K-pop fans have probably heard this phrase before: 'the 7-year jinx'. It's a long-standing myth in K-pop that most idol groups fall apart by the time they reach their seventh year together. The road to K-pop legacy is lined with great groups who struggled to make it past seven years, but there are also infamous names who've lasted for so much longer.
So what are the origins of the 7-year jinx and does it hold any weight? Here's some of the factors that explain how the 7-year jinx became a real thing in K-pop.
It's common knowledge that most idols sign seven-year contracts before debut. Truth is, the law that restricts idol contracts to a maximum of seven years is fairly recent. Back in 2008, TVXQ! made headlines when three members took SM Entertainment to court over their 13-year contract, colloquially referred to as a 'slave contract'. Jaejoon, Yoochun and Junsu (JYJ) left SM Entertainment, but struggled to regain footing in the Korean entertainment industry, and much of their success since then has taken place in Japan.
What did come out of that controversy though was law reform. The Korean Fair Trade Commission created a rule in 2009 limiting entertainment contracts to seven years. That means most of the third and fourth generation idols active right now would be under seven-year contracts.
Logically, the seven-year jinx is just about groups deciding whether to renew their contracts or not.
Beyond legal reforms, there's something else significantly different about the K-pop industry now, and that's turnover.
Back in early 2000s K-pop, there were maybe 10 groups debuting a year. There was room on music charts and in fans' hearts for the new songs and artists being introduced to them; fans formed connections and invested time choosing from a smaller pool of artists.
But K-pop debuts have doubled, even tripled, since then: in 2017, over 38 groups and sub-units debuted. With so many artists vying for the same audience's attention, some are inevitably lost in the mix. If they don't make impact, that seven-year contract drags on with little to no activity, and the group disappears without a trace.
Though the opposite can also happen, take NU'EST for example. Before 2017 many would've expected them to fall victim to the 7-year jinx, but their appearance on Produce 101 Season 2 revitalised their career and they've topped the charts both as NU'EST W and recently with their OT5 comeback.
Keeping momentum is also tougher than ever for artists, with expectations for two to three comebacks a year likely to wear them down over time. While groups establishing themselves would be pushed to the forefront with consistent new music releases, older groups who've been working hard for longer are likely to be interested in pursuing new career avenues.
Related to that rapid-speed introduction of fresh faces is the fact that older groups struggle to maintain popularity due to the simple fact that they are indeed older. K-pop has a diverse audience when it comes to age, gender and ethnicity, but the industry still holds a special value on appealing to younger people and much of the music and visuals cater to that audience.
As groups get older, like Super Junior or TVXQ! whose members are now in their thirties, they set their sights on international waters. TVXQ! have become the most successful K-pop act in Japan, thanks to the country's preference for older male pop groups. Meanwhile SuJu maintain a huge international following, especially in South America and South East Asia where they perform sell-out concerts.
Who's been struck by the 7-year jinx?
There's a long list of incredibly talented groups who didn't make it past seven years. 2NE1 didn't renew their contracts after Minzy's departure, BEAST cut ties with Cube Entertainment and reformed as HIGHLIGHT sans one member (and have since lost another); and Girls' Generation carried on but has lost members since their seventh year.
Since 2018, B.A.P disbanded for the time being; AOA lost another member in their contract renewal period; and EXID announced that two members would leave the agency, while three would remain and focus on solo projects.
Is it really a jinx, though?
If you're superstitious, maybe you're still not vibing the number seven and concerned this year about all your faves who debuted in 2012. But it's not some kind of secret curse out to get idols, it's just a fact. While many idols choose to take new paths after seven years, many have stayed the course. Just look at SHINee, Shinhwa, Apink, BtoB, EXO and Epik High, among others.
As long as the artists are happy and healthy, it's best to just enjoy and appreciate whatever they share with us for as long as they wish to do so!
Hear us on SBS PopAsia Digital Radio
Listen in 24/7 on Digital Radio, by downloading our free mobile app or by streaming live here on our website.
Download the app here: