K-pop boy band Exo Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Yesterday, Xiumin, Baekhyun, and Chen, singers of the K-pop group Exo terminated their exclusive contract with the entertainment agency SM Entertainment. The three members have embarked on a legal alleging the company withheld payments and forced them to sign “slave” contracts.

According to multiple news reports, attorneys for the artists stated that they will file a lawsuit against SM over the outstanding payments and are prepared to take further legal action if necessary.

In an official statement, Lee Jae-hak, an attorney representing the artists, said that SM Entertainment, one of the largest music labels in Korea, failed to provide proper settlement records and documentation over the past 12 or 13 years and did not turn over the documents since his first request on March 21.

According to the Korea Herald, the statement mentioned: “If SM had reimbursed [the three members] correctly, then there would be no reason at all for it to not send the requested documents…. If other artists under the SM agency have also not been receiving their payment details and evidence as in the case of Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen, then this problem is not limited to only these three, but affects all of SM’s artists.”

Lawyers for the members also claim that SM is being tyrannical and forcing the artists to sign “slave” contracts.

"While signing a long-time deal of 12 to 13 years with its artists, SM made its artists sign another exclusive contract for when the initial contract term comes to its end, leading to prolonged terms of at least 17 to 18 years," the statement read.

The artists are being forced to sign so-called "slave contracts" spanning nearly 20 years by SM, the statement added.

The statement also highlighted that the South Korean Fair Trade Commission rules stipulate that contracts between agencies and artists cannot exceed seven years.

The 12 to 13 years in the original contract is already "far too long and surpasses reasonable level", the statement asserted.

On the last page of attorney Lee's statement, Baekhyun, Chen, and Xiumin apologised to fans and requested their support.

“We feel scared and daunted in taking this first small step to talk about the unfair treatment [we have faced] until now. Please realise the courage it has taken us. We’re truly grateful to all the fans who have supported us for a long time,” wrote Xiumin, Baekhyun, and Chen.

Later, SM released an official statement, which seemed to refute the allegations. The agency said it has discovered "some outside forces" who are trying to coerce its artists into making the wrong legal decisions.

"We have discovered that these outside forces are not only luring the artists to breach the valid exclusive contracts they have signed with the company but using them to get through to other artists to also violate the contract terms or sign double contracts. We will take legal action against these people who pursue only their greed and profit without any profound interest in the future or the rights of the artists," SM said in its statement.

On June 2, the lawyer representing the Exo members responded to SM Entertainment’s statement: “SM’s claims that there was an outside force is the agency’s way of avoiding the issue, being the artists’ rights, and is nothing more than misinformation to confuse the public.”

Fans of the group took to social media to highlight the mistreatment suffered by the group, which debuted in 2012, in their career spanning over a decade.

They shared photos and clips from television interviews which proved that the members of the boyband’s payments were not transparent, they were forced to work through injuries, and not given proper food in their debut years.

Twitter user @sebaekyeoll commented: “In short, SM is supposed to give artists a thorough report of income and deductions twice a year but the lawyer is accusing SM of not having ‘properly’ done so for the entirety of Exo's career.…”

Another fan, @atlanticjeon posted: “… my heart is genuinely breaking for Exo and really every SM artist that signed into this…”

Many added that SM Entertainment was not able to shield their artists from rumour mongers and malicious commenters.