The past lawsuits have similarities to EXO Baekhyun, Chen, and Xiumin’s current ones.
On June 1, 2023, EXO‘s Baekhyun, Chen, and Xiumin announced that they are suing SM Entertainment to terminate their exclusive contracts.
Although the sudden news shocked netizens, many pointed out that “SM really doesn’t change” in their management of their artists. For instance, K-Pop fans have witnessed TVXQ receive unfair payments from SM Entertainment.
And between 2014 and 2015, three former EXO members also filed lawsuits against SM Entertainment.
Kris Wu (formerly known as Kris, his EXO stage name) was the first to file a lawsuit in 2014 to terminate his exclusive contract with SM Entertainment. Luhan also filed a lawsuit in the same year. Then in 2015, Huang Zi Tao (formerly known as Tao, EXO stage name, and currently known as Z.Tao, his new stage name) also filed a lawsuit to terminate his exclusive contract with SM Entertainment.
Kris Wu and Luhan both claimed that SM Entertainment had them “sign unfair contracts” and that the agency neglected their health and opinions and discriminated against the Chinese members of EXO.
Compared to the usual contract with a Korean entertainment agency, it is one of the longest in existence.
Because of the long-term contract, it is restricting [Kris’s] freedom, it is an anti-social and unlawful act.
— Kris Wu’s representation during his first court hearing
Similarly, Luhan’s lawsuit revealed not only the discrimination that the Chinese members have faced along with SM Entertainment’s neglect of their artists’ health but also the lack of financial compensation compared to Luhan’s busy schedules. Luhan’s lawyers revealed he had only earned ₩530 million KRW (about $498,000 USD at that time) for his activities since October 2013.
SM Entertainment has discriminated against Chinese members in EXO-M’s unit compared to those Korean members in EXO-K’s unit. Since EXO’s debut, SM Entertainment has provided EXO-K members with more chances for active promotion while EXO-M could not receive financial support during their inactivity.
— Luhan’s representation
However, SM Entertainment also filed lawsuits in 2015 against the companies that employed Luhan and Kris Wu, who were “pursuing activities illegally” before their termination lawsuits were “even taken to court.” At the time, SM Entertainment claimed that the two “left the group without sufficient reason” and “ignored contracts” to pursue solo schedules for their own benefit.
In July 2016, Kris Wu and Luhan were forced to settle their lawsuits. Although they were not returning as members of EXO, their contracts with SM Entertainment remained in effect until 2022. However, they could pursue their careers outside of Korea and Japan through other labels and agencies.
Meanwhile, Tao’s lawsuit was also filed on the basis that SM Entertainment’s contract was unfair due to the duration of the contract, the discrimination the members faced, and the financial compensation they received.
However, on January 5, 2016, SM Entertainment won its lawsuit against Tao as he had received an advanced payment from the company but “did not pay back the amount owed within the promised timeline.”
Tao and SM Entertainment stayed entangled in a legal feud as Tao won a lawsuit in China in 2016 but lost his lawsuit to nullify his contract in Seoul in 2017 before winning his second case in Chinese courts in 2018. Like Kris and Luhan, Tao’s contract with SM Entertainment remained valid until 2022, but he was no longer a member of EXO and could return to China and start his own company, Z.TAO Studio.
You can read about EXO Baekhyun, Chen, and Xiumin’s lawsuit against SM Entertainment here.