EXO members Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen have officially notified their longtime agency SM Entertainment of their decision to terminate their contracts.
The trio claimed mistreatment and unfair contract terms as the reasons behind their departure.
On Thursday, the legal representative for the trio, Lee Jae-hak, stated that SM Entertainment repeatedly failed to provide them with payment data since their debut in 2012.
“It is the artist’s most basic right to demand clear and precise proof of how payment has been made, and SM Entertainment is required to abide by the law,” Lee said. “But SM Entertainment maintains that such data cannot be shared.”
Lee further alleged that SM Entertainment pushed the artists to sign contracts lasting 12 to 13 years, significantly longer than the recommended government standard of seven years.
Additionally, he claimed that SM Entertainment wanted them to sign subsequent exclusive contracts that span more than 17 years.
“The artists feel that SM is using their superior position to force artists to sign so-called slave contracts that span over almost 20 years including their training periods, which are also far from being short,” he said.
Citing a case from 2009 involving SM Entertainment and boy group TVXQ, Lee argued that excessively long-term exclusive contracts imposed unfair control and infringed upon the economic freedom and basic rights of the artists. The court also expressed concerns about the ability of idol stars with a primarily teenage fanbase to maintain their popularity well into their 30s.
Responding to the situation that same day, SM Entertainment issued a statement in which they claimed that “some outside forces” had been “committing illegal acts” by influencing their artists to breach the terms of their contracts.
They claimed that BPM Entertainment had approached Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin for contracts, which would breach their exclusivity agreements with SM Entertainment.
BPM Entertainment confirmed they received certifications of content, but refuted allegations of attempted poaching by South Korean hip-hop artist MC Mong, who some news reports claimed was an executive director of the agency.
“MC Mong has had no involvement whatsoever that could have induced the dispute between SM Entertainment and ‘CBX’ (EXO’s Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin),” a statement from law firm Kohwoo, which represents MC Mong, read. “Moreover, as MC Mong is not an executive director at Big Planet Made Entertainment, the related rumors are clearly far from the truth.”
BPM Entertainment claimed that MC Mong is a friend of Bakehyun’s and was merely supporting his industry colleague.
Moreover, SM Entertainment refuted Lee’s allegations, claiming that the artists could access the basis for settlements at any time and had never previously raised any concerns regarding the matter.
“We then explained several times that the artists can view the entirety of the settlement reports […] together with experts such as their legal representative or an accountant and can review them in detail at any time,” SM Entertainment said.
The South Korean entertainment company also denied extending the contracts of the three EXO members and highlighted the successful contract renewals of other groups within the company, including Girls’ Generation and Super Junior. According to SM Entertainment, they were diligent in ensuring that all parties’ opinions were taken into consideration and that every word of their respective contracts was mulled over.
“For about a month from mid-November 2022, amendments were exchanged with the member’s legal representatives a total of eight times, and we completed our discussions as we went over in detail each and every word in the exclusive contracts,” they said.
The contract termination announcement by Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen came shortly after SM Entertainment had revealed plans for EXO to release a new studio album in the third quarter of 2023.
As a result of the termination notice, the filming for EXO’s upcoming music video, originally scheduled for Friday, was reported to be postponed; however, a source from SM Entertainment clarified that the music video’s production would proceed as planned with all seven EXO members, despite Kai’s recent enlistment in the military to fulfill his mandatory service.
Baekhyun, Xiumin and Chen form the EXO sub-unit EXO-CBX, which debuted in 2016.