LOONA Is Free from BlockBerryCreative After Winning Lawsuits

Five of the 12 LOONA members. Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

When LOONA, a cherished yet financially embattled K-pop girl group formed by BlockBerryCreative in 2016, indefinitely postponed their comeback set for January 2023, long rumblings of widespread label mismanagement grew more intense. Six months later, the entire group left the agency altogether, per NME. Despite weeks of promotion on social media, the agency announced the delay on December 22 amid the agency’s removal of core member Chuu and recent reports of the singer previously disputing her contract with BlockBerryCreative over allegations of withheld payments. Fans, the Orbits, vowed to boycott the upcoming album in response to the dustup. In addition to withheld payments, new details about the company’s mismanagement and allegations of abusive contracts emerged. Nine members filed an injunction to suspend their exclusive contracts with the label.

By January 2023, four members won their lawsuits to cancel their agreements with BlockBerryCreative. “After taking into consideration the comments and opinions of Orbits as well as numerous others, the agency has concluded that it would be meaningless to proceed with LOONA’s comeback when numerous concerns regarding the members remain unresolved,” the agency said in a statement. The remaining LOONA members won lawsuits to suspend their contracts with BlockBerryCreative on June 16, ending a monthslong battle to break free from the label. “Dobby is free,” captioned an image of the house elf Yeojin posted on her Instagram Story. Yves opted for a picture that spoke a thousand words: the famous pap shot of Nicole Kidman following her split with Tom Cruise.

Murmurs of Chuu’s dissatisfaction with the company became public in June 2022 when rumors about the singer leaving for another agency started to swirl. While BlockBerry denied the rumors in a statement and promised to take legal action against acts of defamation, it became clear that something was amiss when Chuu bowed out of LOONA’s first world tour this past summer. But the trouble didn’t start there: A September 2021 report suggested that BlockBerryCreative was effectively bankrupt. Below, everything you need to know about where LOONA stands on the girl management front.

Why did BlockBerryCreative drop Chuu?

The agency removed Chuu from the group on November 25, citing “violent language” and “misuse of power towards staff,” according to a statement first posted to LOONA’s online fan café. Fans raised their eyebrows at the news. Reports of legal action taken against BlockBerry began to emerge in the spring, claiming Chuu sued to opt out of some parts of her exclusive contract. By June, outlets reported that the singer was shopping management companies and setting up her own agency. While BlockBerry vehemently denied the reports and threatened legal action against those who spread the rumors, the agency also announced that Chuu would sit out the group’s first world tour (from August to October). For her part, Chuu continued to book variety shows, grow her YouTube channel, and release songs. Orbits saw the beloved singer’s removal as retaliation for her attempts to dispute her unfavorable contract.

On November 28, BlockBerryCreative released an additional statement to press denying the allegations that Chuu’s ousting was retaliatory. “We ask that you refrain from making speculative reports without evidence and malicious comments and rumors defaming the agency regarding this fan notice going forward,” the statement read, claiming that there is evidence of an incident between Chuu and a staff member. Multiple K-pop stars, industry insiders, and staff expressed their support for the singer in reaction to the news with a Korean music critic even criticizing Blockberry’s actions in a tweet.

How did Chuu respond?

Days after her removal, Chuu shared a statement on her Instagram Stories and said she was not informed of the alleged events. “Thank you so much for your concern and comfort,” she wrote on November 28, per a translation from Soompi. “As I have not received any contact regarding this series of situations or know anything about them, I’m currently grasping the situation, but what I’m sure of is that I haven’t done anything that would be shameful to my fans. In the future, as my position is decided, I will share another statement.”

A month after being dropped from the group, Chuu said in an interview with Dispatch — which revealed the details of her contract dispute — that her “trust in the company pretty much ended last year.”

How did BlockBerryCreative allegedly mismanage LOONA?

Before the agency indefinitely postponed the comeback, a bombshell report from Dispatch revealed Chuu’s contract details. BlockBerry and the singer signed an exclusive contract in 2017. Earnings would be split at a 7:3 ratio with the agency taking in 70 percent of profits to Chuu’s 30 percent. At the same time, expenses would be split at a 5:5 ratio. A post-settlement system was adopted, meaning earnings were divided before subtracting expenses. Under this agreement, 20 percent of expenses would be transferred to LOONA members with each member amassing debt when expenses exceed 70 percent of revenue. Dispatch reported that each LOONA member, excluding Chuu, is 200 million won (approximately $153,500) in debt despite earning 18.6 billion won (approximately $14,275,000). Because Chuu had more activities and appearances than other members, she is not indebted to the company and had earned 220 million won (approximately $169,000) in payments since December 2021.

After winning her contract dispute in January 2022, Chuu won the right to take profit from her individual activities, agreed to a more favorable annex contract, and negotiated the ability to sit out of certain group activities and terminate the contract at any time. “I didn’t even want to participate in Queendom, but I did not want to give up LOONA either,” she told Dispatch, referencing season two of a K-pop competition show. “I signed the annex to the contract in order to continue group activities.” It’s not clear whether or not other members have managed to sue for better contracts.

Is BlockBerryCreative actually that broke?

LOONA was an ambitious project from the start. Established under a new label within parent company Polaris Entertainment, the group embarked on a high-concept pre-debut project in 2016 that consisted of a single release for each member, along with releases for multiple subunits (if you haven’t had a chance to check out LOONA/ODD EYE CIRCLE, I’m sorry to you), before making their official debut as a 12-member group in 2018 with “favOriTe.” Costs for training and managing a dozen members aren’t cheap — together with the overhead that comes from staffing a sea of music videos, single and album releases, and variety content, bills pile up for any company. The issue is that, according to a report in 2021, BlockBerryCreative allegedly had trouble paying those bills.

Sources claim that the agency currently owes “hundreds of millions of won” to multiple contracts, according to a Sports World report. These contractors include stylists and other personnel needed to keep the LOONA team going and producing music, and they allegedly have been working for months “without compensation” at the time of the report. The industry sources also allege that BlockBerryCreative unilaterally asked staff to “quit working.” Internal employees weren’t exempt from withheld payments, sources claim — some staffers weren’t paid for “several months.” Meanwhile, the publication claims the agency is mired in back taxes and unpaid wages with “no easy resolution in sight,” though Sports World reported that BlockBerry was attempting to resolve its financial issues.

“Even after the LOONA project was planned and launched, the agency required immense funding to sustain the group, more than that available to a relatively small-sized company; however, the agency held on believing that it was an agency’s duty to handle all of the fees,” BlockBerry said in the statement to announce the upcoming album’s indefinite postponement. “From the very beginning, the LOONA project was a project which required the agency’s unlimited investment and effort, and the members’ trust and sacrifice, to reach an impossibly high break-even point.”

In the past, Polaris Entertainment — itself formerly a subsidiary of a conglomerate known for its arms-trade business — managed Kim Tae-woo, a soloist who was the lead vocalist of the widely popular boy band g.o.d. in the early aughts; successful vocalist Kim Bum-soo; and the disbanded girl group Ladies’ Code. Polaris is not currently representing major acts. BlockBerry, for its part, signed its second act this year: Sunye, the former main vocalist and leader of the disbanded group Wonder Girls. She released her first album with the agency in July.

How did members react to the comeback postponement and winning the lawsuits?

Member Hyunjin posted a message on the paid social-media platform Fab following Chuu’s removal in November. “I have a headache. My heart it’s [broken]. I’m angry. I’m really angry,” she wrote, according to a fan translation. That same member posted “Good morning” and a blushing-smiley emoji after the comeback postponement was announced.

After each member was officially freed from the company, multiple members posted celebratory images on Instagram, including a “Dobby is free” screengrab and a picture of a revelatory Nicole Kidman.

Have other LOONA members sued the label?

Multiple members sued the label in November 2022, filing an injunction to cancel their exclusive contracts. Heejin, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry won their lawsuits, effectively suspending their exclusive contracts on January 13. According to reports, the four members that successfully exited their exclusive agreements had the same contract as Chuu, which was previously ruled unfair by the courts. Though Haseul, Yeojin, Yves, Olivia Hye, and Gowon lost their legal battle in January, a judge allowed the members to suspend their contracts in June, leaving BlockBerry for good. Vivi and Hyunjin did not participate in the original case, but have since left the label as well. In response to the January contract cancellations, BlockBerryCreative said vaguely, “We’re looking into it.”

What’s next for LOONA?

BlockBerry insisted that the album postponement wasn’t the end of LOONA. But early on, fans wondered if a new company would take the group under its wing with a favorable contract so they can continue their six-plus-year slay and get paid for it. Block B — a boy group consisting of members Zico, Taeil, B-Bomb, Jaehyo, U-Kwon, Park Kyung, and P.O — successfully negotiated the transfer of their rights from Stardom Entertainment to Seven Seasons after accusing the former of withholding earnings in 2013, so changing labels is not entirely unprecedented.

LOONA appeared to take that route, somewhat at least. Following their contract suspension with BlockBerryCreative, members have turned to up-and-coming labels ran by their alums of their old agency. Hyunjin, Yeojin, Vivi, Gowon, and Hyeju will redebut as Loossemble under the new agency CTDENM, founded by former director Yoon Do-yeon. While dates have not been revealed, the quintet has announced plans to visit 10 cities on a tour titled “LOONA Assemble: the US Debut Ceremony.” Heejin, Haseul, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Cherry formed ARTMS under Modhaus, a new company started by another BlockBerryCreative executive, Jaden Jeong, who previously served as creative director to their former label. Modhaus represents the burgeoning girl group tripleS, who are responsible for the relatively successful track, “Generation.” Teaming up with old BlockBerry employees could lead to various results, but one thing is certain — the music was hitting, so perhaps they want to bottle up that success and combine it with good contracts. They certainly hit the ground running with recording — LOONA subgroup Odd Eye Circle (Kim Lip, Jinsoul, and Choerry) came back with the mini-album Version Up on July 12, and are touring Europe in August. Modhaus has confirmed that Heejin is preparing to release a solo in October. Meanwhile, Chuu joined the agency ATRP, and already has an official fanclub name and lightstick as a soloist. Finally, Yves has announced that she also plans to redebut as a solo act.

Whatever the case may be, Orbits are bound to support LOONA so long as BlockBerry doesn’t stand to profit. They have a sweet crazy love for the band after all.

This post has been updated.