members of K-pop group EXO© GettyImages

What’s Going On With EXO Members & SM Entertainment?

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

Even if you’re not fully into K-pop, you would know that it’s a tough industry that has exacting standards of perfection. While reports of atrocious working conditions and supposed ‘slave contracts’ have often been exaggerated to dismiss the validity of the music genre and have racist roots, there is some truth to the exaggerations.

The announcement of three members of K-pop group EXO taking legal action against their agency SM Entertainment is highlighting exactly that.

EXO is one of the most popular K-pop groups and has nine members of South Korean and Chinese descent, including Baekhyun, Chen, Chaenyol, D.O, Kai, Lay, Sehun, Suho, and Xiumin.

EXO (From left to right, Chanyeol, D.O., Lay, Kai, Suho, Chen, Xiumin, Baekhyun and Sehun) attend Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) at AsiaWorld-Expo. 02DEC16 SCMP/Xiaomei Chen©GettyImages

Earlier today, the members’ legal representative, law firm LIN, announced the news that three members, Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen, have filed for the termination of their contracts with SM Entertainment.

Why have EXO’s Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen terminated their contracts with SM Entertainment?

According to LIN, the members have been repeatedly requesting documentation detailing their earnings and payments from March through May. But SM Entertainment has been refusing to comply, citing confidentiality concerns. The three artists believe that there are some discrepancies in their earnings and have decided to exercise their rights as artists and demand transparency from the agency.

K-pop group EXO©GettyImages

This is not the first time SM Entertainment has come under fire for mistreating its artists. The agency has a history of forcing its artists to sign lengthy exclusive contracts of up to 12 to 13 years. There have been reports that claim that the agency has begun demanding early renewal of contracts extended to at least 17 to 18 years.

Artists call these ‘slave contracts’ and claim that they violate existing laws surrounding exclusive contracts in the entertainment industry. Back in 2014, former EXO members Luhan and Tao filed for contract termination after citing similar issues. The artists claimed that SM Entertainment exploited them and violated their basic rights as artists, including curtailing health, privacy, and creative freedom. They also accused the agency of unfair profit distribution, unequal treatment, and neglect of the Chinese members of the group.

Now, Baekhyun, Chen, and Xiumin are also coming forward to terminate their contracts with the agency and act as advocates for other artists under similar binding contracts.

What does it mean for EXO’s future?

The artists issued a statement addressing EXO-Ls, the group’s dedicated fan base, writing, “We apologize for causing great concern to fans through this issue, and there is no way to fully express our apology. Although legal action is inevitable due to a difference in our position with SM, we will do our best to find a wise way to resolve this dispute so that we do not cause fans too much concern. As we try to speak up with our small voices regarding the unfairness we couldn’t speak of until now, we are actually very frightened and fearful of this moment right now. We hope that you take an interest in what we are saying as well as our difficult courage. We once again sincerely thank our fans who have supported us for a long time.”

SM Entertainment has also released a statement where they blamed “external forces” for approaching the artists and inciting them unethically, “During this important time when we are channelling our efforts into a new phase of SM Entertainment, we have confirmed the presence of external forces approaching our agency’s artists, providing them with false information, false court documents, and irrational offers, such as convincing them that there would be no legal repercussions if the artists chose to sign contracts with other agencies while still bound to SM Entertainment.”

What do you think will happen to EXO and EXO-Ls?