Universal Music Inks Distribution Deal With TF Entertainment, Underscores Goal of ‘Elevating Chinese Pop Music to Global Acclaim’

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universal music greater china
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(l to r) Universal Music Greater China CEO Timothy Xu, TF Entertainment CEO Chunhui Chen, and UMG AMEA CEO Adam Granite. Photo Credit: Universal Music

As China’s music industry continues to expand – and with a growing portion of domestic talent tapping into international fanbases – Universal Music Group (UMG) has inked a partnership deal with Beijing-headquartered TF Entertainment.

UMG announced the TF Entertainment tie-up today, executing the seemingly far-reaching pact specifically via Universal Music Greater China. Founded in 2009, TF bills itself as “a professional cultural and entertainment communication organization” specializing in “artist training and artist brokerage,” per a translation of the appropriate website text.

Furthermore, TF is by its own description the first domestic “entertainment company to adopt the trainee training model for star training.” (UMG only recently coordinated with Hybe to create a K-pop girl group with members hailing from several countries.) Back to UMG’s formal release, this “trainee system to cultivate idol groups” has produced acts including TFBOYS and Teens in Times (TNT).

According to UMG, 11-year-old TFBOYS has found commercial success with a number of releases and boasts a “massive combined following of over 250 million on Weibo.” TNT, on the other hand, arrived on the scene in 2019 and has since then put out domestically well-received efforts such as “Ne Zha” and “I Like You,” the major label noted.

Many know of China’s quick-developing music market – to the tune of a nearly 26 percent recorded-revenue expansion in 2023, per the IFPI – and certain global artists are making commercial waves in the nation of 1.4 billion.

But China’s homegrown talent hasn’t yet made the same splash on the world stage. Notwithstanding the combined 250 million Weibo followers behind TFBOYS’ three members, the group has about 128,000 Spotify monthly listeners, against about 70,000 for TNT.

Running with those points, the UMG-TF union encompasses global distribution and more, with the companies set to “leverage UMG’s global distribution capabilities and marketing network” with a goal of elevating “C-pop’s prominence on a global stage.”

In a statement, UMG Greater China chairman and CEO Timothy Xu noted that the TF deal aligns with his employer’s much-discussed superfan-monetization objectives as well.

“We’re thrilled to embark on this partnership with TF Entertainment, paving the way for iconic C-pop groups like TFBOYS and Teens In Times to captivate audiences worldwide,” Xu communicated.

“This alliance underscores our dedication to elevating Chinese pop music to global acclaim, both culturally and commercially. It also provides a unique opportunity to advance our superfan strategy, offering fans around the world access to distinctive cultural experiences,” he concluded.

For Tencent Music-partnered UMG (and the other majors), an ambitious international vision for Chinese acts isn’t new. In November of 2022, upon disclosing a deal with Ryce Publishing, Universal Music Publishing China’s then-MD, Joe Fang, declared that “the time of C-pop is here.” (Fang exited UMG in February of 2024, a little over five years after joining the company.)

And in August of 2023, Warner Music Group scored an album-distribution agreement with Lay Zhang. Billed simply as Lay on Spotify, the Changsha-born actor and artist released an English-language track entitled “Run Back to You” with Lauv in late February of 2024.