Deep Dive: What is the YG Dungeon, and Should Fans Be Worried About It?

In the first article of this new series of "deep dives" into the world of K-pop, we take a look at YG Entertainment's extended breaks between releases for groups, and the innovation of the term "YG Dungeon" to explain these hiatuses, with a main focus on the world's biggest girl group, BLACKPINK, and YG monster rookie boy group TREASURE.

An Introduction

South Korean entertainment companies, and especially for the "Big Three" in particular, are known amongst the K-pop community for specific so-called "failings".

SM Entertainment often doesn't declare that a group has disbanded, referring to these groups as simply being on hiatus for years on end, as they have done with girl group f(x) for some time now.

JYP Entertainment has often been known for overworking their idols to the point of exhaustion and anxiety, with girl group TWICE being recognised for having more comebacks and releases each year that some groups have in a lifetime, and members Jeongyeon and Mina having taken breaks from the group due to mental health concerns.

And YG Entertainment has been referred to as locking their artists away in the "YG Dungeon" by not giving their artists enough comebacks or recognition for the work they put in to their own musical comebacks.

As YG Entertainment groups go for longer and longer periods of time between comebacks, and these lengthy hiatuses occurring earlier and earlier in groups careers, the question has come up once again regarding the "YG Dungeon", and the mistreatment of idols and fans by YG Entertainment management.

The use of the phrase "YG Dungeon" has been around for many years now, often referring to both the mistreatment of the company's idols and the length of time between comebacks being considerably longer than most other entertainment companies.

Why is it called the "YG Dungeon" to begin with?

YG Entertainment is often referred to "the dungeon" by the K-pop community - including those who are fans of YG groups and those who are not - for a multitude of reasons. But two of the main reasons that come up regard the restrictions placed on YG Entertainment groups, and due to the sometimes extreme hiatuses between comebacks that some of the groups seem to have, leading to fans referring to the groups as being "locked away in a dungeon".

Restrictions on YG groups

Although the situation has improved in recent years under the company's new leadership, YG artists often have rather profound restrictions that even other entertainment companies do not impose on their idols.

Idols under YG have not been openly allowed to date in the past. However, this rule appears to have been overturned under new management, as iKon's Bobby has been married and had a child, and the company has refused to comment on the private lives of their idols when rumours came about of BLACKPINK's Jennie dating BIG BANG's G-Dragon.

In prior interviews, YG artists have spoken about how they aren't allowed to drink, aren't allowed to drive, aren't allowed to go clubbing, or to smoke. Members of BLACKPINK have been told by the entertainment company to embrace their natural beauty, and that they are therefore banned from getting any plastic surgery, and aren't allowed to get tattoos. They aren't even permitted to travel alone.

In the past, under the management of previous YG CEO Yang Hyunsuk, the members of BLACKPINK were not allowed to have creative input in their music. And even when members did have creative input, they were not credited with any recognition. This has changed under new management however, as can be seen in the production credits of "The Album".

Extreme hiatuses

Let's take two of YG's biggest groups at the moment, and the ones they tend to market the most towards the community - the world's biggest girl group BLACKPINK and monster rookies TREASURE.

BLACKPINK's last full group comeback was with "The Album", which was released on 2 October, 2020. This means that, by the end of 2021, BLACKPINK will have gone a total of 456 days without a comeback.

TREASURE's last official comeback was with "The First Step: Treasure Effect", which was released on 11 January, 2021. This means that, by the end of 2021, TREASURE will have gone a total of 355 days without a comeback.

These aren't the only two YG groups to have gone for such long periods of time without comebacks, though. Many YG groups tend to have lengthy breaks between comebacks. By the end of the year, iKon will have gone 303 days without a comeback, WINNER will have gone 631 days without a comeback, and BIGBANG will have gone 1,845 days without a comeback.

However, we're going to focus mainly on BLACKPINK and TREASURE with this article.

Should fans be worried?

Absolutely not. YG has a tendency to wait longer between comebacks with their groups than other entertainment companies. But what they lack in quantity, they certainly make up for in quality.

Just two weeks ago, K-pop news site Soompi reported that all of BLACKPINK's group music videos had hit 300 million views on YouTube, including music videos for B-sides. BLACKPINK dance practice videos regularly garner more than 100 million views, and their channel has more than 70 million subscribers.

And earlier this month, TREASURE's debut music video for "BOY" surpassed more than 100 million views. This is a feat that the boy group often seen as their biggest rivals, ENHYPEN, have not yet managed to achieve (although they are getting so close, and as a multi-stan I can't wait to see them succeed as well).

YG groups are often massive sellers when it comes to album numbers, achieve simply massive views when it comes to YouTube, and  are seen as incredibly popular in the K-pop community.

Extended hiatuses don't always mean fans don't get content

This is something that I simply cannot stress enough. Just because a group hasn't had an official comeback yet, doesn't mean that the fandom has been deprived of content.

Since BLACKPINK's comeback in October, 2020, they have released a documentary ("Blackpink: Light Up the Sky" on Netflix in October, 2020), a livestream concert ("The Show" on YouTube in January, 2021), and a movie ("Blackpink: The Movie" distributed by Trafalgar Releasing in August, 2021).

The BLACKPINK members have also been working on their own solo work.

Lisa worked as a dance mentor on the third season of iQIYI's "Youth With You" earlier this year, and released a title track and B-side in September. She also released a collaboration with DJ Snake, Ozuna, and Megan Thee Stallion in October.

Rose also released her own solo single and B-side in March, which led to her receiving multiple music show wins. She also attended the Met Gala alongside soloist CL, and made guest appearances in multiple episodes of JTBC's new healing reality show "Sea of Hope".

Jisoo has made her debut as an actor in JTBC's "Snowdrop", which is currently airing, and YG Entertainment has released a promotional image without a date for an upcoming Jisoo solo music debut.

And Jennie has been continuing her work as an ambassador for Chanel, as well as launching her own YouTube channel where she uploads vlogs.

TREASURE has somehow managed to produce even more content for their fandom than BLACKPINK have.

Following their latest comeback in January, the second season of their reality show "Treasure Map" went to air, with twenty-nine episodes airing over the course of seven months. The show is highly regarded as one of the most popular and interesting K-pop reality shows out there.

The group also released a Japanese album, with Japanese versions of many of their songs, as well as an original Japanese song in "Beautiful", made as a title track for the anime "Black Clover".

During the second season of "Treasure Map", the boys made a single-episode web drama called "It's Okay, That's Friendship", under the mentorship of older YG group SECHSKIES.

"Treasure Map" ended its second season celebrating the one year anniversary of TREASURE's debut, where they produced and directed their own music video "Everyday". Although the music video is featured in the episode, the song and music video have not yet been officially released.

Following "Treasure Map", the members of TREASURE held their first ever concert and fan-meet, which was held both in-person and streamed online.

Now, all twelve members of TREASURE have been trying out their acting skills in their second web-drama, the currently-airing eight episode satirical mystery ghost story "The Mysterious Class". And a comeback is expected to be announced within the next few weeks, following changes to the members hair, and their discussion of filming new music videos and practicing choreographies in their current "TMI_LOG" series.

Will the "YG Dungeon" rumours ever go away?

It's highly unlikely that these rumours will ever go away. But the meaning behind the phrase may change throughout time.

Under its current new management system, many of the previously mentioned restrictions have gone away, or changed. Idols are now often being recognised for their creative input into their groups work. Idols also now appear to be able to date as well.

But while these restrictions may no longer exist or be related to the phrase "YG Dungeon" in the future, the long and extended breaks and hiatuses between releases are likely to continue into the future, as management continues to provide fans with a wide and varied array of content, from reality shows to web dramas and solo idol releases.

This way of releasing new comebacks from their K-pop groups is simply the way in which YG Entertaiment runs, and it seems to be working for them. Their groups are some of the most popular in the South Korean music industry, and now around the world as well. Different companies have different release strategies for their idols, and if this is the approach that works best for YG Entertainment, it is likely to be the approach they continue to take into the future.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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