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BTS to Leave Sony Music for Universal

BTS is ending its distribution arrangement with Sony Music and is headed to Universal Music Group, according to sources familiar with the situation. The new partnership is a licensing and distribution deal through Geffen/INgrooves/UMG.

The new deal is the result of a years-long effort by UMG CEO Lucian Grainge and Interscope Geffen A&M CEO John Janick to woo the HYBE executives, sources say. In February, UMG and HYBE announced an expanded strategic partnership that included a new joint venture label with UMG’s Geffen Records to debut a global K-pop boy band.

“I strongly believe that UMG and Big Hit, two companies that endlessly pursued innovation, will create a synergy that will rewrite global music history,” Bang Si-hyuk, founder and chairman of HYBE — formerly Big Hit Entertainment — said at the time.

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Universal and HYBE also announced a new partnership on Thursday (Oct. 21) with YG Entertainment and Kiswe to launch a new global live streaming platform.

Scooter Braun — who sold his company Ithaca Holdings to HYBE in April — also helped seal the deal thanks to his close relationships with Grainge and Lenzo Yoon, with whom he shares HYBE America’s co-CEO role, sources say.

BTS’s current agreement with Sony, which was signed in 2018, technically runs through The Orchard, but Columbia provides U.S. marketing and promotion and has been credited as BTS’s label distributor on singles. And although Columbia chairman and CEO Ron Perry traveled to Korea many times and collaborated as a songwriter on BTS’s summer hit “Butter,” sources say Perry never met Si-hyuk in the time since BTS signed with that deal. (Si-hyuk helped found BTS in 2010, overseeing the superstar group’s career in the decade that followed.) Si-hyuk and his team have, however, formed a close relationship with Grainge, the sources say.

BTS’s attorney Debbie White, of Loeb & Loeb, first introduced Grainge to Yoon and HYBE president DJ Kim at UMG’s Grammy party in 2019, and subsequently helped negotiate distribution deals for some of HYBE’s other K-pop acts with UMG’s Republic, Ingrooves and Interscope.

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BTS has earned 10.4 million equivalent album units in the U.S., according to MRC Data. Their songs have also combined for 10.6 billion U.S. on-demand streams.

The group has had six No. 1 records on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, all of which came in a little over a year: “Dynamite” (for three weeks beginning with the chart dated Sept. 5, 2020), “Life Goes On” (Dec. 5, 2020), “Butter” (for 10 weeks beginning June 5), “Permission to Dance” (July 24), “My Universe” with Coldplay (Oct. 9). As well, their remix of Jason Derulo and Jawsh 685’s “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” helped send the song to No. 1 for one week in October 2020.

The band has also had five No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 dating back to 2018’s Love Yourself: Tear (chart dated June 2, 2018), Love Yourself: Answer (Sept. 8, 2018), Map of the Soul: Persona (April 27, 2019), Map of the Soul: 7 (March 7, 2020) and BE (Dec. 5, 2020).

It’s the latest in a high-level back and forth between Sony and UMG. This year, Universal poached several high-ranking Sony execs to run two of its flagship labels, hiring Columbia’s co-heads of A&R Imran Majid and Justin Eshak as Island Records co-CEOs and RCA executive vp A&R Tunji Balogun to fill the top role at Def Jam. Sony, meanwhile, acquired Todd Moscowitz’s Alamo Records — which had begun as a joint venture with UMG and has been on a hot streak this year with Lil Durk and Rod Wave — as a new frontline label in June.

A rep for Columbia Records did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Dan Rys.