EXO vs SM Entertainment: A look back at all legal disputes

EXO vs SM Entertainment (Image via Twitter/@_exolovexo_,@kchartsmaster)
EXO vs SM Entertainment (Image via Twitter/@_exolovexo_,@kchartsmaster)

EXO's Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen, shocked fans on Thursday, June 1, with the news of them filing a lawsuit against SM Entertainment, demanding a termination of their exclusive contract with the company. The justification for the same comes from the fact that the agency has failed to be transparent with their distribution of profits to their artists and has additionally forced its artists to sign contracts with extensively long tenures, coming up to almost twenty years tie.

While this spurred much commotion amongst EXO-Ls and netizens in general, people weren't necessarily surprised. SM Entertainment has had a reputation for the mistreatment and poor management of its artists for years now, especially with one of its veteran artists, EXO. Throughout their fifteen years of partnership with the agency, quite a handful of lawsuits have resulted between them.


All lawsuits filed by EXO members against their agency, SM Entertainment, in detail

Veteran EXO-Ls would be aware of the fact that during the beginning of the group's debut, the group was divided into two subunits, EXO-M (Mandarin) and EXO-K (Korea). While the former consisted of Chinese members, the latter has the remaining Korean members; the two groups would engage in promotions and comebacks separately from time to time.

What once used to be a twelve-member K-pop boy group was reduced to nine after the departure of three Chinese members from the group -- Kris, Luhan, and Tao. Within a few years after the group's debut in 2012, all three former members filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing it of mistreatment and lack of fundamental rights provided by it.


Kris Wu's lawsuit

The first one to file a case against the company was Kris Wu, in 2014, whose legal representative stated that the member was made to sign unfair contracts which restricted the idol's freedom to express his creativity. Additionally, there were also issues regarding the poor management of his health issues. Kris was later revealed to have heart problems but SM Entertainment had supposedly failed to look after the same or take it into consideration.


Luhan's lawsuit

Later in the same year, another Chinese member Luhan also filed a request for the termination of his contract with SM Entertainment. The lawsuit was based on the reasonings that the idol was severely underpaid, earning not more than ₩530 million KRW from his time under EXO since 2013. Additionally, it was also revealed that there was visible favoritism shown towards EXO-K over EXO-M.

While the former, which only consisted of Korean members, received timely promotions and activities, the latter lacked the same and was barely put forth to the audience. The group also reportedly received no financial banking for their work done under the sub-unit. As the idol filed his lawsuit, he was more or less fighting against the company alongside Kris.

However, SM Entertainment counteracted the lawsuits by saying that the two members left the company without giving appropriate reasons and also participated in illegal activities, which include being employed under other agencies before their contract with SM Entertainment was resolved. Naturally, they were made to give up on the lawsuit, and though they moved their careers under other labels, their contract with the company was active until 2022.


Tao's lawsuit

The last, and one of the most controversial one was the lawsuit filed by Tao, also known as Huang Zitao. After the departure of Kris and Luhan, the idol went on to Instagram to express, in quite a disrespectful manner, that he was betrayed by the two former members for not letting him know in advance of their decisions. The post was later taken down and the idol continued his activities with EXO until his sudden and lengthy hiatus in 2015.

Many fans noticed that the Chinese member, Tao, was clearly overworked with schedules running back and forth in China and Korea, participating in Idol Star Athletics Championship which can be physically draining, and his appearance in Laws of the Jungle. The idol was naturally left with several injuries, leading to his hiatus where he moved back to China to be with his family.

During that time, his father went on to Weibo, the online Chinese community platform, expressing that he hoped for his son's departure, and soon enough a lawsuit regarding his termination of the contract with SM Entertainment was filed. There was much back-and-forth dispute during the lawsuit between the two parties, regardless leaving SM Entertainment with the upper hand. The latter's contract with Tao continued to be active till 2022 despite his departure from EXO.

Additionally, when the idol returned to Korea for the purpose of the lawsuit, he apologized for his derogatory post directed toward his former members. He also stated when he wasn't sure if he should make such a post, however, the SM staff members encourage them on the same.


With yet another legal dispute landing with Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen, fans are naturally worried about the continuous mistreatment of SM Entertainment's artists as they await what's to result from the same.

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Edited by Abhipsa Choudhury
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