, & SM Entertainment

Ever since Kris, a member of EXO and the leader of EXO-M, moved to nullify his contract with SM Entertainment, there has been a lot of mixed feelings flying around. Hopefully, I’ll lay things out in a way that makes the entire situation simpler for fans to understand.

This is going to be long, so bear with me. Here is the timeline of facts:

On September 15th, it was revealed that Kris had his lawyer file a suit to terminate his contract with SM Entertainment. Within twenty-four hours, EXO’s leader Suho made a comment, calling Kris irresponsible and asking Kris publicly to apologize and return to SM Entertainment and EXO.

Other members also took to SNS and posted confusing messages, which many fans assumed were aimed at Kris’s departure. Other fans claimed that the members, including Suho, were being forced to say these things.

Netizens caused a storm, rallying support for Kris and accosting SM Entertainment, accusing the company of forcing EXO into a horrible situation. There were even calls for Kris to reach out to YG Entertainment, generally seen as the “good” agency in comparison to SM Entertainment, which is reviled because of its contract disputes and lack of artistic freedom.

There have also been rumors flying that Kris has heart issues that SM disregarded, or that Kris was offered an acting career in China. Kris’s legal representative has also reportedly said that Kris wants to end the situation quietly. So what’s going on?

The Difference Between SM & YG, and Why Fans Think What They Think

First, I just want to say: It is entirely unfair to request that YG pick up Kris, when YG may not even want Kris. He doesn’t have unique vocal or dance talent, and is just one rapper among many – YG picks extremely talented artists, so calling for YG to pick up Kris just because SM may have mistreated him is ridiculous. Kris is good enough to be an idol, yes, but he’s not really YG’s type. They go for unique, and while he’s definitely a unique, funny person, he’s not YG’s style.

Now back to SM, YG, and business. SM Entertainment has definitely been embroiled in more lawsuits than YG Entertainment. JYJ and Hangeng are the most prominent ones; JYJ’s was because of income and slave contracts, and Hangeng was because of both income and improper treatment, as SM Entertainment hadn’t prepared adequate arrangements for foreign artists (his contract was worse than the Korean members, and he originally wasn’t allowed to appear on television because of visa issues).

Because of these prominent legal suits, SM Entertainment has earned a reputation as a company that treats its artists badly. It puts money before idols, and that upsets fans, who see YG Entertainment as a friendlier, more open company — the idols have some ability to create their own music, they have their own personality, and are generally able to say whatever they want.

The difference may be because SM has a more business-like organization, which leads to the idols being simply employees rather than artists; therefore, they are bound entirely by their contracts. As a large company, it is not in SM Entertainment’s benefit to sign contracts that will overly favor the idol trainees.

Idols are invested in, and then they have to earn back their money to pay back the company; this is not very different than companies in the United States that hire people and help pay for their graduate degrees, taking the payment out of the employee’s paycheck.

YG Entertainment does the same thing, but on a smaller scale – SM has 12 acts to manage under the SM Entertainment label alone, but numerous other acts including actors and Woollim artists. At the same time, YG Entertainment currently has 6 acts to manage, with WINNER rumored to debut any day now.

With more acts, SM Entertainment makes more money than YG, each entertainer on average is worth less because there is a wider distribution of wealth – if one idol group is making less money, SM is able to still allow them to promote since other groups are bringing more money to the company. With fewer acts at YG Entertainment, the highly successful acts bring in enough revenue for the entire company- at SM, even the most popular acts like Girls’ Generation don’t bring in enough to pay for the company’s expenses.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about the companies’ income, but this is common sense – the bigger a company, the more revenue you need each department to bring in. Departments that do poorly end up being cut.

Because SM Entertainment has more holdings than YG, it makes everything about the money – SM’s idols have often spoke about how grueling their life is, while at YG the idols generally don’t publicly address how difficult their company has made life for them.

This business-oriented company has generally garnered unfavorable impressions from the fans in comparison to a more artistic company. But at the end of the day, each company is aiming to make a profit – they are both companies and all idols suffer for their dream.

Speaking of Dreams, Let’s Get Back to Kris.

Kris has reportedly left EXO before. There were rumors that the delayed comeback after EXO’s debut (a year between MAMA and Wolf) was due to Kris leaving to Canada for a variety of reasons. Whether Kris left EXO for family issues, or because he didn’t want to be part of EXO, doesn’t matter – I’m not judging Kris, and nobody should either. That said, nobody should judge EXO’s members either. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Kris filed his lawsuit for any number of reasons – time will tell if he continues his career as an idol in some capacity (either as a singer, actor, or whatnot), or if he returns to Canada and to a normal life. Idol life may have worn Kris down, or he felt that SM wasn’t offering him the right opportunities, or some other crazy reason that I can’t think up.

But why are so many fans sure that SM treated him horribly? The general consensus is that SM practically tortures its idols during training and their career. But if you step back, and realize that K-Pop idols have been around for long enough that trainees know what’s in store – JYJ and Hangeng’s contract issues were in 2009, but H.O.T and Shinhwa’s issues with SM were several years before then.

I do not know Kris personally, but at the time he started down the path towards idol-dom, he probably thought it was what he wanted. It may still be what he wants. But if he ducks out of the industry, how is that any different from someone else who thinks they want one career and then, after getting their dream job, they discover that it’s not for them?

Anybody who wants to be a doctor knows that the path will be hard, and that it won’t be an easy job. Even so, they do well in college, taking the hardest science classes so that they can go to medical school. After passing four years of college with top marks, fighting their way into a medical school, and then going through three years of medical school, they finally become doctors. But being a student who wants to be a doctor and being a doctor are two very different things. While rare, it’s not unheard of for doctors to leave their medical career and pursue something else.

Kris may very well be interested in pursuing something else, and his exclusivity clause with SM Entertainment may be stopping that so he moved to terminate his contract.

There are also rumors, as mentioned earlier, that Kris has a heart condition. If that’s the case and SM is disregarding his health, then he is definitely in the right. Idol companies often put promotional activities before the health of idols, because of how rigorous the lifestyle already is, and how much companies invest in these idols.

If that’s the case, then SM is definitely in the wrong – heart conditions are not to be taken lightly. However, it is also unlikely that SM would want one of EXO’s members to drop dead on stage from a heart problem.

The story also is shady, since it came from a Chinese source, Sina, which has had sketchy reporting throughout the Kris affair – Sina reported that it interviewed Kris’s lawyer, but the law firm, Hankyul, denied giving Sina any statement. Again, I’m just an outside observer, and I know nothing of Kris’s thought process. This is all conjecture.

But fans should not immediately think that EXO has been treated poorly and Kris has been forced down this path – there are eleven other members of EXO, and they’re not filing contracts to leave.

EXO’s Members

They’ve expressed sadness and pain over Kris’s departure, and fans have claimed that this isn’t really what they’re feeling. Suho was forced to say what he did during the interview; the member’s Instagram and Weibo accounts were taken away and SM representatives posted instead. So what?

Idols are fake. As much as fans like to say that they know what idols are like, everything about idols is just about perception, not what they are actually like. Idols are molded to be idols – people to be worshipped because they’re perfect.

You should always assume that companies are, at the very least, okaying what idols are saying, Tweeting, posting, etc. Older idols may be freer with their words, but EXO only debuted two years ago; of course SM is going to keep the group under control and teach the members how to act.

SM is extremely successful – many of SM’s groups are some of the most popular acts in Asia. If people go to SM, accepting its standards of what idols are like because they want to be SM idols, then SM Entertainment will do whatever is in the company’s best interest – if the EXO members said that they understood Kris leaving, it would admit that SM’s methods, to some degree, are wrong.

But that’s going with the assumption that yes, EXO says things that SM wants them to – but why can’t EXO’s members be hurt and mad towards Kris? Working with a team is one of the hardest things in the world. Ask anyone who has ever had a group project at school or work. Getting everyone to do their job is so difficult, and then the different personalities come into play. It’s hard.

Not to mention that EXO had twelve members to deal with, some of whom hardly spoke the same languages. Even now, some of EXO-M’s members struggle with Korean. Yet they managed to work together, and debuted and promoted as one of the most popular groups in Korea and Asia.

Imagine working together, towards the same goal, sweating day and night, and then one of the team members ditches the project before the due date? Sure, idols don’t have “due dates,” par say, but EXO just released Overdose, and then the news broke that Kris was departing from the group. Suddenly, instead of six members for EXO-M’s performances, there are five; EXO is having a concert soon and now they’re missing one of the performers.

Other idol groups have lost members or added new ones, but it’s rare for something like this to happen at the start of a promotional period – maybe in the middle, or right after one, but Kris has now caused EXO and SM Entertainment to scramble to try to keep this promotional period active. If EXO stops promoting Overdose, it will cost the company a lot of money, and the members’ efforts will have gone to waste. So EXO is still promoting, and persevering, and I understand why the members would be upset.

So Why Are Fans Saying It’s Not Them Feeling This Way?

Like I said before, it may very well not be how they’re honestly feeling (remember, idols are fake). But it could be their honest opinions and fans won’t listen. Most fans are siding with Kris, saying that the other members should also follow suit. Everyone likes the little guy going up against the big man, and that is what this is. Kris’s lawsuit is about one person leaving a large company, so of course people want him to be in the right rather than the company. If EXO’s other members support the company, it means that there may be something wrong with what Kris is doing. I think that when it comes to right and wrong, you can’t really point fingers here. SM’s done bad things and Kris’s decision will affect all of EXO, having a ripple effect.

This situation may lead to EXO’s popularity in China to decrease because Chinese fans will most likely side with Kris, or the Chinese fans may say that Kris should have stayed so as to represent EXO-M. The EXO-M members may be seen less favorably in Korea, since they may be seen as less loyal than their Korean counterpart, as their leader left the group. Thousands of other scenarios may ensue, including EXO ending up as an eleven-member group rather than twelve, or even adding a new member. For all we know, Kris could come back, although that is highly unlikely.

Whatever it is, the fact that people are calling SM out as evil and calling for Kris to go to YG is ridiculous – they are both businesses, and this is a business matter. Until Kris finishes his business dealings with SM, namely the lawsuit, he will be unable to really do anything else in the entertainment industry.

What’s your take in this whole ordeal, is Kris in the right or wrong? What’s your theory? We want to know! Don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.

  • A.Lee

    It’s true, in a situation like this it’s hard to know who is in the right, especially since we really don’t know a lot about the situation. I got into K-pop in 2011, just as the JYJ lawsuit frenzy was starting to die down. That may be why I’ve never had a favorable view of SM as a company, though I admire the artists. Though I acknowledge my bias, I have noticed that when SM artists get injured, they often continue to perform rather than rest–this is especially true in EXO’s case, where Jongin/Kai has been hurt a lot and still continues to stand on stage.

    I’m a fan of EXO, especially of Kris, so again I’m really biased but trying not to let it get in the way of my opinion. What rubs me the wrong way about this situation is that the EXO members live practically on top of one another and spend a lot of time together, therefore I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t know Kris was unhappy to the point that he wanted out of his contract. If he kept that a secret, he should be working for the CIA. Maybe they didn’t think he would leave the way he did, but I think they knew he’d reached a low point. That’s why I’m kind of side-eyeing their SNS comments.

    Since I am biased towards Kris, I spend more time than I would care to admit looking up fancams and pictures of him. But I have found that he genuinely cares about his fans and though he’s a little…strange (Galaxy), he seems very down to earth when it comes to fans. I’m sure he knew that leaving when he did would cause problems for EXO and hurt a lot of people, so I wonder what could have happened that made him want to leave.

    I do have a theory (of course), but I don’t claim to know anything for sure. Kris moved to Canada when he was ten and then to South Korea when he was 17/18, trained for four years and then debuted and was made co-leader of a group that got really popular really fast. That’s twice he started over in a new country without knowing anybody, and that’s a lot of pressure he had to cope with. It seems like he’s got a lot on his shoulders and the more I think about it, the more I think he developed depression somewhere along the way. I’m 98% sure that the lawsuit accuses SM of not allowing him to receive medical attention, so maybe EXO’s activities were in the way of his treatment. Honestly I’m amazed that we don'[t hear about idols working with depression more often, but given that South Korea isn’t exactly known for being open about mental illness maybe it’s not so surprising after all. Again this is just my opinion and I really know nothing, but I think it’s a distinct possibility.