K-pop stars BTS leaving Sony for Universal

World's top-selling band to join Blackpink on Universal-affiliated Interscope Records

Members of BTS pose for photographs to promote their new single Butter in Seoul on May 21. (Reuters photo)

The K-pop boy band BTS is ending its distribution deal with Sony Music’s Columbia Records and will instead partner with Universal Music Group.

The move, confirmed by BTS’s management company Hybe after reports by Billboard and Bloomberg, is a coup for Universal Music, which had been pursuing the tie-up for years. Universal CEO Lucian Grainge had been personally wooing Hybe founder Bang Si-hyuk.

“While we greatly appreciate our time with Sony and will forever be grateful for all they have done and will continue to do, we look forward to our new chapter in partnership with Universal,” Hybe record label Bighit Music said in an email. The new agreement with Universal and its Interscope group covers distribution and marketing in the United States and other regions, the label said.

The deal includes Universal’s Ingrooves Music division handling distribution and Universal’s Geffen Records providing creative support and marketing, according to a person familiar with the details of the plan. 

Interscope has had a deal for three years with the K-pop girl group Blackpink, which features Thai star Lisa Manoban and has made inroads with Western audiences, headlining the Coachella music festival in California in 2019.

Sony declined to comment.

Distribution deals for K-pop acts have been increasing in response to the growing global popularity of the genre. Universal and Hybe announced a new partnership on Thursday with YG Entertainment and Kiswe launching a new global live streaming platform. In February, Universal and Hybe announced an expanded strategic partnership that included a joint venture label with Geffen Records to debut a “global K-pop boy band.”

BTS was the top-selling recording act in the world last year, according to IFPI. Its videos combined for 10.6 billion US on-demand streams, according to Billboard.