With the #BlackLivesMatter movement gaining unprecedented support over the last two weeks, more and more black artists are speaking out about the injustices they’ve faced. One such artist is Tiffany Red, a songwriter who worked on songs for NCT Dream and NCT U, who alleges she’s been grossly underpaid by SM Entertainment for her work and treated with insensitivity.
Several days ago, Tiffany Red uploaded a video to her Instagram where she began to explain the situation to her followers and fellow producers. Red told viewers that she received an email from an A&R representative at SM Entertainment on Tuesday June 2 reminding her to sign a synchronization license agreement for the NCT DREAM song “Go”.
This sync license hands over the rights for “Go” to be used in a visual media production, such as an advertisement or television show. Red went on to say that she initially wasn’t in a hurry to sign the agreement as she was being offered “very little money” for the song. However, she was taken aback to receive a reminder on Tuesday, given that the day had been designated #BlackoutTuesday.
Blackout Tuesday was an initiative organized by the music industry where businesses were encouraged to put aside regular business activity and promote black voices. Naturally, as a black music writer, Red found the email “insensitive” and “blacked out” on the A&R rep in an email response—but the rep didn’t get back to her, despite email communication usually being frequent and timely.
Red went on to say that K-Pop has been appropriating black culture since its inception. Seo Taiji and Boys, which is considered the first K-Pop group by many, indeed based its music off of hip-hop—a genre developed by African Americans. Likewise, SM Entertainment’s music has long been known for its R&B influences, another genre created by black people.
Red continued emailing SM Entertainment as well as EKKO Music Rights. EKKO Music Rights, which is backed by SM Entertainment, is the publishing company managing the rights for Tiffany Red’s K-Pop hits. As of Thursday June 4, no one had responded.
Then, Red went to SM Entertainment’s Instagram feed, only to find that the company had not posted anything regarding the #BlackLivesMatter movement despite having over 8 million followers and numerous black producers on their roster.
Damn, there’s no support for us anywhere. Meanwhile, all y’all do is our music. All y’all do is work with our writers and producers… and you’re not supporting us in this fight? You have a black roster. You have black producers.
— Tiffany Red
BoA, who is a de factor creative director at SM Entertainment as well as an artist, did update her Instagram for #BlackoutTuesday. Red commented on BoA’s post asking for help in the matter.
Red implored her fellow producers to stop writing for K-Pop and revealed that despite having several K-Pop hits under her belt, she hasn’t even made $50,000 USD yet. The next day, Red updated her Instagram with a new video where she revealed just how little SM Entertainment is offering her for her music.
The sync fee SM Entertainment asked Red to sign off on was $500 USD. Since Tiffany Red owns 13.33% of “Go”, her cut would have been a measly $66.65 USD. While typical sync fees can be as low as a few hundred dollars for small artists, they usually range up to the hundreds of thousands for major artists.
Red went on to say she did eventually receive an apology for the insensitivity from SM Entertainment’s A&R representative. Of course, given the financial issues at play, she still wasn’t happy. In another Instagram update, Red shared another email she sent to SM Entertainment in which she asked to be released from her publishing deal with EKKO Music Rights and said she will take legal action if the company uses “Go” without her permission.
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#blacklivesmatter ✊🏽 SPEAK UP‼️I AM A BLACK WOMAN I AM SIGNED TO @smtown PUBLISHING COMPANY @ekkomusicrights AND I HAVE WRITTEN HITS FOR YOU AND MADE NO MONEY‼️ THE FUCKIN LEAST YOU COULD DO IS ACKNOWLEDGE OUR PAIN‼️ WHERE IS ALL THE MONEY YOU MADE OFF #BOSS AND #GO ON @NCT ⁉️ I WANT MY MONEY NOW‼️
On Saturday June 6, Red updated her Instagram again—this time, to talk about her work on NCT U’s “Boss”. She played her demo of “Boss” for her viewers, showing how strong the “urban” influences are. She then went on to show everyone the success of the song, which has amassed 118 million views on YouTube (and many more millions across dance practices and music show stages). But despite this success, Red alleges that SM Entertainment severely underpaid her for her work.
Tiffany Red owns 30% of “Boss”. However, SM Entertainment has only paid her $9,000 USD for the song over the past 2 years. This would indicate that the song has only generated $30,000 USD since February 2018, which Red finds impossible to believe given the sheer number of views it has on YouTube.
Where is my fucking money, SM? Where’s my money? This [NCT U’s “Boss” music video) was the most expensive video shot in SM history and I wrote it, you guys.
— Tiffany Red
SM Entertainment routinely outsources music composition and production to black songwriters, so it’s no surprise that many are appalled at the company’s lack of support towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As of yet, SM Entertainment has not publicly responded to Tiffany Red’s statements.