[EXCLUSIVE] Deep dive into the Omega X tampering controversy

Members of boy band Omega X explain that they had been abused by their then-agency Spire Entertainment's CEO in a press conference held on Nov. 16, 2022. [NEWS1]

The waters are as muddy as they come for boy band Omega X, perhaps one of the most unfortunate acts in K-pop, as it finds itself faced with yet another scandal ailing the members less than a year after its previous issue.

Seven months after severing its ties with the band members, former agency Spire Entertainment is accusing Omega X of having conspired with its current agency IPQ Entertainment to prematurely end its exclusive contract with Spire to join IPQ, in the forbidden act of artist tampering.

The news broke earlier this month when a well-known K-pop YouTuber claimed that the band is no different from girl group Fifty Fifty, which came under fire for allegedly turning against its agency to join a different company, in a video uploaded on Aug. 20.

Since then, it’s been a messy back-and-forth between the YouTuber, who goes by the nickname K-pop Idol Trainer Injiwoong, siding with Spire Entertainment and its former CEO Kang Seong-hee on one side, and journalist-turned-YouTuber Lee Jin-ho defending IPQ Entertainment and CEO Yoon Hye-young.

Kang insists that she was wrongly framed as an abusive CEO and robbed of a boy band she put together, while Yoon argues that Kang’s violence toward members was verified by the court and that IPQ only offered to help save the members after the fact.

In one of the messiest melees in K-pop, market watchers are growing more confused by the fragments of truth scattered within the heap of accusations in each new revelation made by the two parties.

The Korea JoongAng Daily spoke to both companies' CEOs and other parties involved to get a clearer picture of the chaos.

Members of boy band Omega X bow to local reporters after a press conference held on Nov. 16, 2022, explaining that they had been abused by their then-agency Spire Entertainment's CEO. [NEWS1]

Omega X’s first misfortune

Omega X is an 11-member boy band that debuted under Spire Entertainment in June 2021 and signed with IPQ Entertainment last July after it was revealed that the members had been subject to physical and sexual violence by their former agency’s CEO for a year.

The members — Jaehan, Hwichan, Sebin, Hangyeom, Taedong, Xen, Jehyun, Kevin, Junghoon, Hyuk and Yechan — had all been a part of different boy bands but came together to get a second chance after their prior bands failed to prove successful.

On Oct. 22, 2022, one fan uploaded an audio recording on Twitter, now known as X, claiming that it was of member Jaehan being yelled at and pushed over by Spire’s Kang during the band’s stay in Los Angeles as a part of its U.S. tour.

The agency apologized two days later, explaining that “emotions had escalated” while the members and the CEO “shared their complaints with each other.” The members came back to Korea on Oct. 25 and Kang stepped down as CEO of Spire Entertainment the next month.

On Nov. 16, members held a press conference stating that they had been subject to verbal, physical and sexual violence since November 2021 and that Kang threatened them, saying “there will be no next album” when they refused to abide by her wishes.

Attorney Roh Jong-eon of Law Firm S filed for the injunction on members’ exclusive contracts with Spire Entertainment, which was approved by the Seoul Eastern District Court on Jan. 11 this year.

Girl group Fifty Fifty in a press conference on April 13, 2023 [NEWS1]

What is tampering?

Spire Entertainment’s Kang and YouTuber Kim argue that Omega X’s tampering case is no different from that of Fifty Fifty.

Tampering is a term that began in the athletic field, where a sports team tries to persuade an athlete of another team to leave and join theirs instead. The deal is usually, if not always, made covertly, leaving the duped team in the dark and down a player in the end.

Tampering by definition is not illegal unless the individual breaks contract, but is considered a major foul play in the industry — especially in Korea, where a new contract wrongly signed is often considered a betrayal to the team and fans.

Girl group Fifty Fifty and its producer Ahn Sung-il, the CEO of production company The Givers, are being accused of trying to broker a deal with Warner Music Korea to let the quartet join the Korean branch of the global music company, but both Ahn and Warner have denied all claims.

Poster of web drama series ″A Shoulder to Cry On,″ produced by IPQ Entertainment, formerly known as Picturesque [IPQ ENTERTAINMENT]

Unexpected third party

YouTuber Kim argued that the agency head wasn’t “caught” assaulting the members, but members intentionally provoked her so that they could catch her losing her temper on camera to use it as evidence to escape from Spire Entertainment.

Omega X members had been in talks with IPQ Entertainment, formerly known as video production company Picturesque, even before the incident and had been looking for an excuse to break off their deal, the YouTuber claimed.

Picturesque was the production company of a so-called boys’ love (BL) drama series named “A Shoulder to Cry On” featuring members Jaehan and Yechan of Omega X as lead characters who fall in love with each other in school. Picturesque's main business was in content production and distribution mostly for other companies, among which were some erotic R-rated films.

Picturesque changed its name to IPQ Entertainment on May 11 and signed an exclusive contract with the members on May 31. IPQ Entertainment will not be making such videos in the future, CEO Yoon said.

The night that the fan witnessed the attack, Omega X members had been caught drinking with female fans and staff in their hotel room, which angered Spire CEO Kang and led her to resort to violent measures, the YouTuber said.

Omega X at the Seoul Music Awards on Jan. 23, 2022 [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Set-up by Danal

Spire Entertainment revealed two pieces of information that they argued were crucial in proving Omega X and IPQ’s “scheme”: A petition written by Yoon during the injunction process and the copyright ownership of Omega X.

In a petition to the court to help members nullify their deal with Spire Entertainment, Yoon wrote a letter as the CEO of an “affiliate company of Danal Entertainment” to free the members from their former agency.

Danal Entertainment is a subsidiary of financial tech company Danal, which had invested 5 billion won ($3.7 million) in Spire Entertainment in January 2022. Soon after Kang’s misdeeds were revealed, Danal Entertainment demanded Spire either pay back the 5 billion won or hand over Omega X on Nov. 4.

The fact that Yoon described Picturesque as an affiliate and that she took over Omega X is evidence that Danal and Yoon had schemed against Kang to take over the boy band, Kang said. Danal Entertainment is the current distributor of Omega X’s albums.

Another piece of evidence is the Omega X copyright, according to YouTuber Kim.

The copyright to Omega X as as a band was registered by attorney Roh, who also filed for the injunction against Spire Entertainment, on Nov. 7 under his name. It was transferred to IPQ Entertainment on July 17.

Boy band Omega X during a showcase on June 15, 2022 [NEWS1]

Not what it seems

Kang admitted to raising her voice at the members last October but claimed that she had good reason for it.

Kang's verbal violence to members had been recognized as "not likely to be a one-time incident" and "extreme even considering that they were made to reprimand the wrongful acts."

“My father died during the U.S. tour, but the members insulted me in the after party,” Kang told the Korea JoongAng Daily as the reason she lashed out at the members.

“They said things like, ‘What’s your dad’s death got to do with us?’ and ‘We sent you flowers. We paid 10,000 won each. Do you know how big that is?’ That made me feel like the sky was falling apart. I couldn’t cry at my father’s funeral and I fell apart. But I do think it was inappropriate for me, as an adult, to yell at them.”

According to Kang, the members had insulted her in order to get it on camera, but the parts where the members provoked her were edited out. She was also accused of sexually harassing the members such as by touching their legs, but she explained that such actions only took place while she was trying to comfort the members when they were having hard times.

“I may seem like I always burst out at the members, but that is not true,” she said. “I had treated them like my own sons. […] Their accommodation was a three-story house with individual rooms for all 11 members. We were a small company, but we supported them in ways that large companies would.”

She suspected that Danal and the members had “played” her after the videos went viral.

“Danal Entertainment requested Omega X instead of paying back the investment money,” Kang said. “We told them that we would have to talk with the artists and hear them out. But Danal said, ‘There is no need for you to meet because we’ve already talked things out. All you need to do is sign the contract.’”

Members of boy band Omega X explain that they had been abused by their then-agency Spire Entertainment's CEO in a press conference held on Nov. 16, 2022. [NEWS1]

Just a helping hand

On the other hand, IPQ’s Yoon argues that her company only came into the picture because the members needed help getting out of an abusive agency.

The petition was signed because “A Shoulder to Cry On,” a web drama series only available on streaming platforms, was being postponed due to the two lead actors — Omega X members — being involved in a controversy that needed settling, and the exclusive contracts were signed only after the members found it difficult to continue without an agency.

“That's when the members’ manager Han Gwang-seok asked us to write the petition,” Yoon said to the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The reason I referred to us as an affiliate is because I thought I would need a connection to the case in order for the letter to have effect. We were not financially linked in any way."

“A Shoulder to Cry On” was initially set for release in November 2022 but had to be pushed because of the brawl, Yoon explained as the reason for getting involved. She only offered to manage the group last April because the members struggled to continue on their own.

“A Shoulder to Cry On” was released in March this year.

“I even helped them meet with other agencies, but it was difficult for them to sign with a new company due to many circumstances,” she said. “We never meant to manage them ourselves and neither did Danal Entertainment. […] We signed with the members after we found that the web drama did better than we expected and we could continue that synergy with the members.”

IPQ Entertainment will report YouTuber Kim for defamation and spreading lies and Spire Entertainment for breach of contract to the police on Monday, according to Yoon. An agreement signed between Omega X members, Spire Entertainment and Danal Entertainment states that the former agency will not interfere with the band’s future activities, which is what is now happening, Yoon said.

A captured image of a scene from a recent episode of SBS's investigative expose show ″Unanswered Questions″ that aired on Aug. 19 [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Why now?

Spire Entertainment and IPQ Entertainment are both getting prepared for a legal battle against each other, but both parties apparently want the same thing: a sincere apology and for the other party to stop.

Regardless of all that’s being said and done, Omega X aims to release new music before the end of the year, according to Yoon.

In order for Spire Entertainment to back its accusation of Omega X’s tampering, it will need to prove that the boy band and IPQ Entertainment had an agreement to leave the former agency and join the new one. It does not have to be a contract, but some form of evidence is necessary, according to attorney Roh.

“If it really was tampering, Spire would have to explain why the members had been working part-time jobs before they signed with IPQ Entertainment,” Roh said. “Had it really been a whole conspiracy by a conglomerate, why would it have left the members hanging for months, pushing them to get second jobs?”

The logo of K-pop agency Attrakt, home to girl group Fifty Fifty, on Aug. 17 [YONHAP]

The real issue

The ongoing Fifty Fifty and Omega X cases have rang an alarming bell in the K-pop industry regarding the seven-year exclusive contracts that artists normally sign with their agencies.

A standard contract as recommended by the government is usually based on seven years, and an artist has the right to terminate the contract if it surpasses that threshold. Agencies are not legally bound to stick to the seven-year standard, but it is considered the industry norm.

However, the standard was written in 2009 after the so-called TVXQ incident where three of the five members of the SM Entertainment boy band argued that they had been subject to exploitation by the K-pop agency, making the contract easy for the artists to break in the given circumstances.

Insiders have been requesting that the standard contracts be fixed so that companies can gain leverage against the artists in unfair situations.

“The standard contract always depicts the artist as being the weaker party, which is not always the case,” said Lee Nam-kyung, secretary general of the Korea Management Federation, who has been voicing his concerns on this matter.

“There are certainly unfair companies, but these days, there are companies that are becoming subject to issues like tampering without a means to defend themselves. With the Fifty Fifty issue, it is high time that this is discussed among the industry.”