The Concept That Made SM Entertainment’s Idol Groups Global Phenomena

Korean pop, or commonly known as K-Pop, has been a global phenomenon for more than ten years now. The genre’s biggest names in the likes of Super Junior, Girls Generation, SHINee, 2NE1, and EXO are known across all the seven seas.

But what do these groups have that made them famous and successful in just a few years’ time?

The success of these K-Pop groups can be attributed to what they call Culture Technology Approach (CT), a concept developed by SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo Man.

Culture technology, used by SM Entertainment and other Korean entertainment management agencies, is a systematic process in training singers, dancers or what they call “idols” in their groups.

“CT is the driving force behind the development of SM’s pop culture into global Hallyu,” Lee Soo Man says.

The first step in the culture technology process is the training system where idol wanabees go through almost seven years of music, dance and acting training.

“One of the elements of CT is our training system. Through auditions, we discover hidden talent and put them through three to seven years of music, dance, and acting training in order to create a star that’s close to perfection. It’s through this unique system that the Hallyu wave was created,” Lee said.

The next stage in CT is what they call the “exportation of cultural products.” This is where KPop groups test their fate outside of South Korea to gain globalization. A perfect example of this is the advancement of SM artists like BoA, TVSQ, and SHINee in Japan.

The new model of CT’s exportation of cultural products now include the recruitment of foreign singers into the girl and boy groups. As K-Pop continues to grow, more and more half Korean artists like Jessica and Krystal Jung, SNSD’s Tiffany, F(x)’s Amber, Eric Nam, and many more give the genre and edge in promoting acts in their respective home countries.

Another strategy used here, some big groups, like Girls Generation and Super Junior are divided into subgroups that specializes into different cultural versions. For example, Both EXO and Super Junior have subgroups that were established for their Chinese market.

Another step in the CT concept is international collaboration, where Korean entertainment industries hire foreign composers, producers, and choreographers for certain comebacks to widen the cultural outreach of the groups.

For instance, in SM Entertainment, American Choreographer Tony Testa worked on the choreography for SHINee’s Sherlock, Dream Girl, and Everybody, and EXO’s Overdose.  He was also the art director for EXO’s first solo concert, “The Lost Planet.”

The last stage is Globalization. According to Lee “There’s the tag ‘made by’, such as ‘made in Korea.’ There is also ‘made by SM’. We want to cooperate with people all over the world in order to share and produce good music. Through this process, the Asian market can also produce a star capable of succeeding worldwide. All of this is SM’s plan for globalization.”

In 2016, Lee Soo Man announced the “New Culture Technology” with “interactive” as the keyword.

SM launched its digital music channel called station where various SM artists collaborate with singers from other labels for a digital album release every week for an entire year.

Apart from SM’s digital strategies, Lee also launched a new K-Pop boy band concept called Neo Culture Technology (NCT) a hallyu localization project with limitless members. Subunits will be divided based in different cities worldwide.

NCT now has three subgroups: NCT U, NCT 127 and NCT Dream.

“Now, in 2016, it’s been 21 years since SM Entertainment became a corporation. SM had its own coming-of-age phase, and is looking forward to taking another leap,” Lee said last year in a press conference in Seoul.

SM’s Culture Technology seemed successful in globalization, and the numerous K-Pop groups taking on a global scale prove that. The flexibility of CT in different cultures of different markets can give way to globalization, even at an early stage.

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