In a surprise move, BTS is exiting its deal with Sony Music’s Columbia Records and Orchard distribution to partner with Universal Music Group, Variety has confirmed. The news was first reported by Billboard; no official announcement has been made.
The licensing deal will be with UMG’s Geffen division, with distribution by INgrooves. BTS via HYBE (formerly Big Hit) was purportedly on a month-to-month contract with The Orchard and need only notify Sony of its intent to switch distributors. The move to UMG is expected to go into effect on Dec. 1.
Although surprising, the move was preceded by the announcement last February of a strategic partnership between UMG and HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment), including a joint-venture label, which in retrospect put the writing on the wall for this development. UMG also distributes BTS in certain other territories, including Japan.
The group had signed with Sony for domestic distribution in 2018. But both HYBE’s Bang Si-hyuk and Scooter Braun, whose Ithaca Holdings was purchased by HYBE this past spring, are known to be close with UMG CEO Lucian Grainge.
While the Billboard report cited an unsatisfactory business relationship between the group and Bang on one side and Columbia chairman and CEO Ron Perry on the other, the label actually played a big role in the group’s breakthrough hits, “Dynamite” and “Butter.” Perry is even a co-writer and co-producer of the latter track, along with a bevy of hitmakers like Alex Bilowitz, Stephen Kirk, Sebastian Garcia, Rob Grimaldi and the group’s RM as well as Jenna Andrews, who received a vocal production credit on the K-pop titans’ global breakthrough song “Dynamite.”
The announcement of the deal between UMG and HYBE said it would see the two companies working together to “increase opportunities for artists through innovation and technology, whilst expanding the global reach of K-pop music and culture around the world.” The partnership includes a newly created label that will operate from Los Angeles and will work closely alongside teams from Big Hit America, Geffen Records and UMG to launch the project. It also clearly was a precursor for the BTS deal.
BTS’ latest single, “My Universe,” a collaboration with the group Coldplay, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the sixth time for BTS to top the chart — all six occasions coming since September 2020. “My Universe” came out via Coldplay’s label, Parlophone/Atlantic, part of Warner Music Group.
Although the group finally canceled the oft-postponed North American leg of its Map of the World tour, BTS is poised to rejoin the world of stadium shows, having recently put four shows at L.A. SoFi Stadium on sale, scheduled for Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 1-2.