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Kulture Kolumn: The Return Of The Dragon

Now that the ‘King of K-pop’ G-Dragon is back from military service, what will be his next move?

Riddhi Chakraborty Oct 27, 2019

Photo: Courtesy of Live Nation

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On October 26th, G-Dragon–aka the King of K-pop–made his highly anticipated return from military enlistment. A reported 3000 fans gathered at-location to receive the 31-year old, while many more around the world tuned in live online. I was part of the latter, staying up until 6 a.m. IST to catch a glimpse of him. The singer-songwriter, rapper and producer is leader of the iconic South Korean group Big Bang and one of the key artists who played a role in shaping K-pop’s global image. In addition to being a fashion icon and musician, he’s known for having combined the two to take control of his own image and to redefine what it means to be a K-pop star.

Yesterday morning G-Dragon, whose real name is Kwon Jiyong, emerged from the facility’s gates clad in a military uniform and beret. He looked petite but healthy, slightly flustered at the ocean of fans waiting for him. After a quick statement to the media, he moved on to another location to greet and spend time with a few of the thousands who had gathered to see him. He struggled to hold back tears while I gave up and dissolved into sobs all the way here in my bedroom in India. The hashtag #ONE_OF_A_KIND_GD trended worldwide for hours to mark the occasion. “I have returned after successfully finishing my mandatory military service, and I want to thank you all for waiting for me, and also thank you for coming today,” said G-Dragon. “Now that I am no longer a soldier, I will return to my career and give my best efforts.”

When the event ended and the emotions died down, there was a lot to unpack around what has definitely been the most anticipated celebrity military discharge in years. Not only is it because of G-Dragon’s super-stardom, but also because a lot has changed since he enlisted back in February 2018… and it’s not been for the better.

The issues started even before his enlistment, all the way back in 2017; fellow Big Bang member T.O.P had just begun his mandatory military service when he was prosecuted for using marijuana, a punishable offence in South Korea, to which he pleaded guilty. While the situation died down a few months later, G-Dragon got into trouble post-enlistment for reportedly receiving special treatment in the military. And to top it all off, 2019 saw ex-Big Bang member Seungri’s alleged involvement in the infamous Burning Sun scandal. With charges that reportedly include procuring sex service, prostitution mediation, embezzlement, destruction of evidence, distribution of illegally-filmed content and more, it was hands down the biggest controversy in the Korean entertainment industry and led to the Seungri’s removal from Big Bang, plus a termination of his contract with YG Entertainment.

Things didn’t end there however; the group’s label YG Entertainment had yet another nightmare heading its way. Accusations of corruption and embezzlement rose against the company’s co-founder Yang Hyunsik, while a drug scandal involving boy group iKon’s leader B.I. also made headlines. Both Yang Hyunsik and his brother and CEO of the company, Yang Minsuk, soon stepped down from all positions at YG. Stock value plummeted, leading to cancellation of several brand deals and plunging the company into debt. With ongoing court cases and debts to pay back, it’s all a kind of a mess right now.

There hasn’t quite been a situation like this before, so everyone was kind of waiting for a knight in shining armor to come in and ‘rescue’ everyone involved. As the biggest and most influential super star to ever emerge from YG Entertainment, everyone’s gaze has fallen on G-Dragon, with media houses and everyone else under the sun wondering if he’ll come up with a way to catch YG Entertainment from its fall from grace.

It’s a massive burden to put on anyone’s shoulders and I began to think about how fair it is to expect him to fix it all. Is it his responsibility? Does he owe it to YG to turn things around? Or should he perhaps walk away? He’s certainly powerful enough to do so. These were questions I started asking myself way back in September, so I put out a Tweet about it to find out what everyone else was thinking. Fans chimed in with plenty of opinions, some completely unfeasible (‘saving’ Seungri) and others that gave me a bit of hope.

There were some who felt he should just go solo for a while. Others hoped he’d make a comeback with Big Bang again or perhaps revive his duo projects with T.O.P and Taeyang. There were hopes that he leave YG Entertainment and launch his own label with a whole new roster of artists. Of course we have no idea about his thought process or current plan of action; other than a quick appearance at his sister’s wedding earlier this month, G-Dragon has mostly stayed out of the public eye the last two years and has refrained from making any statements on social media about any of situations surrounding Big Bang and YGE–his public Instagram account has seen a grand total of just three posts, none of which seem to be related to all the trouble. All we have as of now, is his brief statement where he promised to return to music.

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G-Dragon is my favorite artist of all time, so it has been pretty difficult to put aside my emotions while pondering all this. I spent a few months on research and discussions with fellow fans, checked in with friends of mine who are industry professionals to make sure I wasn’t overreaching, and dove deeper to understand the various opinions of Big Bang’s fandom V.I.P. It led me to gather and take a look at some of the key theories going around.

The first theory: G-Dragon will stay with YG Entertainment. This seems like the most plausible theory as of now. Having been part of the label for more than a decade, a lot of G-Dragon’s entire artistic evolution both as a solo act and with the members of Big Bang is closely tied to YGE, so it’s very likely he will stay loyal and refuse to abandon ship. I feel he may not comment on the label’s current situation at all, and will simply go on with his career and deliver the grand solo comeback we’re all expecting. It’s the route that will pose the least amount of drama and make things easier for him if he wants to release music with the remaining members of Big Bang.

In addition to his artistic relationship with the label, G-Dragon has major financial investment in the label. In 2016 it was reported that the rapper had purchased around 845,588 shares in the company at the price of 2,720 won per share, which roughly amounts to an investment of USD 1,958,254 at the time. His bandmate Taeyang is also a shareholder, reportedly holding 110,294 shares which adds up to an initial investment of around USD 255,424. Both artists also have significant investments in YGE’s cosmetics brand Moonshot.

It’s possible that this level of financial investment will encourage G-Dragon to try and focus on how to ‘save’ the company’s current stock situation. Several reports theorize that his return has the potential to revive YGE through album and tour sales, even without Big Bang; a solo comeback and world tour to mark his return will no doubt draw a massive crowd. I know I’m not the only one waiting for him to drop tour dates.

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Theory two: he establishes his own label. I personally feel it may be time for him to walk away from the remnants of YGE and establish a label of his own, which I’ve (selfishly) always wanted to see him do. His drive, work ethic, influence and talent make an excellent foundation on which a powerful label can be built. He’s always fought for the right to produce and make his own music and by doing so, inspired other artists to take an active role in their craft. He’s a figure many established and upcoming artists in South Korea look up to, so there will be no lack of candidates for him to recruit.

It is worth noting however, that being the CEO of a label requires a certain level of business acumen and an ability to multitask beyond imagination, and G-Dragon might want to focus purely on his art. We’ve seen this before with leading South Korean hip-hop label AOMG’s co-founders, Simon Dominic and Jay Park. Last year, Dominic stepped down from his position as co-CEO of AOMG to become an artist under the label and turn his focus on his music. AOMG’s current CEO Jay Park however is an example of an artist who is able to balance it all. None of us will know if GD is capable until he actually assumes the mantle.

He might join another label. This one seems pretty unlikely. G-Dragon’s seniority in the music industry warrants a label worthy enough, as well as one that will pose the least amount of politics. “Gangnam Style” hitmaker PSY’s P-Nation or an international record label would be ideal options, but I don’t have much faith in this theory at all.

Retiring from music or taking a hiatus. I saw a few of fans worrying about this, but out of everything we’ve discussed so far, I personally feel this one has the least merit. G-Dragon’s sheer love for creativity and music is something I think a lot of us admire and making music is quite possibly the one thing he will never stop doing. He’s been a powerful figure in pop music for a long time, and he has a lot more to say, a lot more to contribute and achieve. I definitely think he’s nowhere near the end of his career. Taking a hiatus might actually be necessary right now and I won’t be surprised if he does, but I doubt it will last very long. I’ve been a fan since 2012 and throughout that time, I’ve realized that G-Dragon is a restless soul who thrives on making music and performing.

Whatever decisions G-Dragon does end up making, we won’t know immediately and I believe that’s a very good thing. Right now the priority on many fans’ minds (including mine) is that he should get enough rest in before embarking on his next project. It’s only been a day since he was discharged, so his priorities probably lie around reconnecting with his family and friends, hopefully even booking a vacation or two. In fact I believe we might not see any public statements until the remaining members of Big Bang, Taeyang and Daesung, are discharged from their military service in November.

As a fan, I’m looking forward to G-Dragon releasing new music, whenever that may be, and I’m eager to see how new K-pop fans react to him. I’ve missed a lot of the little things too, like seeing him post cryptic screencaps on Instagram and making appearances at Paris Fashion Week with androgynous swag no one else can quite master. Having him back is a blessing and I can’t wait to see how much his art has evolved since 2017’s Kwon Ji Yong and the soul-baring M.OT.T.E. Tour. Because the one thing we can count on is that no matter what the next phase is, G-Dragon will stick to delivering excellent musicianship.

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